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EU meets eastern neighbours, but eyes turbulent south

28 september 2011, 14:34
Poland's Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski. ©Reuters
Poland's Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski. ©Reuters
Poland will host an Eastern Partnership summit Thursday and Friday with hopes of fulfilling the European dreams of its eastern neighbours, even if the EU's attention is focused south, AFP reports.

The bloc's Eastern Partnership is aimed at boosting economic and political ties between the 27-nation European Union and six ex-Soviet states -- Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

The project was launched in the Czech capital Prague in 2009 by Sweden and Poland -- another former communist state, which joined the EU in 2004 -- as a counterpart to the Mediterranean Union promoted by France.

Warsaw, which holds the rotating six-month EU presidency, wants to offer the six states the prospect of entry visas into the bloc being waived under certain conditions -- and, ultimately, EU membership.

"We are keen to complete talks with Ukraine on an association agreement by the end of this year," Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said in the Polish edition of Newsweek published Monday.

A declaration to this effect is expected during the summit, to be held in the capital Warsaw.

At the summit, "we will announce opening talks -- already well prepared -- on an association treaty between the EU, Moldova and Georgia," Sikorski added.

"These countries must understand that the climate is not suitable for an enlargement of the EU right now, but that doesn't mean that everything has stopped and that we are wasting time," he added.

With the Arab Spring revolts, the EU is above all eyeing developments along the Mediterranean's southern coast.

As one senior diplomat in Brussels put it: "This is a project that is dear to Poland in particular, and we can't see much interest in it at the moment."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron are not taking part in the summit: Prime Minister Francois Fillon and deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg respectively, will go in their place.

The countries that initiated the Eastern Partnership see it as a bridge towards EU accession for their eastern neighbours.

For others in Europe however, the partnership itself is as far as the relationship should go.

And political developments in Ukraine and Belarus have not helped their prospects of EU membership.

The trial of Ukraine's former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has been strongly criticised by the EU.

The feisty Tymoshenko faces charges of abuse of power over a disputed gas agreement she signed with Russia in 2009, and faces up to 10 years behind bars if convicted.

European Union Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule made it clear earlier this month that if Tymoshenko did not go free it would damage EU relations with Ukraine -- and their prospects of membership.

EU relations with Belarus, ruled by authoritarian hardliner Alexander Lukashenko, are as bad as they have ever been.

Western countries have imposed severe sanctions on the Lukashenko regime after several opposition leaders were arrested and imprisoned following his reelection in a December 2010 vote observers said was marred by fraud.

Like other European ministers before him, Sikorski insisted Friday "an unconditional liberation of all political prisoners" locked up by the Lukashenko regime was "a condition for a dialogue with the EU."

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