BERLIN – Amid fears of growing economic and political instability in several former Soviet republics, the European Union (EU) convened a summit meeting in Prague on Thursday aimed at forging a stronger partnership between the 27-member bloc and its eastern neighbors.
To get these countries to adopt political, economic, and social reforms modeled on the EU – and in return, eventually to enjoy a degree of engagement with the bloc, including free trade and visa-free travel.
But with Ukraine reeling from the economic crisis, Moldova recovering from violent political unrest last month, and Georgian opposition forces currently clashing in the streets of Tbilisi and calling for the ouster of President Mikheil Saakashvili, the EU’s outreach is now being seen more immediately as a policy to bring stability to a volatile region (more news on this here).
“The EU needs to find some kind of incentive to get these countries closer to the West, for energy reasons and for security reasons,” says Mr. Techau. “Because really in the end for these countries, they have to make a choice: Do they want to be part of the Russian sphere or the European sphere?”
Yet some EU members, notably Germany, have grown increasingly alarmed at what they see as a deteriorating situation much closer to home and have called for more engagement in Eastern Europe. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is in Prague for today’s summit; French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown opted to send representatives.
Leaders were also expected to address the economic crisis’s impact on eastern economies, which is contributing to unrest (in-depth coverage can be found here).
The Eastern Partnership is meant to be the cornerstone policy initiative of the Czech Republic’s six-month EU presidency, which ends on June 30. That provides an interesting twist to today’s meetings, given that the Czechs themselves are models of a society that has moved clearly from a Soviet tradition to a western one.