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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » October 27, 2011
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Warsaw Hosts Eastern Partnership Summit
October 27, 2011   
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Warsaw hosted a two-day Eastern Partnership Summit Sept. 29-30, an event billed as one of the highlights of Poland’s turn at the rotating presidency of the European Union.

“The participants of the Warsaw summit acknowledge the European aspirations and the European choice of some partners and their commitment to build deep and sustainable democracy,” read a declaration adopted by the heads of state and government of EU countries and five nations covered by the Eastern Partnership program—Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The declaration states that the primary objective of the Eastern Partnership program is increased mobility across the continent, and the first step is a visa facilitation agreement that the EU already has with Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, with negotiations with Azerbaijan and Armenia scheduled to begin shortly. The declaration reads that “the EU and the partner countries will take gradual steps towards visa-free regimes in due course on a case-by-case basis provided that conditions for well-managed and secure mobility set out in two-phase action plans for visa liberalization are in place.”

The leaders gathered at the summit announced that EU educational programs and youth, student and researcher exchanges would open to Eastern Partnership countries. According to Polish politicians, this will enable students from countries east of Poland to take part in the popular Erasmus EU student exchange program.

In addition, the summit announced the establishment in Warsaw of an Eastern Partnership Academy of Public Administration on the basis of the National School of Public Administration (KSAP). This year the academy will accept the first group of about 60 students from Eastern Partnership countries.

The summit participants also announced enhanced cooperation in areas such as energy security and the opening of EU agencies and programs to Eastern Partnership countries. A total of 1.9 billion euros will be earmarked for this in the 2010-2013 period as part of bilateral and regional cooperation.

According to Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, the summit was a success because its final declaration went further than that adopted at the first summit in Prague in 2009. This view was shared by the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who also took part in the meeting.

At the close of the summit, Tusk said, “As the originator and organizer of the second Eastern Partnership summit, Poland believes that this summit and the Eastern Partnership program as a whole are producing increasingly good results. This is a program for building a common, stable Europe.” Tusk added that Poland’s special ambition as the host of the Eastern Partnership summit was to “prepare a proposal for a modernization package for a democratic Belarus.” The package should include a range of aid instruments that would encourage Belarus and its authorities to embrace democracy and embark on economic reforms, Tusk said.

Belarus, however, boycotted the meeting. The authorities in Minsk declared that the summit was “discriminatory” because Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko had not been invited to Poland. Lukashenko is on a blacklist of politicians prohibited from entering EU countries because of his dictatorial methods. Instead of Lukashenko, Belarus was first expected to be represented by Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov, then by Ambassador Viktor Gaisenok, but neither showed up. The absence of officials representing the sixth country covered by the Eastern Partnership program did not mean that the topic of Belarus was omitted. A significant part of the meeting focused on the situation in this post-Soviet republic.

“The Heads of State and Government and representatives of the EU and its member states express their deep concern at the deteriorating human rights, democracy and rule of law situation in Belarus, deplore the continuing deterioration of media freedom in Belarus and call for the immediate release and rehabilitation of all political prisoners, an end to the repression of civil society and media and the start of a political dialogue with the opposition,” read the declaration adopted at the close of the summit.

The EU leaders stated that “the European Union has consistently offered to deepen its relations with Belarus and, while reaffirming its policy of critical engagement, reiterates that such a deepening is conditional on progress towards respect by the Belarusian authorities for democracy, the rule of law and human rights.” It is unclear how the authorities in Minsk will respond to the proposals formulated in Warsaw. Western European politicians note that in the past decade Lukashenko has on several occasions appeared to be willing to strengthen his country’s dialogue with the EU, but each time this ended with a new wave of repression against the opposition.

Concerns over Belarus were not the only problem discussed at the summit. EU politicians also expressed concern over the ongoing trial in Kiev of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, accused of having overstepped her powers as head of government during negotiations with Russia on natural gas deliveries taking place in 2009. The ex-prime minister, now one of the opposition leaders, faces up to seven years in prison. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych said at the summit that the trial should not end with such a harsh sentence. Many EU politicians, including Polish leaders, believe that Tymoshenko’s trial is political in nature.
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