High-level officials from the European External Action Service (EEAS), members of the European Parliament (EP), and a representative from the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) convened in Kiev for the 3rd Association Exchange Forum. They were joined by foreign diplomats, civil society organisations (CSOs) from Brussels, Warsaw and Berlin, journalists, and domestic experts on the implementation of Association Agreements (AA) from Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. Together they discussed recent achievements and shared experiences, best practices and lessons learnt regarding AAs, institutional set-ups, implementation monitoring issues and civil society involvement. Dr. Istvan Komoroczki, EESC chairman of the EU-Georgia Civil Society Platform from the Employers Group, also took part in the Forum.
The programme facilitated lively and meaningful discussions on the possibility of establishing a new format for regional cooperation between the three associated countries. Officials from the three countries have repeatedly expressed their interest in strengthening cooperation and creating a separate trilateral format alongside the Eastern Partnership to deepen their integration within the EU. In instances where the EU is not willing to offer a membership perspective for AA countries, the idea to create "a Wider Europe" was raised as an alternative and explored in depth. Five years have already passed since the launch of Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas (DCFTAs) in Georgia and Moldova, and three since the launch in Ukraine. This year, a new President was elected in Ukraine and new Prime Ministers were appointed in Georgia and Moldova respectively. However, these nations are still faced with significant problems regarding internal political and domestic stability, the implementation of key judicial reforms, energy security and integration into EU energy markets, occupational safety and health, and communication. In addition, the Russian annexation or military occupation of some of their territories continues to heavily undermine peaceful and prosperous economic development. Participants debated challenges relating to the latter in detail, particularly in light of failed international talks and mediation efforts over the past years. In all three countries, there are non-controlled territories that are effectively being occupied by Russian forces, and all of them are being used as battlefields for Russia’s hybrid warfare. Though EU countries are not engaging in military cooperation, participants called for stronger cooperation against actions that constitute hybrid warfare.
The meeting highlighted once more a keen interest in and support for closer cooperation and deeper integration within the EU amongst leading political, security and economic partners, and civil society representatives from the three countries. It is important to emphasize that these expectations were based on realism, as well as a push for closer regional cooperation across all fields to create a more successful business model that would improve quality of life and peace in these nations. With the help of EU Member States, the Wider Europe model could become a successful and sustainable model, providing lasting peace and stability within our Eastern neighbourhood.
Istvan Komoroczki, Dr.
Hungarian member of the EESC Employers' Group
Co-chairman of the EU-Georgia Civil Society Platform and the EU-Georgia Domestic Advisory Group