EU ministers agree to negotiate on Russia deal

May 26th, 2008 - 8:36 pm ICT by admin  

Brussels, May 26 (DPA) European Union (EU) foreign ministers Monday discussed proposals to strengthen the bloc’s ties with its eastern neighbours, especially Ukraine, and agreed to negotiate a key deal with Russia. At a meeting in Brussels, the foreign ministers of the EU’s 27 members also said that they “looked forward to strengthening EU-Georgia relations” amid rising political tension both within the country and with Russia.

They appealed for political calm in Georgia after opposition parties threatened to boycott parliament, following elections on May 21 which the opposition said was rigged.

And they called on both Georgia and Russia to “tone down public rhetoric and abstain from provocations and implementation of decisions that undermine” Georgia’s territorial integrity.

That warning referred both to Russia’s decision on April 16 to open diplomatic links with the breakaway Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and to the shooting down of an unmanned Georgian spy plane over Abkhazia on April 20.

Earlier Monday a UN investigation team concluded that Russia had been responsible for the shooting-down incident, Sweden’s Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said.

EU ministers “look forward to discussing the report’s results as soon as possible,” the meeting concluded.

More generally, the ministers discussed a joint Polish-Swedish proposal to create a new “Eastern Partnership”, reinforcing the EU’s links with Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and possibly Belarus.

“First and foremost Ukraine would benefit from this; others would follow according to ambition and performance,” the proposal, seen by DPA, reads.

The “deepened bilateral cooperation” should include work on migration, visa facilitation and eventual liberalization, free trade, EU support for economic and political reforms, and student exchange programmes, the proposal reads.

Ukraine reacted quickly, welcoming the proposal and stressing that it should be seen as a step towards eventual EU membership, rather than an alternative to it.

The plan “should envisage a clear EU membership perspective to those European neighbours of the EU who can demonstrate the seriousness of their European ambitions through concrete actions and tangible achievements,” a statement from the Ukrainian foreign ministry said.

The ministers also agreed to mandate the bloc’s executive, the European Commission, to begin talks with Russia on a strategic partnership including legally-binding measures on such issues as energy, security, trade and education.

Officials in Brussels predict complex negotiations with Moscow likely to last about a year, with a further year required for its ratification by EU member states and Russia.

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