On November 24, European Union leaders met with representatives from the six Eastern Partnership countries — Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Moldova — in Brussels. The aim of the biennial summit and the Partnership itself is to uphold and strengthen EU relations with the post-Soviet Eastern European states.
For Ukraine, however, the paramount question remains closer integration with the EU. The year 2017 has witnessed several key events in this process: the introduction of a visa-free regime and the ratification of the long-awaited Association Agreement with the EU.
For its part, the EU appears to be abiding by its commitment to the Eastern Partnership initiative and Ukraine’s aspirations. However, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who attended the event, was not entirely satisfied with the summit’s final declaration, which was deemed less ambitious than during previous summits.
According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Brussels correspondent Rikard Jozwiak, internal problems within the EU are among the contributing factors to Ukraine’s disappointment. In particular, the April 2016 referendum in the Netherlands, in which Dutch voters rejected the idea of closer EU-Ukraine relations, plays a key role.
“In a sense, the EU is keeping up what they promised two years ago, and that sounds really not particularly exciting and interesting at all,” Jozwiak says. “But, if you see it from the EU side and the problems, the internal problems, the EU have had to come at least to disagreements, especially with the Dutch,” Jozwiak says.
Jozwiak also told Hromadske that EU leaders are “frustrated” with the slow pace of Kyiv’s anti-corruption reforms, although they recognize this is partly due to the fact that the ongoing war in Ukraine’s occupied eastern territories has taken precedence in recent years.
Moreover, Rebecca Harms, a Member of the European Parliament, says that, following the summit, the EU remains committed to helping Ukraine find a resolution to the conflict in the Donbas region and cannot take a “business-as-usual” approach to the situation. According to Harms, even Angela Merkel is not satisfied with the lack of results from the Minsk peace agreements and, therefore, EU leaders have to do more.
“Many leaders of the EU member states showed a quite clear understanding of the difficult situation Ukraine is in and made it also crystal clear that the commitment from the side of the EU to Ukraine cannot be lowered, but must be strengthened,” Harms told Hromadske.
Harms also thinks the EU should prolong sanctions against Russia in response to its continuing aggression towards Ukraine, which violates international law.
This may not be the only good news for Ukraine to come out of the Eastern Partnership Summit. Jozwiak told Hromadske that Ukraine’s prospects for joining the EU’s energy, customs and digital unions appear optimistic:
“Mr. Poroshenko has got a sort of promise from the EU or the European Commission that the European Commission will look into what is called a feasibility study for Ukraine, to see if Ukraine can join sometime in the future the Customs Union, the Digital Union and the Energy Union. Now these three projects, if Ukraine can join, will be something that Ukraine really can work on in the future as well.”
Regardless of the results of this year’s summit, Jozwiak is also skeptical of the Eastern Partnership’s longevity given the differing situations of the six partnership countries.
“I don’t really think it makes sense for these six countries to be together anymore in this format. There are three countries that eventually want to become members of this club and there are three countries that have no interest whatsoever.”
/Interviews by Olga Tokariuk
/Text by Sofia Fedeczko