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The Eastern Partnership

 

The Eastern Partnership (EaP) – the policy of the European Union towards six Eastern European countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine) – is one of the long term priorities of the Czech foreign policy, both on the EU and the bilateral level.

By developing the Eastern dimension of the European Neighborhood Policy which includes both Southern and Eastern dimension we aim for substantial deepening of relations between the six partner countries and the EU.

The key aim of the Eastern Partnership is to create conditions for political deepened association and further economic integration between the EU and six partner countries. The EaP is built on the principle of “joint ownership” which means that the EU aims to involve partners as much as possible in the preparation and implementation of this policy.

The Eastern Partnership consists of the bilateral and multilateral dimensions. Within the bilateral dimension, the EU aims to conclude the Association Agreements, including the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements (DCFTA) with some partner countries. The Association agreements bring not only deepening of the political and sectoral dialogue, but also the legally binding commitment of the partner countries to work on domestic reforms and alignment with the European “acquis”. The cooperation in the field of foreign and security policy will also be strengthened. The DCFTAs will remove most of the current barriers in mutual trade.

Progress is also being made in the field of visa policy, namely through the negotiations on the visa facilitation and readmission agreements or through the dialogue on visa liberalization (steps towards the visa free regime). So far Moldova has achieved the most substantial progress in this field, heading towards the visa free regime with the EU for Moldovan holders of biometric passports in the first half of 2014.

Apart from the regular summits and ministerial meetings, the four thematic platforms are the main tool of the Eastern Partnership multilateral track. They reflect main areas of cooperation, namely:

  • Democracy, good governance and stability (Platform 1);
  • Economic integration and convergence with EU policies (Platform 2);
  • Energy security (Platform 3);
  • Contacts between people (Platform 4).

Meetings of the platforms are held at least twice a year at the level of senior officials. There are several thematic panels as well as “flagship initiatives” of the EaP within the platforms.

Apart from the intergovernmental level, the parliamentary dimension of the Eastern Partnership is provided by the EURONEST Parliamentary Assembly that includes members of the European Parliament together with all EaP countries but Belarus. Conference of the Regional and Local Authorities for the Eastern Partnership (CORLEAP) provides a framework for cooperation between the municipalities.

The Civil Society Forum (CSF) enables involvement of non-governmental organizations, think-tanks, foundations, trade unions and employers´ associations within this policy. Based on the fact that cooperation with and support to the civil society is one of the priorities of the Czech foreign policy, a conference “Eastern Partnership: Towards Civil Society Forum” was held at the premises of the Foreign Ministry in Prague in May 2009. This event paved the way to the creation of the Civil Society Forum of the EaP.

The Eastern Partnership Summit in Prague on May 7, 2009, established the EaP by adopting the joint Prague Declaration of the Eastern Partnership, negotiated by the Czech EU Presidency in line with the mandate articulated by the European Council Conclusions from March 2009.

The second summit, held in Warsaw in September 2011 confirmed the main directions of further development of the EaP and adopted the “road map” containing concrete steps aiming at further strengthening cooperation with Partners.

The third summit of the Eastern Partnership took place in Vilnius on the 28th and 29th of November, 2013. The Czech delegation was led by Mr. Jiri Rusnok, the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic. The key outcome of the summit is the initialing of the Association Agreements and DCFTAs with Moldova (http://eeas.europa.eu/moldova/assoagreement/assoagreement-2013_en.htm) and Georgia (http://eeas.europa.eu/georgia/assoagreement/assoagreement-2013_en.htm). The Czech Republic is in favour of speedy signature of these agreements as well as their provisional application. The “Association Agendas” that will serve as a tool for implementation of the agreements will be negotiated with both Partners. The initialing of the Association Agreements and DCFTAs with Georgia and Moldova marks the start of a new phase in their relationship with the European Union.

The EU and Azerbaijan signed a visa facilitation agreement on the margins of the Eastern Partnership Summit, a Framework Agreement for Georgia’s participation in EU crisis management operations was also signed. In a joint statement, the EU and Armenia have confirmed their commitment to “further develop and strengthen comprehensive cooperation in all areas of mutual interest within the Eastern Partnership framework”. Acknowledging that they would not proceed with the initialing of an Association Agreement, they agreed in a joint statement on the need to update the EU-Armenia ENP Action Plan. Also, the Ukraine and the European Union have initialed the Air Services Agreement and the government of Belarus expressed readiness to start visa facilitation negotiations with the EU.

The Joint Declaration endorsed by the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius contains areas considered as a priority by the Czech diplomacy. Participants reaffirmed their “acknowledgement of the European aspirations and the European choice of some partners,” stressing “the particular role for the Partnership to support those who seek an ever closer relationship with the EU.” The document reaffirms the main goal of the „strategic and ambitious” Eastern Partnership which is the political association and economic integration of interested Partners with the EU. It also confirms the main principles of the EaP – joint ownership, differentiation in line with the “more for more“ principle (“incentive based approach”). The summit confirmed the commitment to develop the business dimension of the EaP as well as “joint space of science, research and innovation”, to support the people to people contacts (including the Erasmus plus programme) and aim for further approximation in the field of transport, energy and other. The cooperation in the field of justice and home affairs will be strengthened as well.

Summit participants stressed that effective future implementation of Association Agreements and, where relevant, DCFTAs, accompanied by reforms will bring about the comprehensive approximation with EU legislation and standards leading to the gradual economic integration of partners in the EU internal market and therefore to the creation of an economic area. To this end, the European Commission is invited to conduct a feasibility study in due time.

Summit participants also recognized the important role played by civil society, through the Civil Society Forum and its national platforms. Last but not least, the document also outlines its goals ahead of the next summit in Riga, due to take place in the first half of 2015.

Further information on the Summit and its outcomes is available at http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-13-1074_en.htm.

Czech Republic and the Eastern Partnership

The Czech diplomacy dealt with strengthening of the Eastern dimension of the European Neighbourhood Policy long before the Czech EU Presidency in 2009. Since the Prague summit, the Czech Republic actively supports the implementation and further development of the Eastern Partnership and is actively involved in the debate on the EaP within the European Union. In 2013, for instance, a joint non paper of the Visegrád Group and Benelux on the EaP before the Vilnius summit was prepared and distributed. Czech Foreign Ministry also hosted a meeting of like-minded states on the EaP and co-signed a letter of several EU Member States supporting the “more for more” principle within the European Neighbourhood Policy.

Active Czech policy in the EaP region is based on Czech national interests and know-how of Czech diplomacy, companies and civil society organizations. It is further strengthened by the fact that the Foreign Ministry has established diplomatic missions of the Czech Republic in all six partner countries. The Foreign Ministry also hosts regular inter-agency meetings on the EaP as well as debates with the expert community.

Czech support to the civil society in the partner countries continues as well. The Foreign Ministry inter alia supports projects implemented by non-governmental organizations from the partner countries through the Transition Promotion Programme which is a financial instrument for democracy assistance established by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic in 2005. There is also an Eastern Partnership Facility aiming at supporting projects with “the EaP appeal”. Small local projects are implemented by the Czech Embassies in the EaP countries as well.

Thanks to a Czech initiative, the International Visegrád Fund increased funding for projects in the EaP countries. A special “Visegrád 4 Eastern Partnership” grant programme was created. Funding outside of the Visegrád Group was secured for this programme through contributions from The Netherlands, Sweden and the US Emerging Donors Challenge Fund. Other potential donors also consider their support to this programme.

Within the EaP Panel on Public Administration Reform, the Czech Republic is a leading country in the field of local and regional administration reform. Expert seminars on local administration were organized by the Foreign Ministry and its partners in Ukraine, Georgia and the Czech Republic- in 2013 in Moldova and the Czech Republic again.

As to other recent activities, one can mention a recent Czech voluntary contribution to the Eastern Europe Energy Efficiency and Environment Partnership – E5P, a multi-donor fund administered by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

Within the Czech Foreign Ministry, the Department of Northern and Eastern Europe together with Ambassador Petr Mareš, Special Envoy for the Eastern Partnership, are in charge of the Eastern Partnership.

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