Agreements with Armenia highlight of uneventful EU Eastern Partnership summit

By bne IntelliNews November 27, 2017

The EU and Armenia signed a comprehensive and advanced partnership agreement and a common aviation area agreement at the Eastern Partnership summit on November 24, according to an EU press release.

Founded in 2009, the Eastern Partnership comprises of six former Soviet countries – Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Belarus. The decision to form the partnership was viewed by the EU as its way of keeping its neighbours on the path to democratic reform without promising them outright membership of the bloc.

Three of the Eastern Partnership members – Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova – are already implementing deep and comprehensive association agreements with the EU, which also stipulate the lifting of trade tariffs.

Armenia, however, is a member of another economic bloc – the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). Its agreement, therefore, does not contain free trade stipulations. The country was originally expected to sign the agreement in 2013, but, just like Ukraine, postponed the decision when Russia offered it a different deal, namely membership in the EEU. The current agreement is a watered-down version of the 2013 free trade agreement.

The agreements were the highlights of an otherwise uneventful summit, which focused on extending the EU's Trans-European Transport network eastwards and on establishing 20 concrete deliverables for the Eastern Partnership for 2020. The latter objectives included supporting civil society and local businesses, providing loans in local currencies, improving the ability of members to engage in trade, improving energy efficiency, developing better transport links, reducing roaming tariffs, supporting employment in digital industries and supporting youth and education, among other items.

At a press conference after the event, Jean Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, said: "Over the last two years since [the previous Eastern Partnership summit in] Riga, we have taken great strides in making the region as a whole more stable. And all sides agree that stability must start at home. The European Union can be helpful, but stability must start at home. That means having a job, having access to education and training, and being able to prosper in a strong economy."

One incident that clouded the event, according to Euractiv, was a spat between Dalia Grybauskaite, the Lithuanian president, and Vladimir Makei, the foreign minister of Belarus, over a nuclear power plant currently under construction in Belarus.

The Astravyets plant is located close to the border with Lithuania and only 40 kilometres away from its capital Vilnius. Lithuanian officials consider the plant to be unsafe and as posing a risk to their country. At the summit, Juncker sided with Grybauskaite, telling Makei that he saw the construction of the plant as an EU issue, and not just a bilateral issue, and that Lithuania had the bloc's full support.

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