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Europe

Poland, Sweden Want Closer Ties With EU's Eastern Neighbors

As EU officials mull a Mediterranean Union to bring in the bloc's southern neighbors, some eastern members want a similar initiative to focus on former Soviet states. But it wouldn't include the region's biggest player.

Three people peering through holes in a wall

Some EU members feel the bloc should look east for more cooperation with its neighbors

Polish Premier Donald Tusk and his Swedish counterpart, Fredrik Reinfeldt, are expected to present a plan to their EU colleagues in June that will call for more cooperation with Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, according to news reports. Even Belarus, which has been ostracized because of its dictatorial regime, would be invited to participate -- albeit on a reduced level.

"We would like to see the EU upgrading its contacts with the east at a time the EU is upgrading relations with the Mediterranean region," an unnamed Polish diplomat told Reuters news service.

Called the Eastern Partnership, the new initiative would offer participating countries liberalized trade, the lifting of travel restrictions, cultural exchanges and aid programs. The eastern partners, in return, would be expected to push ahead with political and economic reforms.

Little extra bureaucracy

Unlike the Mediterranean Union, the Eastern Partnership would not have its own secretariat, but would be run by the European Commission and financed from the European neighborhood policy budget, Web site EUObserver.com reported, adding that a commission official would be appointed as "special coordinator."

The plan falls short of giving countries any prospects of EU membership, as western European states are wary of any further expansion drives at the moment. Poland, however, does back eventual membership for Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova.

France, which takes over the rotating EU presidency in July, is planning to offer Ukraine stronger ties to the EU after the bloc launched a free trade pact with the country earlier this year.

Poland's premier, meanwhile, is expected to discuss a stronger eastern policy with French President Nicolas Sarkozy when the latter comes to Warsaw for a long-delayed visit next week.

Special treatment for Moscow

The region's heavy-weight, Russia, will not be invited to join the partnership under the initial proposal. EU officials on Wednesday, however, agreed to initiate separate talks on a wide-ranging cooperation agreement, according to Reuters.

EU foreign ministers are likely to discuss the idea at their meeting in Brussels on Monday, May 26. The plan has reportedly been well-received by the EU Commission as well as key member states, including Britain, France, Germany and the Netherlands. Italy, Portugal and Spain, on the other hand, are skeptical, reports said.

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