Zaorálek wants EU to change stance on post-Soviet countries

Czech Foreign Affairs Minister Lubomír Zaorálek, seen here with the chairman of the Crimean Tatar People, Mustafa Dzhemilev, says the European Union has to meet its obligations when it comes to helping Central and East European nations integrate into Europe. Photo: Czech Foreign Affairs Ministry.
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Foreign affairs minister says the union has to meet its financial obligations to help region integrate

Prague, April 24 (ČTK) — The Eastern Partnership project of cooperation between the European Union and six post-Soviet republics should be transformed, and the European Union should approach these countries on a more individual basis, Czech Foreign Affairs Minister Lubomír Zaorálek (Social Democrats, ČSSD) told the Czech News Agency (ČTK) today.

The EU should not use the same model as during the accession of the Czech Republic and other Central and East European countries, Zaorálek said ahead of the summit on the occasion of the Eastern Partnership's fifth anniversary held at Prague Castle, the presidential seat, today and Friday.

The Eastern Partnership project, including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, was launched in Prague during the Czech EU presidency in 2009. Its aim was to extend cooperation with them and help bring them politically and economically closer to the EU.

However, the project has turned into "a preparatory school" for their EU entry in the first five years, Zaorálek said.

He criticized the EU for applying the same principles as to the Central and East European countries in the past, such as an association agreement.

The EU demands for reforms connected with the association agreement have launched transformation processes in these countries that require up to 10 times more financial means than the EU is willing to spend, Zaorálek said.

"If we are launching such fundamental changes in society, we must also calculate their social and economic impacts on these countries," he told ČTK.

This is why the Eastern Partnership should be transformed, and less bureaucratic procedures should be used in relation to the post-Soviet region, he said.

He added that he considers the current crisis in Ukraine a consequence of the mistakes the EU committed in its approach to Kiev.

"The Ukrainian crisis was caused by Russia, but Moscow used the mistakes we committed [to its advantage]. It deliberately interfered in the processes that we started and torpedoed them," Zaorálek said.

However, he stressed that the EU was not to blame for the situation in Ukraine and its economic problems.

This is why Zaorálek considers a two-day meeting of the presidents and high-ranking representatives of Central and Eastern European countries at Prague Castle and the Friday conference on Eastern Partnership to be held at the Foreign Ministry's office an opportunity to ponder over these mistakes and the continuation of the project.

The EU will be represented by the European commissioner for enlargement and European neighborhood policy, Czech Štefan Füle. This is why the press has sometimes challenged the summit's significance. Zaorálek dismissed these opinions.

He said the summit was a good idea, and he appreciated President Miloš Zeman, who has been a longtime rival, hosting it.


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