A new boost to the so-called Eastern Partnership was due to be given by EU leaders meeting in Brussels on November 24.
The Eastern Partnership is a major pillar of Czech policy, the Czechs almost regard it as one of their EU ‘babies’ after the accord, with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia, was signed in Prague in May 2009 during the Czech EU presidency. Sweden and Poland, also enthusiastic backers of the concept of encouraging EU ties, economic and democratic development in the former Soviet states, would probably also claim some parenthood for the partnership.
Heads of government, including Czech prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka, are being called on to agree a 20 point programme to strengthen the current partnership goals. These should flesh out the existing priority targets of encouraging economic development and market opportunities; strengthening institutions and good governance; bosting transport links, energy efficiency, and climate change; and paving the way for more two-way mobility and people-to-people contacts. The delivery target is for 2020.
The partnership could be summed up as opening the door for deeper EU cooperation though falling short of a promise of eventual EU membership. To what degree the strengthened ties open the door to EU membership has been a matter of contention within the EU itself.
Much of the economic support should target small and medium-sized businesses. And the EU aid should also seek to kick start the digital economy in the six partner countries, where immense opportunities are seen for this still largely nascent and untapped part of the economy. The 2020 target includes the creation and operation of independent regulatory authorities for electronic communications in at least five out of six of the countries.
The overall economic situation is also a focus with the aim of creating a fair and stable environment. And progress should also be registered on Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas with Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova. EU sanctions against Belarus were lifted at the start of the year.
The reports of international institutions, such as the World Bank Doing Business Report, and evaluations by the International Labour Organisation.
The exact two-way benefits of the Eastern Partnership could still be up for debate. Figures though show that EU exports to the six have nearly doubled from 16.3 billion euros in 2004 to 30 billion euros by 2016. And figures for the first eight months of 2017 also suggest that the clear growth in trade is continuing.
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