The leaders of the EU’s six eastern neighbours – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine, will attend an anniversary celebration hosted by EU Council President Donald Tusk in Brussels, followed by talks where they are expecting discuss the need for progress in the areas of the rule of law, governance, and anti-corruption, New Europe reveals.
“The Eastern Parternship has evolved against the background of not always easy political context and the security challenges of our partner countries,” said a senior EU official said ahead of the meeting. “This is not a framework that is designed to make countries choose between Russia or the European Union, but based on voluntary cooperation,” the official added.
According to sources, there is the possibility that EU foreign ministers will endorse “to develop the Eastern Partnership agenda beyond 2020".
The meeting comes at a time when four of the six members are in a state of flux. Insurgent presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelensky, a television comedian and political newcomer who is widely seen as being on track to win the presidency in the second round, easily defeated the incumbent, Petro Poroshenko, in the first round with 30.6% of the vote.
The Ukraine elections are expected to be addressed at the meeting with the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini. “It will be interesting to watch Zelensky in terms of the Minsk process, because there are no policies we can see at this stage,” an EU diplomat told the media.
The programme aims to encourage Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine to undertake reforms, in return for closer relations and economic benefits from the West. The upcoming meeting will see the countries’ foreign ministers pledge “to develop the Eastern Partnership agenda beyond 2020”.
Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine have all struck association agreements with the EU under the Eastern Partnership program and Azerbaijan is expected to initiate an updated partnership deal with the bloc in May.
There are concerns going into this year’s meeting as elections in Moldova have split the country into bitter, rival pro-Western and pro-Russian forces. This has also come at a time when the EU has expressed concerns about the levels of corruption in the country, which has had the knock-on affect of undermining democracy in the country.
Similar concerns have emerged in Georgia, which a decade ago was the symbol of a functioning and reformed post-Soviet state, due to the consolidation of power by the country’s unelected national leader, Bidzina Ivanishvili. Much like in Ukraine, the situation in Georgia has grown increasingly worse in recent years as the courts and rule-of-law have been attacked by Ivanishvili and his ruling Georgian Dream party.