The Joint Declaration of the Eastern Partnership Summit in Warsaw on 29-30 September 2011 has moved the European Union (EU) one step closer to negotiating with Georgia on the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA).
“It is envisaged that such negotiations could start by the end of this year, provided sufficient progress has been made in fulfilling a number of remaining key recommendations,” states the Joint Declaration adopted in Warsaw by EU leaders, EU Member States and the six Eastern Partnership member states.
Along with Georgia, Eastern Partnership member states include Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Eastern Partnership initiative was launched under the EU European Neighbourhood Policy in May 2009 to facilitate sustainable reforms intended to accelerate the six countries’ political association and economic integration with the EU.
Warsaw Summit participants acknowledged “the European aspirations and the European choice of some partners and their commitment to build deep and sustainable democracy.” They also “highlighted the particular role for the Eastern Partnership to support those who seek an ever closer relationship with the EU.”
Some participants in the Warsaw Summit had hoped that the Joint Declaration would more explicitly support future integration of Eastern Partnership member states into the EU. According to Polish media, Poland had pushed for the Joint Declaration to reference specifically Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union, which envisages the possibility of admitting any European democratic state to the European Union. The final version of the Joint Declaration, however, included no such reference.
In his speech at the Warsaw Summit, United Kingdom Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg openly supported “meaningful integration, including full EU membership” of Eastern Partnership member states. As he declared, EU economies “benefit massively from integration.”
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk later acknowledged that the Summit had not lived up to the expectations of either Georgia or Moldova: “We are aware of the fact that Georgia and Moldova had hopes with the Summit greater than we were able to achieve today – hopes related to a clear perspective of EU membership.” Although there is currently no movement toward starting negotiations on admitting Georgia and Moldova into the EU, Prime Minister Tusk hailed the decision to launch DCFTA negotiations with the two countries as a step forward.
The Joint Declaration adopted in Warsaw also notes and welcomes “the effective implementation to date of the visa facilitation and readmission agreements with Georgia.” According to the document, the EU offers Georgia and other Eastern Partnership countries the prospects of a visa-free regime “in due course on a case-by-case basis provided that well-managed and secure mobility set out in two-phase action plans for visa-liberalisation are in place.” Separate visa-liberalisation action plans now being negotiated with Ukraine and Moldova “could serve as model plans for other partner countries bearing in mind the specificity and progress of each country.”
Interest in and approaches toward development of democratic institutions vary widely among Eastern Partnership member states, not all of which have aspirations for full integration into the EU. Heather Grabbe, director of the Open Society Institute in Brussels, told The New York Times that the EU had made a mistake in grouping together these six nations with very different aspirations. As the leading U.S. newspaper reported, only Moldova and Georgia among the six Eastern Partnership countries have shown signs of moving toward a European democratic model, whereas “Azerbaijan, Armenia and Belarus are consolidated authoritarian regimes, and in the Ukraine there is a rapidly deteriorating situation and a centralization of power.”
Approximation with the EU is of vital importance for the security and development of Georgia, President Mikheil Saakashvili said in Warsaw. In the speech he delivered to a closed plenary session of the Summit, the Georgian President reviewed reforms implemented in the country. The President told journalists afterwards: “Yesterday and today many EU leaders were saying that Georgia should become an EU member. It was even impossible to say that several months ago.”