European neighbourhood policy
Delivered in Plenary - 25th March 2009
The Councilís declaration on the Eastern Partnership is most welcome. As rapporteur on the eastern dimension of the European neighbourhood policy, I support closer relations with the six countries to the east. The announcement of EUR 600 million for the Eastern Partnership is excellent and I welcome the proposed European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument spending on improving EU energy security through better storage facilities for oil and gas and building new pipelines.
The Council also rightly supports the newly conceived EURONEST parliamentary assembly, which will encourage the resolution of frozen conflicts, such as the Nagorno-Karabakh and Transnistrian disputes. However, the Eastern Partnership must not be used to stall the EU membership ambitions of countries manifestly entitled to apply for such status, namely Ukraine and Moldova.
The Council has also rightly decided to double the assistance package for financially distressed non-eurozone countries in eastern Europe, from EUR 25 billion to EUR 50 billion. This measure will help stabilise countries like Hungary and Latvia. However, we must not forget Ukraine either, which is suffering severe financial turmoil. A banking collapse in Ukraine could have catastrophic contagion consequences in countries elsewhere in eastern Europe, and also in Italy and Austria, whose banks are the most exposed to the Ukrainian market.
Finally, while I fully accept the right of Turkey and Russia to be observers in EURONEST, neither country should use this position for its own foreign policy ends. The members of EURONEST are sovereign states with the right to decide their own Euro-Atlantic aspirations. The suggestion by Russiaís Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, that the Eastern Partnership is a means for the EU to expand its sphere of influence abroad is absurd. Such language belongs to the Machtpolitik Cold War era, not to modern diplomacy. If anyone seeks a sphere of influence, it is Russia, as underlined by last summerís war against Georgia and the Kremlinís intermittent political destabilisation of countries such as Ukraine and the Baltic States.