The eastern partnership (EaP) summit to be held in Riga on 22 May takes place 70 years after the end of the second world war. During the cold war that continued to divide Europe, Riga, while being a strategic harbour of the Soviet Union, lived in isolation from the western Hanseatic cities that are its traditional partners. Today new rifts could split Europe into two confrontational sides led by the EU and by Russia.
Across Europe, the last 15 years have been marked by tremendous growth in economic, cultural and scientific relations. The EU successfully engaged in two waves of enlargement and has proposed processes of European convergence to all its eastern neighbours, including Russia. Since 2009, the eastern partnership policy has helped to bring our eastern neighbours closer to the EU in a way which was not exclusionary or adverse to the interests of Moscow.
However, we should recognise that the EU has mainly failed in finding solutions to regional conflicts, speeding up of democratic progress and strengthening the rule of law for most of its partners.
Originally considered as a reliable partner for the EU, Russia has progressively challenged Brussels, refusing to join the eastern partnership but still attempting to influence it and, finally, engaging in military aggression against Ukraine.
Yet, the rationale of the EaP is still valid. It is of interest to the EU, Russia and their common neighbours to pave the way for further stability, prosperity and peaceful co-existence in Europe. So, what steps could be taken to overcome the current crisis?
The situation of Ukraine is most problematic as a large part of its economy is devastated and fighting across the eastern region has yet to stop. The EU position must be dictated by a firm commitment to principles of respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.
Furthermore, only the full implementation of the Minsk agreements can lead to the resumption of constructive long-term relations with Russia.
Peace is needed to re-launch economic development in the eastern regions of Ukraine. Therefore, the Riga summit may become an important milestone. The EU and its partners must not only reiterate their call on Russia to fulfil its international commitments, but also push it to engage in finding solutions to bilateral or multilateral disputes in the fields of trade and energy.
For its part, the EU should propose a long-term vision of its relations with the Eurasian economic union. In the short-term, it should envisage measures to facilitate trade liberalisation and harmonise standards in order to make the 'two unions' at least compatible under the world trade organisation agreement.
As for energy, the EU together with its partners should voice a strong response to Gazprom's manoeuvres on diverting Russian gas transportation from Ukraine to other transit countries.
We promote all initiatives which foster people-to-people contacts and transnational exchanges in the educational, scientific, cultural and social fields. We expect the Riga summit to make steps towards visa liberalisation and to extend cooperation through EU programmes such as Erasmus + and Horizon 2020.
For now, the EU should focus on its interests and those of its neighbours when approaching Russia. That requires the member states to be pragmatic, patient and united if they wish to see Russia again take its rightful place in Europe.