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European Parliament Pushes For Eastern Partners' Greater Integration, Slams Russia


Foreign ministers pose for a family picture after a joint Foreign Affairs Council/Eastern Partnership meeting at the European Council in Brussels in May 2019.

BRUSSELS -- The European Parliament will call for the creation of a "common economic space" between the EU and the six former Soviet republics of its Eastern Partnership program as part of a process of "gradual integration" into the bloc, according to a draft report seen by RFE/RL on April 15.

The parliamentary draft report also denounces Russia's "illegal" actions in Eastern Partnership countries -- Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine -- including what it calls destabilization, invasion, and annexation.

The document is to be debated by the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee in the coming weeks and could potentially be endorsed by the full chamber in May.

A Brussels summit bringing together the leaders of the 27 EU member states with those of the six Eastern Partnership members is scheduled for June 18. But several EU diplomats told RFE/RL the gathering might be postponed to the second half of the year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In a veiled reference to Russia, which has vehemently opposed efforts by countries of the ex-Soviet bloc to get closer to the EU and NATO, the European Parliament will "confirm the sovereign right of the Eastern partner countries to freely choose their individual level of cooperation or integration with the EU," according to the draft report.

The document also "strongly condemns the continued violations of fundamental principles and norms of international law in the Eastern Partnership region," citing "illegal use of force, invasion, destabilization, annexation, borderization, and occupation of territories of several Eastern Partnership countries by the Russian Federation."

In Georgia, Moscow has stationed troops in the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia since it recognized their independence following the five-day Russian-Georgian war in 2008. The majority of the world's countries consider Abkhazia and South Ossetia to be Georgian territory.

Meanwhile, Russia seized Ukraine's Crimea region in 2014 after sending in troops and staging a referendum deemed illegitimate by at least 100 countries. Moscow is also supporting armed separatists in the deadly conflict in eastern Ukraine.

The Eastern Partnership program was launched in 2009 and is meant to bring the six former Soviet republics closer to the EU without clearly offering future membership.

Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine have since inked association agreements with the EU, including free-trade deals, but several member states have been reluctant to discuss the issue of these countries' eventual membership.

The European Parliament, which has in the past called for further enlargement to the east, states in the draft report that "while accession is not foreseen under the framework of the Eastern Partnership, the Eastern Partnership policy can facilitate a process of gradual integration to the EU."

The document adds that the European lawmakers want to "embark on a process to create a common economic space, including services, that facilitates deeper economic integration and convergence with the EU policies and deeper economic cooperation among the Eastern Partnership countries themselves."

The lawmakers will express support for a gradual integration of the six countries into the EU's energy union, transport community, and digital single market, according to the draft report.

Among other things, in the telecommunications field the document suggests creating "a roaming-free regime between the EU and Eastern Partnership countries and an intra-Eastern Partnership one as soon as possible." Other suggestions include the establishment of an Eastern Partnership University in Kyiv.

The draft document also proposes setting up "an extended international peacekeeping force along the Ukraine-Russia border," in which an EU-led mission "should be offered for deployment to the parties in the conflict, to assist in tasks such as de-mining, assisting with preparations for local elections and securing free access for humanitarian aid organizations."

A group of international observers is currently tracking the fighting in eastern Ukraine as part of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Special Monitoring Mission.

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