Fri, 28 Feb 2020

BRUSSELS -- France has rejected suggestions that the Eastern Partnership could lead to European Union membership for countries included in the program, and insists that half of its future funding goes to environmental investments, according to two documents seen by RFE/RL.

Paris submitted the two so-called discussion papers, dated October 2019 and January 2020, as part of a consultation process initiated by the European Commission ahead of the planned publication in March of a report on the future of the Eastern Partnership.

The countries included in the partnership are the six former Soviet republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.

The partnership was created in 2009 with the aim of encouraging these countries to undertake reforms, in return for closer relations and economic benefits. It has paved the way for Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine, which have repeatedly stated that their aim is to join the European Union, to conclude association agreements and visa-liberalization deals with Brussels.

Moscow has expressed strong misgivings about the program, arguing that closer economic ties between the EU and its main trading partners could harm Russian interests.

The French document from October states that "our spirit of responsibility must collectively guard us from fostering illusions or ambiguity among our partners about the purpose of the partnership."

It said the partnership is "based on economic and political cooperation," but excludes "all prospects or all mechanisms of EU integration or membership."

"The objective is to reinforce the resilience of our partners, especially in the fields of rule of law, the fight against corruption, and modernizing the economy," it added.

Paris has been a driving force behind the EU's decision to halt the opening of membership talks with North Macedonia and Albania last year, sparking disappointment and concern in the Western Balkans.

French President Emmanuel Macron has insisted that enlargement needed to be preceded by reforming the EU at its current size. He also has called for dialogue with Russia, which is facing EU sanctions over its actions in Ukraine.

A diplomat from an eastern EU member state told RFE/RL under condition of anonymity that France "doesn't want to do anything in the neighborhood that would potentially upset Moscow."

"The impending Brexit also makes France the biggest foreign-policy player in the bloc, so they will have a big influence from now on," the official added.

Both French papers also insisted on creating "a green agenda" for the Eastern Partnership to be approved at a summit of EU and Eastern Partnership leaders in Brussels in June.

The proposal comes as the European Commission in December launched a European Green Deal investment plan with the goal of creating a "climate-neutral EU by 2050." And on January 20, EU foreign ministers adopted conclusions on climate diplomacy in which they stated that the bloc will place "increased emphasis on supporting the efforts of the EU's immediate neighbors" to achieve climate neutrality.

In its January paper, Paris noted that "our common determination to fight climate change leads us to suggest the EU Green Deal be extended to the Eastern Partnership, striving for climate-neutrality by 2050."

It also suggested "that 50% of the European financial assistance to Eastern Partners...contribute to climate and environment objectives" with projects focusing on the fight against pollution, waste management, sustainable development, and renewable energy sources.

"There will be a negotiation about the figure the EU will spend on 'green,' but it will probably not go that high," a diplomat from a member state who didn't want to be identified told RFE/RL.

So far up to one-quarter of the Eastern Partnership budget has been spent on climate and energy.

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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