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Poland and the Eastern Partnership

Submitted by on 12 May 2011 – 08:52

Sidonia Jędrzejewska MEP, EP Rapporteur for the EU Budget 2011, Substitute Member to the Delegation to the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly

In May 2009 the European Union launched an initiative aimed at forging close ties with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine in exchange for democratic reforms. The project named the Eastern Partnership (EaP) offers deeper integration with the EU structures by encouraging and supporting the six former Soviet republics in their political, institutional and economic reforms based on EU standards, as well as facilitating trade and increasing mobility between the EU and the partner states. It is worth noting that the EaP was initiated by Poland and Sweden and then adopted on the broadest possible scale by the EU. Poland, obviously, has high hopes linked to this project because of geographical proximity and historic ties with the Eastern neighbours.

The Eastern Partnership is a part of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), which covers the EU’s relations with its Eastern and Southern neighbours. However, its actions extend well beyond the ENP’s usual scope. Its main objectives are the attainment of political association, establishment of bilateral deep and comprehensive free trade areas between the EU and partner countries, gradual steps towards visa liberalization, leading to the introduction of a visa-free regime, and the establishment of a structure of multilateral cooperation in the form of four thematic platforms. Those platforms are dedicated to democracy, good governance and stability; economic integration and convergence with EU policies; energy security; and contacts between people.

For the last two years Poland strongly supported the creation and the development of the Eastern Partnership. Now, as it will take the lead in the Council of the EU in the second half of 2011, Warsaw intends to prioritise this initiative. Our government will seek to progress on association agreements and create free trade areas in order to enlarge the area covered by EU values and rights. Ukraine is now in the last stage of finalising the association agreement, which will most probably be signed during the Polish Presidency. The Polish government also hopes to accelerate the negotiation process with Moldova and will continue to seek progress in visa liberalisation and deepen sectoral cooperation with all Eastern Partnership countries. All these issues will be discussed at the Eastern Partnership Summit, which will be organised in Poland in September 2011. Our country will also host the EaP Civil Society Forum in November.

Poland will try to encourage Belarus to cooperate with the West at the same time reminding Minsk that it has to respect basic democratic principles and human rights. Belarus is an important part of the Eastern Partnership, but last year’s elections and their aftermath represent an unfortunate step backwards in the development of democratic governance. All acts of violence, especially the disproportionate use of force against presidential counter-candidates, political activists, representatives of civil society have made the EU dialogue with this country even more difficult.

The Eastern Partnership project is carried out not only by the European Commission and the forthcoming Polish Presidency, it is also developed by the European Parliament with the commitment of Polish MEPs. On 3rd May the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly, a body devoted to providing a forum for dialogue between the partner states’ legislative branches and the European Parliament, was officially inaugurated. It consists of 60 members of the EP and 50 representatives of parliaments of the partner states: 10 from each country, except for Belarus. The European Parliament has decided to temporarily suspend Belarus from the Euronest as a sign of disapproval for the current Belarusian regime.

The Euronest consists of four committees dedicated to political affairs, economic affairs, energy security and education and civil society. It has also set up two working groups – one on Belarus and the second on working procedures. Euronest’s first session will take place in the second half of 2011. However, the Assembly should start working effectively as soon as possible to benefit from the time of the Polish Presidency, which is determined to speed up the progress of the Eastern Partnership. In the meantime the European Parliament is already hosting such meetings as the Parliamentary Assembly of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania, the Sejm and the Senate of the Republic of Poland in order to strengthen the bilateral cooperation between the EU and Ukraine.