The fifth summit of the EU Eastern Partnership, which was held on November 24 in Brussels, can perhaps be called the most not confrontational one.
Both on the margins of the summit and in the final declaration, its participants decided to avoid caustic language regarding Russia, which looks with caution at the emerging new pro-European axis.
In the final document, unlike the previous declaration-2015, Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is not mentioned, and the signed EU-Armenia integration agreement took into account Yerevan’s obligations in the Moscow-backed agreement of the EurAsEC.
In order to further the EU’s rapprochement with its eastern neighbors, to increase their prosperity and stability, 20 tasks were agreed, covering four areas until 2020:
1. Strengthening the economy: economic development and market opportunities, small and medium-sized business access to credit, expansion of the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T)
2. Strengthening governance: strengthening institutions and good governance, implementing anti-corruption mechanisms, judicial reform;
3. Strengthening links: accessibility, energy efficiency, environment and climate change, reducing the cost of roaming;
4. Strengthening society: mobility and communication between people, opening of the “European School of the Eastern Partnership” in Tbilisi.
According to the European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy Johannes Khan, these 20 goals are “in the interests of each individual citizen” of the countries in the region.
The summit was marked by the signing an agreement on Armenia’s partnership with the EU. This compromise document, as the sides note, took into account Armenia’s participation in Russian interstate projects and Russia’s interests in this country. The document focuses mainly on the further democratization of Armenia, which in the spring of 2018 will make the transition from a presidential-parliamentary republic to a parliamentary one.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that a similar document is planned to be signed with Azerbaijan, where Moscow’s positions are also strong. “In these countries, relations with Russia play a central role,” the chancellor said.
British Prime Minister Teresa Mei, in which the foggy Albion began the procedure of leaving the EU, allowed herself to be more frank: “Hostile countries like Russia threaten the growth of the Eastern Partnership and are trying to break our collective strength.”
I must admit that this time Russia’s position on the summit was more restrained than it was before. And the very fact of deepening cooperation between the Russian outpost in the South Caucasus – Armenia and the EU, indicates that the Kremlin believes there have been positive changes in the perception of the strengthening of the role of the EU in the post-Soviet space.
This restructuring of Russian views on the European perspective gives Azerbaijan the opportunity to offer the EU an ambitious platform for cooperation. After all, unlike Armenia, Azerbaijan is not burdened with obligations within the framework of the EurAsEC, the SCO, the OCDB, and so on. And in this case, the unification of laws and regulations is not so problematic.
Now, after the signing the Armenia-EU agreement, it is more difficult for Azerbaijan to justify the postponement of European integration, referring to Moscow’s unwillingness and threats.
Today it becomes clear that the delay in the official process of European integration by Baku is more connected not with the desire to transition to the democratization of the country, which previously was justified by the Russian threat and the unresolved Karabakh conflict. In the last issue, the EU also went to meet, making a call to compulsory observance of the principle of territorial integrity of states in the final declaration.
With such concessions to Russia and the EU, all the preconditions are set for Azerbaijan to sign an agreement with the EU next year.
“In February of this year, we began active negotiations in connection with the new agreement. I hope for soon completion of these talks,” Aliyev said at the EU Eastern Partnership summit in Brussels.
However, this seems unlikely in the light of the forthcoming presidential election-2018. Baku, referring to the crucial moment, will still try to maintain a balance between the demonstration of loyalty to Moscow and the promise to Brussels to become more European.