Yesterday, we liveblogged the European Commission’s “Debate on the Future of Europe” event in Warsaw, Poland. It was a townhall-style debate with EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso and Vice-President Viviane Reding. They answered questions from a Polish audience on the economic crisis and, more generally, the future of Europe. We’ll put the video of the event online soon, but in the meantime you can read our liveblog of the event.
Polish MEP Róża Thun was also at the event, and she had a few words to say about Europe’s eastern neighbours:
Sometimes it is said [the Polish] are ambassadors of the countries east of the border who want to acceed to the European Union. We will be a better ambassador if we are an important country in the EU, cooperating constructively. If we stay out of the European mainstream then it will not be of any help to our neighbours. [However], it is not only a question of membership… Ukraine should continue to be in our orbit of interest, but it is not ‘To be or not to be’ in the EU. It would be entirely false if we positioned things like this.
But if EU membership is a distant prospect for countries like Ukraine, how can we keep them “in our orbit of interest”? Another of our commenters, Nikolai, argued that Ukraine needs to see “definite steps” or it may start to look eastwards:
The key to the Eastern Partnership is Ukraine… Should [definite steps towards closer EU-Ukraine relations] fail to materialize… the EU will lose its geopolitical battle due to its sensibilities over the Ukrainian opposition being subjected to judicial opaqueness and eventual incarceration.
We took Nikolai’s comment to Lithuanian MEP Justas Vincas Paleckis, part of the Social Democrats and a member of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs. Is Nikolai right to call Ukraine the “key” to the Eastern Partnership?
We also had a comment from Victor, suggesting there should be a phased or “staged” membership option available for countries like Ukraine, granting some of the benefits of membership without giving them full access to the club:
Change is possible, but only if the European Union recognises the special needs of countries like Ukraine, Belarus and the Caucasus and builds a system of perhaps staged membership that encourages and enables countries like ours to understand and embrace the fundamentals of European values and European standards as a prerequisite for full membership.
How would Paleckis respond?
The European Union is currently negotiating wide-ranging “Association Agreements” with Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Moldova, which could potentially be steps towards the sort of “staged membership” that Victor would like to see.
Just before the event in Warsaw yesterday, President Barroso spoke with Polish TV and expressed his hopes that the Association Agreement with Ukraine could be signed by the time of the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius in November. Similarly, Georgia also wants their Association Agreement to be concluded in time for Vilnius, and Štefan Füle, European Commissioner for Enlargement, has suggested that the upcoming summit will be a “game changer”.
The Commission wants to use the prospect of greater trade ties with the EU to encourage the Eastern Partnership countries to make progress in terms of democracy and human rights. To get an idea of the progress made so far, we’ve put together an infographic, setting out some of the facts and figures around Europe’s Eastern Partnership.