According to PM Taavi Rõivas, the Eastern Partnership summit in Riga did not deliver the results that some countries, including Estonia, were hoping for. Regardless, Rõivas acknowledged that questions regarding visa-free travel between the EU, Ukraine and Georgia were answered.
According to PM Rõivas, Estonia had expected a stronger stance from the fourth summit of the European Union and Eastern Partnership (EAP) states in Riga. "Had we written the final declaration ourselves, we would have used more resolute and coherent phrasing in quite a few places," Rõivas admitted to ERR.
At the same time Rõivas noted that the summit did result in a declaration signed by 34 countries, rendering it impossible to be phrased exactly as the Estonian delegation might have hoped for. "We had a role in trying to improve and guide it along, but without reaching the ideal result," Rõivas said.
According to Rõivas, the greatest accomplishment of the summit had been the definition of criteria for Ukraine and Georgia, the fulfillment of which would allow for visa-free travel between the two countries and the European Union.
"The summit made it clear that these are merely technical requirements, which lack a political character," commented Rõivas, in whose opinion the establishment of the criteria was a fundamental step forward.
Rõivas also acknowledged that three of the Eastern partners - Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus - had chosen to follow an alternate path in not stating their intentions to join the EU.
"Despite not having expressed an interest in joining the Union, these countries still need assistance in implementing reforms," Rõivas said.
Critics have voiced opinions that the European Union should be more supportive towards Ukraine than it is today. The PM noted that alongside financial aid, providing the experience of reform was equally as important, ensuring the appropriate use of support funds.
"I, too, support providing aid to Ukraine in a manner similar to the Marshall Plan, alongside providing loans," Rõivas said, adding that the European Union could offer non-repayable financial assistance to a country struggling with armed conflict.
"Such sums are much smaller in comparison to those being divided amongst the EU states themselves, but carry much more symbolic meaning in providing support," Rõivas added.
Latvia under fire for EU presidency, Eastern partners eager to travel but slow to reform
Latvia's greatest goal for its presidency of the Council of the European Union, which it holds until next month, has been to increase cooperation between Europe and its Eastern partners. The summit, however, showed instead that three out of six Eastern partners – Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus – have a very different understanding of day-to-day politics.
The Eastern partners are mostly interested in visa-free travel with the EU, whereas the Western representatives expect greater democracy and more up-to-date economic environments from the partners.
Latvia's presidency has been questioned increasingly for its national benefits as well as whether it beams messages from Latvia or rather the Baltic states on the whole, in addition to financial repercussions.
Latvian Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma remarked that gathering at the discussion table during difficult times was in itself a victory. The summit declaration condemns the annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol; however, it also clearly states that the condemnation comes from the European Union.
Keeping with some of the Eastern partners' oppositional views on day-to-day politics, the declaration of the summit could have been abandoned altogether. Despite seeking visa freedoms with the Union, the partners themselves are not in a rush to reform their respective countries.
"The declaration of the summit is a great compromise. But I'm satisfied. If the European Commission approves the arrangements made by Ukraine and Georgia, then those two countries will gain visa-free travel with the European Union next year," commented Latvian PM Straujuma.
The differences between the trios of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova with Belarus, Azerbaijan and Armenia in regards to EU values are so great that they raise the question of whether or not the Eastern partners should be divided into two. The idea of this was ruled out quickly at the summit; instead, visa-free travel with Armenia was seen as a point to be included in the agenda.
"It's clear that Azerbaijan is interested in cooperating with the European Union. There's no doubt about it. That was President Aliyev's clearest message," Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, noted.
Latvia's presidency of the EU comes at a time when many large-scale projects are in progress, yet unfinished and will still take some time to complete. Thus it may seem as if Latvia may not be able to report specific results from its presidency, resulting in the eventuality that Estonia may do so during its presidency in 2018.
"Smaller countries need to hold up high ambitions during presidencies. It's a unique chance to be in focus amongst the entirety of Europe. Today we can certainly say that Lithuania's presidency was successful in many ways. With Latvia, the time for conclusions is yet to come," commented PM Taavi Rõivas.
The next summit of the European Union and Eastern Partnership states is set to take place in 2017.
Editor: A. Kaer