EU to boost links with neighbouring countries

EU to boost links with neighbouring countries
By George Parker in Brussels and Jan Cienski in Warsaw

Published: May 11 2004 21:49 | Last Updated: May 11 2004 21:49
Financial Times

The European Union will on Wednesday map out a new strategy for dealing
with its “neighbours” from Morocco to Georgia, heralding further
levels of co-operation but stopping short of an offer of membership.

The new policy offers the prospect of money, trade and security
co-operation in exchange for progress in democratic and economic

For the first time the EU’s horizons will extend to the southern
Caucasus, with the prospect of enhanced co-operation with Armenia,
Azerbaijan and Georgia.

But the former Soviet republic of Belarus will remain frozen out
because of the repressive regime in Minsk, to the dismay of Poland,
which wants to build cross-border relations.

The strategy, accompanied by a new €800m-a-year ($950m, £535m)
co-operation fund, will be announced on Wednesday by Günter Verheugen,
the EU enlargement commissioner.

It marks a step change to the relationship currently offered by
Europe to its neighbours, and Mr Verheugen believes it will help to
stabilise Europe’s environs and contain the clamour from neighbours
such as Ukraine for EU membership.

The plan addresses how the EU deals with its new neighbours following
the May 1 expansion from 15 to 25 countries.

Romano Prodi, European Commission president, said this “ring of
friends” would enjoy support in a number of fields but added: “But
they would not be part of the same parliament and not be members of
the same European Commission.”

Mr Verheugen will announce a framework under which initially seven
countries would sign up to action plans for democratic and economic
reform, which would be monitored by the Commission.

If successful, the countries could then enjoy access to the EU’s
market of 450m people, help in building transport and energy networks
with the EU and assistance in securing external frontiers against
terrorists and traffickers.

The first wave in the programme are Moldova, Ukraine, Israel, the
Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Tunisia and Morocco, with Egypt and
Lebanon expected to be included in the autumn.

Russia has decided to pursue its own strategic relationship with
Europe, but the prospect of closer relations could also be extended
to the Caucasus and Belarus if the political situation improves,
and to other Mediterranean countries.

Of Europe’s other neighbours, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania and Turkey
hope to join the EU, while the countries of the western Balkans have
the long-term prospect of membership.

Meanwhile, Poland is lobbying the European Commission over the EU’s
relations with Belarus due to be presented on Wednesday trying to
persuade the Commission not to continue a freeze on contacts with

The ban on ministerial contacts with officials from Belarus has been
in place since 1997, but Poland was not a member of the EU at the
time and continued to deal with the Belarusan government.

Now that Poland is in the EU it wants to be able to continue those

“We want to tell the EU to look at the question of countries bordering
the EU a little differently than relations with countries that do not
have a common boundary,” said Boguslaw Majewski, the Polish foreign
ministry spokesman.