Brussels offers favoured status to boost former Soviet republics

Brussels offers favoured status to boost former Soviet republics
By Stephen Castle in Brussels

The Independent, UK
May 13 2004

The European Union reached out to three former Soviet republics in
the Caucasus yesterday, promising new ties to boost economic growth
and tackle illegal migration and organised crime.

The European Commission said Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia should
be given status as “near neighbours” which could develop into a
free trade pact. But they were also told they had no prospect of EU
membership for the foreseeable future. Belarus was singled out for
arms-length treatment because of its dictatorial government.

In 2007, the EU is due to expand again, admitting Bulgaria and Romania,
while Croatia is expected to start membership negotiations shortly. A
decision on talks with Turkey will be taken in December and a bloc
of Balkan nations is vying to join.

But the EU wants to dampen expectations that it can enlarge
indefinitely. The commissioner for enlargement, Günter Verheugen, said:
“With the exception of the Baltic states [which joined the EU on May
1], the western border of the former Soviet Union will be, for a very
long time, the eastern border of the EU.”Though Poland has invested
much in improving relations with Belarus, Mr Verheugen was scathing
about the leadership in Minsk. “I do not think it is time to discuss
contractual relations with an authoritarian government that does not
respect human rights and is violating European standards,” he said.

The EU already has a programme of co-operation with Russia, Ukraine
and a host of other nations.