The EU Eastern Partnership - European Scrutiny Committee Contents

1   The EU Eastern Partnership




COM(08) 823




SEC(08) 2974

Commission Communication: Eastern Partnership

Commission Staff Working Document accompanying the Commission Communication Eastern Partnership

Legal base
Document originated3 December 2008
Deposited in Parliament10 December 2008
DepartmentForeign and Commonwealth Office
Basis of considerationMinister's letter of 30 March
Previous Committee ReportHC19-xi (2008-09), chapter 5 (18 March 2009) and HC19-ii (2008-09), chapter 7 (17 December 2008)
Discussed in Council11-12 December European Council
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionNot cleared; for debate in European Committee B


1.1  The June 2008 European Council initially discussed the idea of an Eastern Partnership (EaP), based on a Polish/Swedish proposal. It envisaged "enhancing EU policy towards eastern European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP)[1] partners in bilateral and multilateral formats", and agreed on:

"the need to further promote regional cooperation among the EU's eastern neighbours and between the EU and the region, as well as bilateral cooperation between the EU and each of these countries respectively, on the basis of differentiation and an individual approach, respecting the character of the ENP as a single and coherent policy framework."

1.2  It said that such cooperation "should bring added value and be complementary to the already existing and planned multilateral cooperation under and related to the ENP, in particular the Black Sea Synergy and the Northern Dimension", and invited the Commission to take the work forward and present to the Council in Spring 2009 "a proposal for modalities of the "Eastern Partnership", on the basis of relevant initiatives."[2]

1.3  The Extraordinary Council on 1 September, which met to discuss the crisis in Georgia, noted with concern the impact of the crisis on the whole of the region, and considered that it was "more necessary than ever to support regional cooperation and step up its relations with its eastern neighbours, in particular through its neighbourhood policy, the development of the "Black Sea Synergy" initiative and an "Eastern Partnership". The Council indicated that it now wished to adopt this partnership in March 2009 and, to this end, invited the Commission to submit its proposals sooner, in December 2008.[3]

The Commission Communication

1.4  The Committee considered this Commission Communication (with the Commission Staff Working Document) last December. It outlines proposals for a "step change" within the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) in relations with the six Eastern neighbours — Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan — "without prejudice to individual countries' aspirations for their future relationship with the EU." The Eastern Partnership (EaP) "should bring a lasting political message of EU solidarity, alongside additional, tangible support for their democratic and market-oriented reforms and the consolidation of their statehood and territorial integrity". The EaP will serve "the stability, security and prosperity of the EU, partners and indeed the entire continent", and "will be pursued in parallel with the EU's strategic partnership with Russia". The main proposals are set out in our previous Reports; in sum they are:

—  new Association Agreements (AAs) between the EU and each partner country, to encourage these countries to adopt EU norms and standards, both in terms of democracy and governance as well as technical standards for trade, energy and other sectors, and advance cooperation on CFSP and ESDP;

—  a Comprehensive Institution Building programme (CIB) to help build partners' administrative capacity to meet commitments and conditions arising from the AAs;

—  a deep and comprehensive free trade agreement between each EaP country, with a longer term vision of creating a neighbourhood economic community;

—  individual country mobility and security pacts: encompassing both labour mobility and cooperation on tackling illegal migration, border management aligned to EU standards, and enhanced efforts to fight organised crime and corruption;

—  talks on visa facilitation with partners: improved consular coverage; roadmaps to waiving visa fees from Schengen countries and increased EU support for national strategies to tackle organised crime, trafficking etc (with non-Schengen countries such as the UK invited to take parallel steps);

—  policies to promote energy security;

—  a new multilateral forum to allow EU member states to share information with the Eastern Partners to help these countries to modernise, with an annual meeting of Foreign Ministers and a biennial meeting of Heads of State and Government; and

—  third countries (eg other Black Sea Synergy partners like Russia and Turkey) could be involved in various projects if all the partners agreed.

1.5  The proposal was strongly supported by the Minister for Europe at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Caroline Flint). But, as the Commission itself pointed out, significant additional resources would be needed. With "significant pressures on the ENP Instrument due to reallocation of funding for the Georgia crisis and on-going support to the Palestinian Territories", the Commission estimated it would need €600 million extra in this budget to support the implementation of the EaP; €250 million had been found from the existing ENPI envelope (2010-2013), mainly through re-prioritisation of funds from the Regional East Programme; but an additional €350 million of new money would be required. Detailed Commission proposals were awaited: "further re-prioritisation in the framework of the budget mid-term review [would] need to be carefully balanced with the needs, expectations and current initiatives (such as the Union for the Mediterranean) for the Southern neighbours."

1.6  The Committee recognised that the EaP "business case" was well made. But in addition to the immediate challenge of adequate funding, the Committee noted that success would require the sort of commitment by all concerned that has so far eluded the most well-established precursor, the moribund Barcelona Process, which the Union is in the process of endeavouring to reinvigorate: could the Union do both successfully when success with one had so far been limited? We also wondered what Russia's reaction was likely to be. The Committee therefore indicated that it was minded to recommend the Communication for debate in the fullness of time, but first asked the Minister to write, in good time ahead of the Spring European Council (when the December European Council envisaged "this ambitious initiative being approved") with details of the Commission's eventual financial proposals and other aspects of its response to the Council's invitation to study [the proposals in the Communication] and report back prior to that Council.

1.7  In the meantime we retained the document under scrutiny.

The Minister's letter of 12 March 2009

1.8  The Minister said that, since her Explanatory Memorandum of November 2008, there had been "some progress in discussions on the issues" she mentioned. Member States were "broadly content" with the proposed aims, principles and framework for the Eastern Partnership: a bilateral and a multilateral dimension, regular meetings at Head of government level and at foreign minister level, thematic platforms taking forward work on agreed areas including energy, economic integration and convergence with EU policies, people-to-people contacts and democracy, good governance and stability. Following official level discussions covering trade, JHA issues, energy, migration and development, the February General Affairs and External Relations Council gave broad approval to the plans at a conceptual level; the 19-20 March Spring European Council was expected to endorse short conclusions, with a declaration annexed to them; and the Presidency would host a Summit to launch the Eastern Partnership on 7 May in Prague, which would include a joint statement.

1.9  But there had been "some more difficult aspects":

Financing: the Commission had found €250 million from the regional East envelope within the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI). It was now proposing to find the other €350 million for 2010-13 from the budget set aside for crises and to accommodate unforeseen expenditure. The Minister was concerned that sufficient money should be left to cover other priorities that may arise, e.g. Kosovo and Palestine; she was reassured to the extent that the Commission would need Council approval for allocations to Eastern partner countries on an annual basis, which would enable other claims on the margins and other external relations priorities to be considered. She now expected more detailed discussions in the run-up to the 7 May Summit through the EU's annual budgetary process; although Member States had acknowledged the need for adequate financing to enable the Partnership to achieve its political goals, some were concerned that the funding would affect the informal agreement to split ENPI funding by one third for the East and two thirds for the South, even though the Commission had given an assurance that funding for EaP would not come at the expense of resources for the South.

Mobility: the Minister was broadly content that the Eastern Partnership proposals should promote the mobility of citizens as long as important conditionality remained built in — for example, that steps towards any visa liberalisation took place gradually, as a long-term aim and on a case-by-case basis, and provided that conditions on improved migration management were in place; the UKBA wanted to guard against any decisions that could increase migratory pressures from any of the six into the UK, and were keen that the UK's position outside of the Schengen region was recognised and that the UK's independent mechanisms for managing migration, such as the visa waiver test, were not threatened.

Third country involvement: The Minister was content with the February GAERC decision that third countries such as Russia and Turkey should be invited to participate in Eastern Partnership projects on a case by case basis, but not in the launch summit on 7 May itself; and professed herself keen that communication with Russia on the Eastern Partnership should be fully transparent, to make clear that it was not conceived as an anti-Russian initiative.

Belarusian participation: a decision on the level of Belarusian participation at the Launch Summit would be taken in April, nearer the time; Belarusian recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia would make their participation in a Summit with Georgia very difficult.

1.10  Finally, looking ahead to the substance of the Summit, the Minister wanted to see a substantive agenda, for example including a discussion of cooperation on energy and economic issues, to reinforce this focus and to help emphasise that the EU was not just considering solutions for Member States but was "reaching out to support Eastern neighbours too."

1.11  We doubted that information seven days before was "in good time before" the European Council, since it made impossible what was our clear intention: that this proposal be debated before then. Nonetheless, the Minister's comments made it clear that there were still sufficient ambiguities — particularly over finance, movement controls, the views of Russia and the involvement of Belarus, with whom the EU has had major difficulties over governance issues — for a debate to be warranted. That debate is now to take place in European Committee B on 27 April.

The Minister's letter of 30 March 2009

1.12  The Minister writes to update the committee following discussion at the Spring European Council:

"The Spring European Council's endorsement was an important step forward. The Council also gave the go-ahead for preparation of the Eastern Partnership launch Summit on 7 May. The adopted Conclusions, which included a detailed Declaration setting out the aims, principles and process involved for the Eastern Partnership, were helpful and broadly reflect our objectives.[4] We were pleased that the Declaration set a high level of political ambition in line with the Commission's Communication of 3 December 2008. The Eastern Partnership has the goals of significantly strengthening EU policy with regard to the Eastern partners, including supporting reforms and facilitating approximation with EU law and convergence with EU standards. We were also pleased that the Declaration contained a reference to partners' participation being without prejudice to their aspirations for their future relationship with the EU; this safeguards our concern that the EU should keep the door open to potential membership for those partners who have such aspirations and who might meet the membership criteria in the future.

"We will continue to support the Presidency in its preparations for the Eastern Partnership Summit on 7 May. The Summit gives us the opportunity to highlight the contribution that the Eastern Partnership will make in offering support for the political and economic reforms that will help partners in the current economic difficulties. It may be possible to prioritise practical support through fast-track projects. We should also highlight the medium term benefits to partners of closer economic integration with the EU.

"The full details of the Commission's financing proposals have yet to be discussed. Our approach will be to balance our political support for the Partnership with our wish for budget discipline and improvements in the delivery of EU assistance including better resource allocation based on needs and absorption capacities. My officials will be exploring with HMT, DFID and the Commission what scope there might be for further redeployment of financing from the existing ENPI envelope and for ensuring that adequate budget margins are maintained, in line with the Council's conclusions.

"We have concerns about human rights and democracy in a number of the partners. Belarus has been the focus of particular concern (my letter to you of 20 March refers). The issue of whether to invite President Lukashenko to the Summit will be given further consideration by the Presidency and EU partners in the coming weeks. More broadly, the Summit will provide an opportunity to encourage governance and human rights reform in the region through engagement."


1.13  The Minister concludes her letter by looking forward to the debate, as do we, and consider this chapter of our Report relevant to it.

1   According to its website, the ENP was developed in 2004 "with the objective of avoiding the emergence of new dividing lines between the enlarged EU and our neighbours and instead strengthening the prosperity, stability and security of all concerned." See for full information. Back

2   Paragraphs 68-70; see for the full Council Conclusions. Back

3   See for the full Council Conclusions Back

4   The Declaration is at the Annex to this chapter of our Report, and the conclusions are available at Back

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