The European Commission is making progress in negotiations on free trade agreements with several Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries and hopes to complete them with three – Armenia, Moldova and Georgia – by the EaP-EU Summit in Vilnius at the end of November.
A sixth round of negotiations was held with Moldova on 12 March and a final round of negotiations should be held next week with Georgia (there have been five rounds already) while Armenia, so far, has held four rounds of negotiations.
Georgia is reported to be asking for the inclusion of a commitment to EU membership in its agreement and this demand could hold up the finalization of the negotiations. Stefan Füle, the Enlargement Commissioner, has recently been saying that the perspective of EU membership should be held out to those EaP partners who have made most progress maybe as early as the Vilnius Summit. But he is also urging Georgian politicians to stop bickering as this would help him in persuading his colleagues in Brussels of the merits of making such an offer to EaP countries like Georgia.
The negotiations with the three EaP countries centre on Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area Agreements (DCFTA) which if signed and implemented would put a great deal of EU legislation into the legal systems of the partner countries and effectively create a free trade area with and among these countries.
A DCFTA running to around 900 pages (please note that the document was not officially published and therefore does not represent an official document) has already been negotiated and initialled with Ukraine but not yet signed as a gesture of disapproval by the EU of the continued imprisonment of Julia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister and Yuriy Lutsenko, the former interior minister of Ukraine. The Ukrainian CSF National Platform has appealed (see here) for the two sides to nevertheless sign the agreement arguing that this will push the government into implementing pro EU reforms.
Were the DCFTAs to be negotiated, signed and implemented by the end of November then this would mark a huge success for the Eastern Partnership policy. The Czech Republic, Germany, Poland and Sweden recently informed other member states in a non-paper that the Vilnius Summit is of “crucial importance for EaP policy”. The four countries suggest that Moldova and Georgia should be able to conclude negotiations by the Summit and look to Ukraine to “demonstrate determined action” presumably a euphemism for freeing the two opposition politicians. The four also set great store by progress on implementing visa free regimes by Moldova and Georgia.
Armenia, which has run into political problems following last month’s contested presidential election is not mentioned in the document but its leadership has been telling top EU politicians that it will sign and implement a DCFTA after the election. Moldova too is in the middle of a government crisis while, in a positive development, Georgia’s two warring political parties have recently patched up their differences over foreign policy .
The assessment of a country’s democratic credentials are still a major factor for the EU regardless of its drive to complete DCFTAs with the EaP countries. This for the moment puts Belarus and Azerbaijan beyond the pale, makes progress with Ukraine difficult and puts a question mark on Armenia. The four member states mentioned earlier say that “the political situation, respect for principles of democracy including democratic conduct of elections, rule of law…should remain important criteria for assessing the progress of partner countries”