Launched in 2009 within the EU’s broader European Neighborhood Policy, the Eastern Partnership is a joint initiative of the EU, its member states, and the following six partner countries in Eastern Europe: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. While the program has no separate secretariat or staff of its own, its work is coordinated by the European Commission via its Directorate-General for Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR). The Eastern Partnership enables the partner countries to broaden and strengthen their political, economic, and cultural relations with the European Union. The EaP is firmly anchored in support and respect for shared values, from the concepts of democracy and sovereignty as enshrined in international law, to fundamental human rights and basic freedoms. For Estonia, the Eastern Partnership countries are not only of critical importance both politically and economically, but are also an essential priority of its development policy.
Key moments in EaP History
· 2004: The European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) is created
· 2009: The Eastern Partnership program is officially launched at the Prague Summit
· 2013: Vilnius EaP Summit held, association agreements with Georgia and Moldova initialed
· 2014: Moldovan citizens receive visa-free access to the EU
· 2015: Riga EaP Summit held
· 2017: Georgian and Ukrainian citizens receive visa-free access to the EU; EaP Summit held in November under the auspices of Estonia’s presidency of the Council of the European Union
The European Union has pursued bilateral relations with each Eastern Partnership country on an independent basis, thereby providing a means for those states more eager to pursue deeper political and economic integration with the EU to do so. A new generation of association agreements has been concluded, including the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements individually reached with Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. The implementation of these agreements will be an ongoing challenge of critical importance in the years to come. Meanwhile, negotiations with a new Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement with Armenia have concluded with its initialing in March of 2017; it is expected to be signed at the EaP Summit in November. Negotiations continue on a new agreement with Azerbaijan, while the future legal framework for bilateral EU-Belarus ties remains uncertain.
One of the most important areas of bilateral cooperation is visa facilitation and liberalization. Moldovans gained the ability to travel to the EU without visas in 2014, with liberalization entering into force for Georgians and Ukrainians in March and June of 2017 respectively. Visa facilitation agreements, meanwhile, already exist with Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Belarus.