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Radek Sikorski: the Eastern Partnership, a creator of stability

credit: NGV / B2

(BRUSSELS2 in Warsaw) The summit on the Eastern Partnership, which brings together on Thursday and Friday September 28 and 29 in Warsaw the countries of the European Union and six countries of the former USSR (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine), is approaching. And I was able to meet – with some colleagues from the German press and RFI – the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Radoslaw (Radek) Sikorski who will be alongside his Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, the mastermind of this meeting, as well as several Polish diplomats.

Objective of the meeting: to convince of the need for Europeans to pay more attention to the eastern border, while eyes and attention are turned, today and for several months, towards the southern shore. The exercise is not easy. And the minister, known to be brilliant, knows it. He thus ardently defends the Swedish-Polish initiative – which has become a European project – of an Eastern partnership. A path to create stability on our eastern border, according to him. The minister also does not hide the fact that this is a first step towards possible enlargement to the East; and his more particular interest in Belarus and Ukraine (which were, at least, partly Polish lands). However, I was a little disappointed. The Minister does not shine with the length of his answers, evading certain strategic questions such as the conflict in Transnistria or the attitude to have with Russia, even if he gives an interesting description of the situation of Poland in Europe and the hope that this partnership can generate.

Where is Poland today?

While we are still in the same geographic location, we have moved to Europe. Before 1989, Poland was Eastern Europe. When we became candidates, she was in Central Europe. Today, with the result of our good resistance to the economic crisis, and the fact that Donald Tusk (the Prime Minister) is considered a Nordic type leader, we are further north. We must remember that Poland 200 years ago already had a parliamentary system, an economic place in Europe and a civilized government. It's a fair return to reality actually.

What is the EU, the Polish presidency, putting on the table at this summit for the Eastern Partnership countries?

We are finalizing the free trade zone and the association treaty with Ukraine. It was not an easy thing. That's hundreds and hundreds of pages. A pile like this (he points with his hand at the height of his heart). When it is fully applied, Ukraine will have put into force 80% of the Community acquis. Visa liberalization: it is not a question of short or medium term, it must be done as quickly as possible. We also want to announce the opening of the majority of European programs to Eastern partners. It is not a question of creating new programs but of opening existing ones – such as Erasmus for students –
to these countries.

This meeting on the Eastern Partnership appears to be a first step. When do you see them joining the EU. During your lifetime?

It all depends on how we overcome the crisis today. I was discussing it with my German colleague, 4 years ago, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. We were then in a completely different context. And we could envisage a date, around 2020 for Ukraine. For Moldova, too, it is affordable (within this horizon). Because they have common borders with both the European Union and Ukraine. Georgia has also made great progress. For Belarus, the opposition is better organized than ever; she is pro-European while the government is in doubt. If there is a political change, we can quickly find a solution.

A new expansion somehow?

We are not advocates of enlargement but of the Eastern Partnership. We want them to be closer to us, to be like us, to not have an area of ​​instability near us. Now, all these countries which participate in the Eastern Partnership are European states, they have the right in principle, according to the Treaty of Rome, to apply. But from theory to practice, there is a step. Not everyone is in this position. Ukraine (which negotiated a free trade and association agreement), which incorporates 80% of the Community acquis, will undoubtedly be the closest to us.

How do you intend to solve the problem of frozen conflicts like that of Transnistria?

I hope countries will not bring this issue to this forum, because there are other forums for this. Other conflicts like Gibraltar and Cyprus remain unresolved despite entering the European Union. The Eastern Partnership has another function: to organize our cooperation. The return of negotiations to a 5+2 format is a good thing. And we support it. I hope this problem can be resolved. Moldovans are doing what they can.

Russia is not invited to this meeting, how do you see the arrival, the return of Putin as president?

It is not a surprise.

Are you worried ?

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

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