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EU Leaders Unlikely To Offer More To Eastern Partners At Upcoming Summit

BRUSSELS -- EU leaders at an Eastern Partnership summit in Riga in May are unlikely to offer a closer relationship between the European Union and some of its eastern neighbors outside of the already negotiated association agreements, according to a paper seen by RFE/RL.

An initial draft of the Riga declaration, which will be agreed at the summit, shows that very few, if any, concrete decisions will be taken at the meeting which brings together the leaders from the European Union member states plus Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

Kyiv, Chisinau and Tbilisi, in particular, had been hoping that something beyond the Association Agreement (AA) and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) each country signed with Brussels in 2014 would be on the table.

The draft, however, only states that “the summit participants stress that implementation of AA/DCFTA will be a top priority of the EU an the partners concerned for the years ahead.”

Regarding Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus -- which have not signed similar agreements with the EU -- the draft only talks about increased cooperation without specifying what that may include.

On Armenia, it simply states that both sides "welcome the common understanding reached on the scope for a future agreement between the EU and Armenia.”

On Azerbaijan, the draft cites "progress made in defining a new basis for relations" between Brussels and Baku.

Regarding Belarus, the draft welcome "steps" taken in relations between Brussels and Minsk, "including a modernization roadmap identifying reform priorities and EU support.”

Russia looms large over the text even though the country isn't mentioned by name.

A key paragraph in the text states that “the participants of the summit stress that the Eastern Partnership aims at building a common area of shared democracy, prosperity, stability and increased cooperation and is not directed at anyone.” It continues by stating that “In this context, the summit participants express their readiness to help overcome the worst political rift in Europe since the end of the Cold War. Our citizens expect us to prevent further negative repercussions for the stability of our continent and we are committed to do so.”

It also adds that “events in Ukraine since the 2013 Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius have been a tragic reminder that the fundamental principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity cannot be taken for granted in our region. The EU remains committed in its support to the territorial integrity, independence and sovereignty of all its partners.”

Progress had been expected to be announced at the summit on visa-free travel for citizens of Ukraine and Georgia within the EU's Schengen Zone, something which Moldovan citizens have enjoyed since 2014.

However, the draft declaration offers few specifics on this issue.

“Summit participants look forward to completion by Ukraine and Georgia of the implementation of the 2nd phase of their visa liberalization action plans once all required reforms are implemented and all benchmarks are fulfilled.”

According to EU sources, Ukraine won't get visa liberalization in Riga whereas the chances for Georgia are deemed to be 50/50.

The text does, however, mention the possibility of starting a visa dialogue with Armenia that eventually might lead to visa liberalization.

Finally, the text also includes a cryptic reference on the possibility of countering Russian propaganda by going “towards more strategic communication on the basis of the shared values and benefits which Eastern Partnership cooperation brings.”

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    Rikard Jozwiak

    Rikard Jozwiak is the Europe editor for RFE/RL in Prague, focusing on coverage of the European Union and NATO. He previously worked as RFE/RL’s Brussels correspondent, covering numerous international summits, European elections, and international court rulings. He has reported from most European capitals, as well as Central Asia.