The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) believes that the Eastern Partnership (EaP) is a much-needed and potentially successful initiative of the EU and calls for the newly-elected European Parliament and the European Commission to fully commit to it. The EESC also commits to remaining highly involved in building stronger and more democratic societies in the neighbouring countries.
While the prime achievements of the EaP are the association agreements (AA), including the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) and visa-free travel agreements with Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine (Associated TRIO), more and better targeted progress is expected from the partnership during the next decade. The Committee highlights that while the Associated TRIO have shown higher progress and willingness to introduce reforms, together with Armenia following the good example, Belarus and Azerbaijan have mainly stagnated and, in some instances, moved further away from the definition of democracy.
The EESC believes that the EU is first of all a union of values, thus the relations with its neighbours should also be based upon the same values and become conditional.
The Committee identifies the following as major challenges ahead within the EaP: effective implementation of AA/DCFTA and other related commitments, strengthening the rule of law, the implementation of judicial reforms and the fight against corruption; further protecting the environment and actively tackling climate change; increasing societal resilience by countering hybrid threats and disinformation; strengthening the environment for civil society and a free and independent media; and stepping up EU engagement to help improve the lives of citizens affected by the conflicts in the region.
The EESC believes that more focus and tools are required to improve the skills of civil society organisations, public servants and political leaders in the EaP countries, as well as to build the capacities of trade unions and business associations.