RIGA -- A last-minute amendment to a draft text by EU members and six of their eastern neighbors gathering for a summit in Riga could spell good news for Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.
The new phrasing, which includes a reference to "European aspirations and European choice," was reached after hours of negotiations in Brussels ahead of the May 21-22 Eastern Partnership Summit in the Latvian capital.
It appears to have won over holdouts who reportedly objected to a perceived emphasis on the hopes of "partner" countries one day joining the European Union.
The text now notes that "Summit participants acknowledge the European aspirations and European choice of the partners concerned, as stated in the association agreements."
The so-called eastern partners are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.
This absence of such wording had irritated Tbilisi, Chisinau, and Kyiv.
Some northern EU member states such as Lithuania, Poland, and Sweden, have reportedly lobbied hard in recent weeks to insert the line.
Proponents of the latest change argue that there was agreement among EU states to avoid text that either went significantly beyond or backtracked on a declaration from the last such Eastern Partnership summit, in Vilnius in 2013.
The new version for this week's summit now closely resembles the text from Vilnius.
Since the Lithuanian summit in 2013, Russia has occupied and annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea and continues to stir separatist sentiment in Ukraine and a number of other former Soviet states.
Germany and France, who were keen to water down the language regarding the three countries' future EU path, reportedly sought phrasing citing the EU and its partners' "firm intention to carry forward the commitments taken at previous Summits and in bilateral agreements." But they now appear to have been convinced that it is preferable to spell out the implications of such a commitment.
While Kyiv and Tbilisi will welcome the last-minute amendment, they are unlikely to secure wording that states that Ukraine and Georgia are in line for visa liberalization with the EU as soon as next year.
Instead, the declaration should simply state that the EU Commission might evaluate progress in the justice sector in those states by the end of this year, before taking any further decision.
The AFP news agency and other sources have suggested that there is a lingering dispute over a possible reference to Russia's March 2014 annexation of Crimea, with Armenia and Belarus said to be seeking to avoid a description of that move as illegal.
Ties between the European Union and Moscow have been severely tested by the Ukraine crisis, which has prompted Western condemnation and EU economic sanctions against Russia.