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 EaP countries are not only of critical importance politically and serious partners economically, but are also an essential priority of its development policy as 4 from 5 priority countries are EaP countries.
Key moments in EaP History
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 have 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 was signed on 24 November 2017 in the margins of the Eastern Partnership Summit in Brussels and entered into provisional application on 1 June 2018. Negotiations continue on a new agreement with Azerbaijan from 2017, in 2018 the EU and Azerbaijan agreed on their new partnership priorities. The bilateral relationship with Belarus will be strengthened through the EU-Belarus Partnership Priorities, which are currently being negotiated.
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 (2014) and Azerbaijan (2014). Negotiations on a Visa Facilitation and Readmission agreements with Belarus were finalised and sides have agreed to sign the Agreements somewhere in January 2020.