BRUSSELS — European Union leaders and six former Soviet republics have swiftly agreed on a final joint declaration of their Eastern Partnership summit in Brussels, avoiding a repeat of the squabbling that triggered delays at the last summit two years ago.
In addition, the EU signed a Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with Armenia on November 24.
«This agreement is the first of this kind that is concluded with a party that is also a member of the Eurasian Economic Union,» EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini said. «It will now be very important to implement it.»
Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian said, «Armenia is determined to further develop and strengthen comprehensive cooperation with the EU in all areas of mutual interest based on this agreement.»
Officials in both Brussels and Yerevan have stressed the agreement does not impinge upon Armenia’s close relations with Russia, which leads the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). The EEU includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia.
Russian pressure is believed to have scuttled a broader Association Agreement that Armenia and the EU had nearly finalized in 2013. Yerevan precluded completion of that deal when President Serzh Sarkisian unexpectedly announced the decision to join the EEU just three months before the Association Agreement was set to be inked.
Speaking at a news conference after the summit, European Council President Donald Tusk praised the Eastern Partnership program.
«This is not a geopolitical beauty contest between Russia and the EU, but a real partnership between sovereign countries without political, economic, and military threats and coercion between the EU and our partners,» he said.
WATCH: European Council President Donald Tusk condemned what he called Russian «aggression» in Ukraine, stressing that the best future for Ukraine and other countries in the region lay in close ties with the European Union.
The summit’s final declaration, published on the European Council’s website, does not mention any specific conflicts in the region, including Ukraine’s with Russia-backed separatists in the east of the country that has killed more than 10,000 since April 2014.
But it states that the «summit participants remain deeply concerned about the continued violations of principles of international law in many parts of the region.»
It adds that they welcome «the EU’s strengthened role in conflict resolution and confidence building in the framework or in support of existing agreed negotiating formats and processes, including through field presence, when appropriate.»
That language that was enough to secure approval from Armenia and Azerbaijan. The two neighbors, who have been locked in a decades-long standoff over the breakaway Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh, clashed over the final text of the declaration at the 2015 summit in Riga.
The final text of this year’s declaration features the same language as the Riga declaration concerning the potential future EU accession of Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine, each of which have signed association agreements with the 28-member bloc.
It states that «the summit participants acknowledge the European aspirations and European choice of the partners concerned, as stated in the association agreements.»
However, the statement stops short of making any concrete promises of future membership in the bloc, a position which European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker made sure to highlight.
«This is not an enlargement or accession summit,» Juncker said as he arrived for the summit on November 24.
Instead of offering membership prospects, the EU is focusing on concrete measures that will improve people’s lives in the six partner countries — such as small business loans and reducing mobile-phone roaming charges and energy costs.
Along these lines, the summit agreed a package of 20 «deliverables» with the six countries to help them fight against corruption, improve the rule of law, and modernize their economies.
Russia’s envoy to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, told journalists that the summit showed that «the European Union’s landmark political and economic initiative, the partnership, is losing momentum.»
He argued that only a «propagandistic shell and a set of bilateral projects» remain from the high expectations of the project’s launch.
Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian arrives for an EU Eastern Partnership summit with six eastern partner countries at the European Council in Brussels on November 24.
The run-up to this year’s summit has otherwise been dominated by speculation about whether authoritarian Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka would show up. Minsk said on November 21 that Foreign Minister Uladzimer Makey would lead its delegation.
In October, EU sources told RFE/RL that Lukashenka had received an invitation «without restrictions,» just like the leaders of the other five Eastern Partnership states: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.
This was a U-turn compared to the previous four summits, when he was blocked after being hit with EU sanctions following a violent crackdown on protesters after the Belarusian presidential election in 2010.
Most of the sanctions, including those on Lukashenka, were lifted in February 2016.
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