On November 28-29, 2013, the Lithuanian capital Vilnius will host the third Eastern Partnership Summit. The high officials from the EU and its member states, as well as their counterparts from the six Eastern Partners, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and Belarus, will assemble to discuss the achieved progress and set the future priorities. The overview of the pre-summit political stage calls for stronger EU action to help the Eastern Partnership political platform serve the objectives of strengthening ties between the EU and the six participating countries.
The third EU-Eastern Partnership Summit brings to the table a plethora of politically and economically sensitive issues. Including but not limited to, signing the Association Agreement with Ukraine, finalizing talks on the Deep and Comprehensive Trade and Association Agreements with Georgia, Moldova and Armenia (after having completed association negotiations with the respective countries in June-July 2013), as well as discussing the recently concluded visa facilitation/ readmission agreements with Armenia and Azerbaijan, with the possibility of outlining the same opportunity for Belarus.
The Eastern Partnership Summits are always treated with utmost attention by the Eastern Partners, which perceive such summits as opportunities for advancing their (far-reaching or moderate) ambitions of European integration. It is also closely watched by Russia, which is vigorously keeping an eye on the affairs in Post-Soviet countries.
Russian high officials have not once stated that they look with any reservations at the western advances close to Russia’s borders. The traditional stance regarding “containment” of the West has recently taken different forms, mostly manipulating economic and energy leverages, as well as promoting alternative economic structure – the “Eurasian Union”. The targeted actions of Russia have become a leitmotiv of the EU-Eastern Partnership Summits and this year has been no exception. The Russian ban on the largest Ukrainian sweets exporter Roshen, holding “precautionary” visits to Armenia and Azerbaijan, setting up barbed razor wire fences in Georgia along the administrative boundary lines with South Ossetia region (EU High Representative has issued a recent statement about this), threatening Belarusian and Lithuanian milk exports to Russia, and banning Moldovan spirits/ wine suspiciously precede the upcoming Vilnius Summit in November.
Added to this overall picture, Russia’ ongoing diplomatic dispute with the Netherlands and the launch of a WTO case against Russia by the EU destine that Russia proceeds along the same lines. The global context of the lapse in the US government funding (see this article by Natasha Levanti), the other strong supporter of democracy in the Post-Soviet countries and the EU ally, enables Russia to be even more assertive in its actions.
Regardless of these overall tensions, the objective of the EU for Vilnius Summit should not compromise the achieved progress of relations with the stated six Eastern European partners. The EU as a normative power should not be trampled due to the internal crises and external failures; rather, the successful EU external action can significantly contribute to the internal consolidation and citizens’ trust to the Union. The Eastern Partners themselves seem to be moving ahead, remaining committed to closer links with the EU regardless of the heavy pressures incurred, but a stronger EU stance and clear support would certainly be a further incentive. Summits determine outcomes and the framework of future relations between partners and while all political negotiations are subject to different ideas and compromises, at the Vilnius Summit the EU should think twice before making compromises with long standing and irreversible negative consequences for the democratic development of the countries in question.