After 'Club Med' initiative, Poland urges EU to look east

After 'Club Med' initiative, Poland urges EU to look east

26th May 2008, Comments 0 comments

From Brussels Catherine Triomphe reports on a new Polish and Swedish initiative to redress that perceived imbalance between east and west.

   To counterbalance a French initiative for a Mediterranean Union with the EU's southern neighbours, Poland and Sweden will next week urge their European partners to boost ties with Ukraine, Georgia and others to the east.

   The French plan to increase cooperation with southern Mediterranean
nations, revamping ties with Middle East nations among others, has left EU
member states such as Germany, Poland and Sweden concerned about creating an imbalance in the bloc's "neighbourhood policy".

   The new Polish and Swedish initiative, to be presented at a meeting of EU
foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday, aims to redress that perceived
imbalance by putting the spotlight on relations with Armenia, Azerbaijan,
Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

   At a European summit in March, where French President Nicolas Sarkozy won support for raising the profile of relations with Mediterranean rim nations,
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk announced that he was preparing an initiative for the former Soviet bloc nations to the east of the expanded EU.

   The EU's Slovenian presidency on Friday confirmed that Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski would present details of that initiative with Swedish counterpart Carl Bildt, who has strong ties with the EU's eastern neighbours.

   While the EU presidency insisted that the idea was an "autonomous
initiative," a Polish diplomat confirmed that counterbalancing the
Mediterranean focus was indeed an objective.

   In "balancing" the EU neghbourhood policy "it's only natural that there are
more options for eastern neighbours," the diplomat told AFP.

   While the neighborhood policy offers much to the EU's southern neighbours,
to the east most of the contacts are done on a bilateral rather than regional
basis, he explained.

   Outside of practical aspects such as introducing visa-free travel to EU
nations, he stressed that the idea was to create a "regional framework"
between nations to boost cooperation and share experiences in a wide range of

   Among the countries targetted by the initiative "Ukraine is the leader" and
could serve as a model, another Polish diplomat said.

   Kiev is currently in negotiations with the EU on a new partnership

   EU nations are keen to counterbalance Moscow's influence over the region.

   A German diplomat described as "interesting" an idea which could only
favour the European Union's newer eastern European members.

   A British counterpart also said more focus to the east was a good idea, as long as it didn't duplicate or divert funds from the neighbourhood policy.

   The European Commission said the Polish initiative would be viewed by exactly the same criteria as the Mediterranean drive.

   "It is the question of added value, additional attention to a regional
question and avoidance of any kind of duplication of efforts and programmes,"
a spokeswoman said.

   The eastern promise was affably greeted by a French diplomat who said
Friday he saw "no difficulty" with the idea of reinforcing ties with these

   However he put his finger on the main problem that could hamper the Polish

   For southern Mediterranean countries there is no question of eventually
joining the European Union but "Ukraine cannot think of its future except
within a perspective of membership," a question which divides EU nations.

   Eastern European countries along with Britain and Sweden are in favour of
embracing Ukraine while France and Germany opposed the idea.

   The French diplomat said France, which will assume the EU's rotating
presidency in July, did not rule out an eventual change of opinion but
stressed that the current priority was getting the EU's reforming Lisbon
Treaty ratified rather than thinking about enlargement.

   The Ukrainian question could be at the centre of talks which EU leaders
will have on the Polish proposal at their next summit on June 19-20.

(AFP - Expatica) 

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