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EU issues mixed report on former Soviet neighbors

May 17, 2012 at 6:36 AM   |   Comments

BRUSSELS, May 17 (UPI) -- The EU's six closest former Soviet Union neighbors had a mixed record in implementing democratic reforms in 2011, European Commissioners said this week.

The six members of the EU's Eastern Partnership -- Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine -- were assessed Tuesday as part of the EC's annual European Neighborhood Policy report, which also covered six of Europe's "Southern Neighborhood" countries.

The eastern countries' progress toward gaining more economic and political help from the EU were judged harshly in some cases, such as Belarus and Ukraine, and much more charitably in others, as with Georgia and Moldova.

The parties are working together on a reform "roadmap" in the run-up to a fall 2013 Eastern Partnership summit in Lithuania.

The assessments were released in Brussels by EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton and Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy Stefan Fule.

"The Eastern Partnership addresses the issue of unfinished transformation," Ashton said. "I am confident that the roadmap will help partner countries accelerate their transition towards democracy and market-oriented economy by providing a monitoring tool in support of their reform process."

Calling for "tangible progress," Ashton warned the EU's eastern neighbors they must take bold action to "resolve the conflicts which have blighted the region for far too long" to gain the benefits of partnership with Europe.

"The EU stands ready to strengthen our support to those who are ready to take courageous decisions and turn the page," she added.

Fule, meanwhile, said while high hurdles remain to produce "deep democracy" in the former Soviet states, progress is nevertheless being made.

"While we should not indulge in self-congratulation and we should always make a reality check about the effectiveness of our policy, we have set the new policy on solid grounds and have developed many initiatives that I am confident are already bearing fruit," he said.

In Ukraine, the EU noted with approval that an "association agreement," or cooperation treaty, as well as a free trade deal with Kiev have been finalized and initialed, but remain unsigned due to Brussels' "remaining concerns about the domestic political situation."

The report noted several leading opposition figures, such as former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, were "subjected to selective justice, characterized by un-transparent judicial processes."

Belarus, it said, has seen "a serious deterioration in the respect for human rights, the rule of law and democratic principles" since a crackdown on dissent following the disputed 2010 re-election of authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

Azerbaijan, as well, was sharply criticized for not doing more to bring about clean elections, allow freedom of assembly and curb censorship of media, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

Elsewhere, however, the assessments were more positive.

Association agreements have been launched with Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, while free-trade negotiations have begun Moldova and Georgia, and will shortly be launched with Armenia.

Georgia came in for praise for working to secure a trade agreement and advancing visa reform but was urged to provide unconditional social services to residents of the breakaway states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Armenia, the report said, has made progress on human rights despite problems with corruption and media freedom.

The EU also praised Moldova for "good progress in almost all areas of the action plan" but said it still needs to focus more on human rights protections, the broadcaster reported.

© 2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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