Delivered in Plenary - 12th March 2009
As rapporteur for the eastern dimension of the European Neighbourhood Policy, I welcome the Commission’s commitment to deepening relations with six countries to the east in the new Eastern Partnership. It is important to emphasise that the Eastern Partnership should not by itself preclude the possibility that some of those countries should one day join the EU as full members. For example, as you well know, I have long been an advocate of Ukraine’s EU membership, and I remain convinced that absorbing Ukraine is definitely in the EU’s strategic interest.
I also welcome the establishment of a new parliamentary body, Euronest, as a forum for MEPs and national parliamentarians to reinforce each others’ democratic mandates through dialogue including, for instance, facilitating Armenia and Azerbaijan to sit down together and discuss the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute, and negotiating free trade agreements and visa facilitation through these new association agreements. However, I hope that the Eastern Partnership will not lead to new dividing lines being drawn between those countries in the Partnership and those countries further east and outside of it. We must bear in mind that countries in Central Asia like Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are looking west to the EU for assistance and engagement. We must therefore be careful not to lose sight of our responsibilities to Central Asia simply because we wish to strengthen relations with countries adjacent to the EU to its immediate east.
With regard to Belarus, I have been a staunch critic in the past of the Lukashenko dictatorship. Nevertheless, I welcome the recent thaw in relations. I have long advocated a carrot-and-stick approach whereby President Lukashenko’s efforts at democratic reform and openness should be recognised and rewarded by closer ties to the European Union.
As to whether Mr Lukashenko should be allowed to participate in the summit in Prague to launch the new Eastern Partnership in May, such a step, to my mind, is probably premature, as President Lukashenko still needs to demonstrate an irrevocable commitment to EU common values and democracy.