The Eastern Partnership was launched at a summit in Prague on 7 May 2009 with 33 participants (the 27 Member States and six Partner Countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine). The initiative aims to enhance political association and economic integration between the EU and the Eastern Partnership region. Croatia joined the Eastern Partnership on 1 July 2013.
The Eastern Partnership and its Objectives
The Eastern Partnership was launched in 2009 at a summit held in Prague (following on from the Communication on the Eastern Partnership at the end of 2008). It is an effort by the EU and its Eastern European partners to help promote political and economic reforms, and support efforts of the countries in the region to move closer to the EU . At its basis lies a shared commitment to international law and fundamental values, including democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as to market economy, sustainable development and good governance.
The main goal of the Eastern Partnership is to create the conditions to accelerate political association and deepen economic integration between the EU and the Eastern European partner countries. The Eastern Partnership Summit in Warsaw in 2011 acknowledged the European aspirations and the European choice of some partners and their commitment to build deep and sustainable democracies. It highlighted the particular role for the Eastern Partnership to support those who seek an ever closer relationship with the EU. The Eastern Partnership also promotes regional co-operation and good neighbourly relations. These actions translate the shared objectives of stability, security and prosperity of both the EU and the partner countries. In support of these over-arching goals, the EU and its Eastern European partners committed to:
- Forge new, deeper contractual relations between the EU and partner countries in the form of Association Agreements, including, where appropriate, Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas (DCFTAs) where regulatory approximation can serve to strengthen the positive effects of trade and investment liberalisation, leading to convergence with EU laws and standards.
- Support the mobility of citizens and visa liberalisation in a well-managed and secure environment. The mobility of citizens of the partner countries will be promoted through visa facilitation and readmission agreements as a first step with visa-free regime for short term travel as a final goal.
- Enhance sector cooperation and facilitate the participation of partner countries in EU programmes (such as DG ENTR’s Programme on the Competitiveness of Enterprises and SMEs – COSME) and agencies.
The Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius on 28 and 29 November 2013 was considered a summit of real progress with the initialling of the Association Agreements which Moldova and Georgia as a key deliverable. The progress achieved as well as the way forward are set out in the Joint Declaration of the Eastern Partnership Summit .
The next Eastern Partnership Summit will be held in Riga on 21 and 22 May 2015 under the Latvian EU Presidency.
The Set-up of the Eastern Partnership
The Eastern Partnership consists of a bilateral dimension and a multilateral one. In practice, the multilateral framework includes among others biennial meetings in the form of Summits, a Foreign Ministers' meeting each year and four thematic Platforms which are meeting twice a year.
The four multilateral Platforms cover the following themes:
- Democracy, good governance and stability (Platform 1);
- Economic integration and convergence with EU policies (Platform 2);
- Energy security (Platform 3);
- Contacts between people (Platform 4).
DG ENTR is coordinating and chairing Platform 2 which is the broadest platform as it covers a great number of sectoral policies. The different policies and planned activities are set out in the Work Programme (2014 – 2017) and include:
- Enterprise and SME policies,
- Trade and trade related regulatory cooperation linked to DCFTAs,
- Cooperation in the field of transport,
- Environment and climate change,
- Agriculture and rural development,
- Cooperation in the field of taxation and public finances,
- Labour market and social policies,
- Cooperation in questions of macroeconomic and financial stability,
- Information society and media,
Further information on the Eastern Partnership can be found here.
Platform 2 on "Economic Integration and Convergence with EU Policies"
- The first meeting on 26 June 2009 focused on issues such as the management of the economic crisis, regulatory cooperation and approximation as well as the environment and climate change. The Platform also introduced two Flagship Initiatives related to SME policy and environmental governance .
- At the second Platform meeting on 9 November 2009, the Platform agreed to focus, in the near term, on trade and trade-related regulatory cooperation – as a precondition for negotiations of Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements – and on environment and climate change. Two panels were established to this end. The first Panel addresses the core objectives of regulatory approximation across the whole spectrum of the EU acquis related to trade and investment, supporting and creating a network of bilateral DCFTAs and involvement of the business community, whilst the second Panel focuses on EU environmental legislation and actions to address climate change.
- The third meeting, which took place on 7 May 2010, focused mainly on SME policy. The Platform participants were informed about a cooperation project by DG Enterprise and Industry, the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development), ETF (European Training Foundation) and the EBRD (European Bank for Reconstruction and Development) to support private sector development in the EaP region. The Platform established a Panel on SME policy issues covering also the implementation of the SME Flagship Initiative and the organisation of business to business contacts.
- The fourth Platform meeting was held on 10 November 2010 and dealt with cooperation in the field of transport, labour market and social policies, as well as taxation and public finance.
- The fifth meeting of the Platform took place on 19 May 2011. It focused on cooperation in the field of labour market and social policies, macroeconomic and financial cooperation as well as regional economic cooperation. In view of the adoption of the Work Programme for 2012-2013, Platform 2 had a preliminary stock-taking discussion on the achievements of the work of the Platform.
- The Work Programme for 2012-1013 was further discussed at the sixth meeting of the Platform which took place on 13 October 2011. Special focus was given to cooperation in the field of labour market and social policies. A summary of past Panel meetings on SME Policy, Environment and Climate Change and Trade and Trade Related Regulatory Cooperation was provided. Finally, the work of the new Transport Panel – following on to the Communication “The EU and its neighbouring regions: A renewed approach to transport cooperation ” – was presented.
- The seventh meeting of the Platform was held on 31 May 2012 and addressed cooperation in the field of labour market and social policies and in the field of information and communication technologies. The Platform participants were informed about the state of play regarding the ongoing work of the Panels on Trade and Trade Related Regulatory Cooperation linked to DCFTAs, Transport, SME Policy and Environment and Climate Change. Finally, information was provided on the outcome of a seminar on excise policy and the European Neighbourhood Programme for Agriculture and Rural Development (ENPARD).
- The eighth Platform meeting on 22 November 2012 established a fifth Panel dealing with agriculture and rural development. Platform participants were also informed about the state of play regarding the ongoing work of the other Panels. Finally, Platform 2 reiterated the outcome of the workshop of the network of EaP Electronic Communication Regulators held in September 2012 in Chisinau – which formally established the Network of the Eastern Partnership Electronic Communications Regulators.
- The ninth meeting of Platform 2 took place on 14 May 2013. The purpose of the meeting was to provide a summary account of past events and an outlook of activities planned until the autumn Platform meeting. A key focus was also put on the discussion of the upcoming Work Programme (2014 – 2017) and the role of the SME Panel. The meeting was enriched by presentations on ECFIN's latest Occasional Paper on the EU's Neighbouring Economies, the European Competitiveness Report 2013 and COSME (Programme for the Competitiveness of Enterprises and SMEs).
- The tenth meeting of Platform 2 was held on 24 October 2013. It was once again confirmed at the Meeting that the work of Platform 2 touches the core of what the Eastern Partnership is all about – economic integration leading to concrete deliverables for people on the ground. The Platform meeting saw a variety of interesting presentations ranging from the implementation of DCFTAs over the role of social partners and labour mobility between the EU and the Eastern Partnership to the 'state of play' of Europe 2020. The participants had a final discussion on the Work Programme and proposed some changes; therefore, its adoption was foreseen via a written procedure. The Platform also discussed new projects in the area of SME policies and provided information on the seminar on COSME for neighbourhood countries.
- The eleventh meeting of Platform 2 was held on 13 May 2014. All participants agreed that there was a need for greater differentiation between partner countries in order to allow for “different speeds”. However, unanimity prevailed over the fact that the policy pursued is still “the right one” and that it was ever more so important to keep the multilateral dialogue alive as an important tool for implementing the objectives agreed in the Vilnius Declaration. This commitment was immediately confirmed by the success of the Platform meeting which showed a very high level of participation and unprecedented engagement and interest from all participants. In addition to presentations on the Study Facility for all EaP Platforms, communicating on the impact of DCFTAs and the proposal to develop an initiative on harmonising digital markets in the Eastern Partnership, the Platform included a dedicated session on projects, actions and networks to the benefit of business and SMEs.
- The twelfth meeting of Platform 2 took place on 12 November 2014 in Brussels. The various presentations and interventions demonstrated that the Panels, projects and actions under the umbrella of Platform 2 are delivering concrete results that contribute to achieving the objectives of the Platform to stimulate growth and jobs. Despite the increased differentiation of partner countries as regards their possible path towards European integration, Platform 2 continues to promote exchanges between partner countries, Member States, European institutions and other partner organisations. Platform participants received an update on the implementation of DCFTAs and an overview of the newly established DCFTA Facility as well as information on latest macroeconomic developments and challenges in partner countries. The importance of the work of the Platform is also demonstrated in its broadening scope – exemplified by the approval of a new Panel on Statistics and discussions on the Harmonising Digital Markets and Skills Matching initiatives. Correspondingly, the afternoon session of the meeting focused on these new initiatives. The Platform also encouraged Member States to increasingly work with partner countries on concrete projects within the framework of the Eastern Partnership multilateral track. In this respect, Poland hosted a Customs and Trade Facilitation Workshop and The Netherlands (CBI – an agency of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) organised a Training for Commercial Attachés in close cooperation with EU colleagues.
- The thirteenth meeting of Platform 2 is scheduled for 23 April 2015 in Brussels.
DG ENTR is in charge of a dedicated SME Panel which forms an integral part of Platform 2. The SME Panel was launched in 2010 in order to support the development of SMEs and to improve the business environment in partner countries. The development of SMEs in the Eastern partner countries is predominantly impeded by an inadequate regulatory and policy framework, a shortage of advisory services, limited access to finance and a lack of interregional and international networking mechanisms. The SME Panel is particularly addressed at government officials, the appointed SBA (Small Business Act) coordinators of the partner countries as well as business and SME associations.
Hands-on support to SMEs in the region through the SME Panel and its integrated SME Flagship is done on three levels:
- At policy level, the EU works with the OECD and other partner organisations to assist Eastern partner countries in drawing up effective SME policies. This is done through the SBA Assessment (the results of the first assessment can be found here; the second round will be concluded by the end of 2015) as well as a project to implement the recommendations of the Assessment. The EU also co-finances a project of the World Bank (STAREP) which has the purpose to improve financial reporting in partner countries.
- In terms of assistance to Business Support Organisations (BSOs), the EU initiated a vast networking programme between BSOs from partner countries and the EU – East Invest. The East Invest Programme aims to promote trade and investment through networking and consolidation of business and SME associations in the Eastern partner region. So far more than 80 BSOs have participated in the programme.
- In order to support SMEs directly and to provide them with better access to finance a wide range of programmes involving European Financial Institutions (EBRD, EIB and KfW) have been developed under the umbrella of the Neighbourhood Investment Facility. Additionally, the DCFTA Facility for SMEs has been established for the three countries which have signed an AA/DCFTA with the EU. The DCFTA Facility has the purpose to support SMEs in order for them to be able to:
a) Finance necessary investments to comply with the provisions of the DCFTA;
b) Seize trade opportunities with the EU and within the region which have been opened up due to the DCFTA;
c) Benefit from the inflow of foreign direct investment.
The sixth Panel on SME Policy will take place in early July in Brussels.
Trade Panel on Technical Regulations and Standardisation
DG ENTR has been organising, within the framework of Platform 2, annual Panels on subjects related to the reform of systems of technical regulations. These meetings formed an integral part of the Trade Panel and focused on:
Standardisation aimed at supporting technical regulations;
Market surveillance requirements and infrastructure;
- Reform of the regulatory system and related infrastructure in the areas of market surveillance, metrology, standardisation and conformity assessment.
These meetings provided information on the latest development of EU policies. They also allowed for an exchange of information and best practices between Member States and Eastern partner countries on dedicated questions of the reform agenda. The fourteenth Trade Panel will take place in autumn 2015.
Other Panels under Platform 2
In addition to the SME Panel and the Trade Panel on Technical Regulations and Standardisation, Platform 2 also includes the following Panels:
Panel on Transport (Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport);
- Panel on Trade (Directorate-General for Trade) – dealing with issues other than technical regulations and standardisation;
- Panel on Environment and Climate Change (Directorate-General for Environment/Directorate-General for Climate Action);
- Panel on Agriculture and Rural Development (Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development).
- Panel on Statistics (Eurostat)
These Panels are coordinated by the responsible line DGs as indicated above.