BRUSSELS -- The Polish foreign minister has called for an upgraded Eastern Partnership, including closer ties with the European Union and the creation of a free-trade zone among the six member nations.
Jacek Czaputowicz was speaking on May 14 at a conference in Brussels celebrating the 10th anniversary of the partnership that aims to bring Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine closer to the EU without giving direct assurances of eventual membership.
Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine already have concluded Association Agreements with Brussels that include free-trade pacts, and they have achieved visa-liberalization agreements for their citizens with most EU member states.
But none of the countries appears close to joining the EU, and the next steps for Eastern Partnership nations remain uncertain.
Czaputowicz, whose country initiated the Eastern Partnership together with Sweden, said that “as far as institutionalization of relations is concerned, I think we can envisage creating some instruments.”
First, he said, would be a permanent secretariat of Eastern Partnership countries in Brussels, “with diplomats delegated to the secretariat who will take care of already existing systems and try to coordinate their policy and also contacts with European Union institutions.”
He also suggested a rotating presidency of Eastern Partnership countries to deal directly with the six-month rotating EU presidencies.
“Of course, it is difficult, but my main message is that these countries should take more responsibility for the coordination of their work for themselves -- not to wait for what we can do -- and demonstrate to the European Union that they are organized.”
He cited the experience of the four Visegrad countries -- the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia -- which created a Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) between them before joining the EU in 2004.
“We started to cooperate before we joined the European Union, demonstrated to the European Union that we can do it. And it was a great advantage for us. Why not to create such a CEFTA for these countries?” he said.
The ideas put forward by Czaputowicz are set to be discussed when the European Commission later this year launches a public consultation about how to take the Eastern Partnership forward in the next decade.
He cautioned that some EU member states might not be overly enthusiastic about his proposals.
“Within the European Union, it might be a problem. Some countries would be hesitant to support the Eastern Partnership," he said.
“So we have to discuss openly about that. It is due to different reasons. They may be oriented more to the south or they may be also assessing differently the role of Russia and particularly how we should deal with Russia.”