‘No promises’ on EU membership for Eastern states at Riga summit

The EU is not ready to welcome its eastern non-member partners, including Ukraine, according to a leaked draft resolution ahead of the Eastern Partnership Summit. German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned EU leaders not to make false promises.

“We must not create false expectations,” Merkel said when speaking in front of the Berlin parliament before leaving for the Eastern Partnership Summit in Riga on Thursday.

Bloc members have gathered in Latvia for a two-day summit to discuss EU membership for eastern European states, including Ukraine. The EU leaders are examining potential membership prospects for Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine, as well as the development of its Eastern Partnership program.

Merkel has set the stage for the summit by saying that the Eastern Partnership is not an “instrument of enlargement politics for the European Union and we must not make promises that we can’t fulfill.”

READ MORE: Europe to support reverse gas supplies to Ukraine – draft document

Moreover, European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, said upon his arrival in Riga that the membership issue won’t be a focus. “They are not ready, we are not ready,” he said on Thursday.

In the latest development, a leaked draft resolution ahead of the summit revealed that the introduction of a visa-free regime with Ukraine will likely be postponed. This is bound to disappoint Kiev, which has been promoting the idea.

The Ukrainian government wanted “concrete assurances” and a roadmap for EU membership, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin told the German daily, Die Welt.

But the text of the resolution cited by Radio Free Europe only vaguely states that the participants “reaffirm the sovereign right of each partner freely to choose the level of ambition and the goals to which it aspires in its relations with the European Union. It is for the EU and its sovereign [partners] to decide on how they want to proceed in their relations.”

When commenting on Ukraine’s efforts to join the EU, European Council President, Donald Tusk, said: “They have their right to have a dream, but maybe not membership in the predictable future.”

READ MORE: World swatting away Ukraine like ‘an annoying fly’ – ex-president Yushchenko

French President Francois Hollande has listed Ukraine’s high crime rate and migration as reasons for concern. “Europeans are naturally wary because there were some issues in Ukraine that we don’t have. Organized crime threatens our security; the same is true about migration.”

Former Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko on Wednesday described the world as being fed up with Ukraine. “The world is getting tired of the Ukrainian issue … they’ve started swatting Ukraine away like a pesky fly.”

“It is interesting that in the last couple of weeks we definitely had a softening of the tone from the US towards Russia on this issue,” UK journalist and broadcaster Neil Clark told RT. “The Ukrainian government is rightly worried by this. That is why the rhetoric coming from Kiev has become more bellicose.”

The EU is adopting a “row back” attitude towards Ukraine, Clark added. “Now there is a kind of rollback, an awareness that this has gone as far as it can go, and the more realistic people in Europe quite clearly want an end of these sanctions on Russia because they are hurting the main European economies, such as Germany and France.”

Another reason for the EU to avoid a closer relationship with Ukraine is the cost. “There would be the whole expense of getting Ukraine into NATO and into the EU. Ukraine is a basket case economy. They have been dependent on Russian good will and Russian loans – they are heavily indebted to Russia, and paying back these loans,” Clark said. “They’ve created this kind of Frankenstein’s monster and they are worried about where it would lead now.”

In the meantime, Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann adopted a stance similar to Merkel’s, urging his EU colleagues not to give their eastern European partners promises “we cannot keep,” TASS reported.

On Thursday, Belarus and Armenia had problems with signing the summit’s final document, Reuters reported. Both states reportedly refused to sign the first draft of the final resolution because it contained a phrase about Russia “illegally annexing” Crimea.

READ MORE: Ukraine – EU Association Agreement should consider Russian interests – Spanish FM

The summit members are to draw up a second draft where the EU standpoint and the one of their eastern partners will be presented separately, reports say. By the end of the day Latvian President Andris Berzins stated that the final text had been agreed upon. However, it has not yet been presented to the media.

Under their EU Association Agreements, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine must commit to political and social reforms intended to meet the economic and democratic norms of the EU bloc countries. It envisages a gradual deepening of economic and political ties, which includes a free trade zone.

The association agreement, ratified by both Ukraine and the EU in mid-September of 2014, has been at the heart of Ukraine’s year of turmoil. The opposition rallied people to flood Kiev’s Maidan Square soon after President Viktor Yanukovich chose to delay signing the final decision on economic integration with the EU, saying he needed time to weigh possible gains and losses.

Russia, which has a 2,300-kilometer (1,430-mile) scarcely restricted border with Ukraine – the longest land border in Europe – had been demanding to discuss the parameters of the EU trade deal in a trilateral format, fearing an influx of European goods could have negative consequences for the Russian economy. Brussels, however, had been staunchly against any outside party influencing the deal. Ukraine expects to implement the economic part of the association agreement by the end of 2015.

“I think that we need to somehow include Russia’s interests into the association agreement between Ukraine and the European Union, this agreement needs to be complemented by cooperation with Russia,” Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Garcia-Margallo said in March after meeting his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, in Moscow.

Russia had warned Ukraine that it would lose a preferential trading position in its $2.5 trillion market if it integrated closer with the EU, including the loss of duty-free imports.

On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he regrets the proposed talks on the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement “have still not started.”