A Eurasianet partner post from RFE/RL
BRUSSELS -- The European Commission has presented its annual European Neighborhood Package, detailing political and economic development in its six eastern neighbors, as well as countries in the southern Mediterranean.
The package will be a key factor in determining how much EU funds that will be granted to the individual member states later this year.
Stefan Fuele, the EU commissioner for enlargement and neighborhood policy, said in Brussels that the EU needs to increase efforts to help the countries in the report meet goals to become members of the European Union.
"The Eastern Partnership countries need our continued support to deliver on their commitments, and it is my conviction that they deserve an ambitious future," Fuele said.
This year's report shows that Georgia, Moldova, and to a certain extent Armenia have reformed the most in the recent year and will benefit from additional funds from Brussels.
Here are highlights of the report that pertain to countries in RFE/RL's broadcast area.
The commission has urged the Armenian government to step up its work to implement and enforce human rights legislation. The report also underlined the need to address shortcomings in Armenia's recent presidential elections. It stated that freedoms of assembly and expression were generally respected but media independence remained insufficient.
The report also took note of Yerevan's efforts to reform its judiciary and fight corruption. On the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the EU urged Armenia to intensify efforts with Azerbaijan to reach an agreement and ensure "unimpeded access" for EU representatives to the area and surrounding regions.
Despite the criticism, the EU still said that Armenia qualifies for its "more for more" principle in which extra reforms lead to additional EU funds for the upcoming year.
Azerbaijan has come under heavy criticism again in the commission's report. The report stressed the need for Baku to "make significant further efforts to meet its commitments in building deep and sustainable democracy" in areas such as the electoral process, the protection of human rights, and the independence of the judiciary. The Azerbaijani government was also urged to increase efforts to investigate cases of harassment against journalists and activists as well as to enact legislation on freedom of media and assembly in line with international standards.
The report called for Baku to reach an agreement with Armenia over its separatist territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. The document noted progress on issues mentioned in past reports, such as the forced evictions and demolitions from homes in Baku for modernization projects.
The European Union has again refrained from issuing an assessment of Belarus within its annual EU neighborhood reports. Instead of the detailed recommendations like those issued for five other Eastern neighbors, Brussels instead published an overview of the current political and economic situation in Belarus. The EU still lacks an agreement on a political action plan with Minsk.
The document mentioned grave concern about the lack of respect for human rights, the rule of law, and democratic principles. It stressed that the EU remains committed to a policy of critical engagement towards Belarus, including support for the country's civil society and contacts with Minsk on technical issues.
The EU still has 243 individuals on a visa ban and assets freeze list after the violent crackdown on the opposition following the country's presidential election in December 2010.
The EU's annual neighborhood report contains mostly praise for Georgia. The document notes Tbilisi has acted on most of the previous EU recommendations such as strengthening the freedom of expression, fighting corruption, continued judicial reform, and improving the lives of internally displace people. October's parliamentary elections, which resulted in the first democratic transfer of power in Georgia's history, were deemed broadly free and fair.
The report stressed the need to respect the roles of the prime minister and the president after several months of political infighting between the two offices. Brussels also underlined that the country suffers from a lack of judicial independence and labor rights need to be improved.
Along with Moldova, Georgia is set to get the majority of the additional EU funds available for neighbors that carry out most reforms.
The European Commission has praised Moldova's progress toward fulfilling the criteria meant to bring the country closer to European integration. The report singles out Moldova as one of the top reformers among the former Soviet republics. The document highlights a Constitutional Court decision which validated the election of a new president, ending a long political and constitutional deadlock.
It also endorses reforms in areas such as social assistance, health and education, but notes that political uncertainty has returned with the fall of the ruling coalition earlier in March.
The report urges more efforts to combat corruption and more reforms in justice and law enforcement. It calls on Moldova to "engage pro-actively" with its separatist Transdniester region in order to find a solution to the conflict.
The commission has told Ukraine that "much remains to be done" by Kyiv in order to implement the bloc's recommendations made in an association agreement initialed last year. The report said that among the top priorities are the need to fight against conflict of interest and corruption in the judiciary.
The report urges the establishment of a reliable electoral system, clear rules for balanced media access for candidates and for the authorities to address the cases of politically motivated convictions. Other demands include the need to stop the introduction of protectionist trade measures.
Ukraine, the only former Soviet republic to have initialed an association agreement with the EU still hopes to sign the deal by the end of this year.
Copyright (c) 2013. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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