BRUSSELS -- The European Commission has presented updates on the progress made by the countries in its Eastern Partnership program.
The report outlines what was accomplished by its six eastern neighbors -- Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine -- as well as highlighting policy areas were improvements are needed.
The report provides key clues as to the European Commission's future moves and will help determine where some of the 15.4 billion euros ($21.2 billion) the EU will spend in its eastern and southern neighborhoods in the next seven years will end up.
In February, EU states discussed a so-called "European Package" of incentives for the six countries that would go beyond the current prize of Association Agreements.
Georgia and Moldova initialed Association Agreements at an EU summit in Vilnius in November 2013 and could sign them as early as this year.
The text is unsurprisingly devoted to the current crisis, with the European Union urging Ukraine to independently investigate "the violent acts on both sides which occurred during the civil protests" and states that this preferably should be done with the support of the international advisory panel proposed by the Council of Europe.
Other recommendations include the establishment of reliable and uniform electoral systems for all types of elections and referendums and the need for clear rules for balanced media access for candidates. Brussels also wants Ukraine to ensure that elections take place for the Kyiv mayor and city council.
Previous grievances, such as the need to implement reform of the Prosecutor-General's Office and to avoid the reoccurrence of selective justice, are also highlighted. The document also cites the need for greater efforts by the Ukrainian authorities to finally secure visa-free travel to the Schengen zone.
Chisinau hopes to sign an Association Agreement with the EU by June at the latest. Despite being one of the stars of the Eastern Partnership program, the European Commission still has several recommendations for Moldova, including the need to fight corruption at all levels and making sure that parliamentary elections scheduled for November are in line with European standards.
Brussels notes that particular attention should be given to "not changing electoral legislation too close to the poll and to avoid moving the goalposts for participants in the election process."
The EU also stresses the need for Moldova to "engage proactively" with its separatist region of Transdniester "to develop an enticing, mutually acceptable vision for a common future," and to enable Transdniestrian-based economic agents "to enjoy the full benefits of the future Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area."
Like Moldova, Georgia hopes to sign an Association Agreement with the EU by June at the latest. In the report, the EU urges Tbilisi to "ensure adequate separation of powers and checks and balances between executive, legislative, and the judicial powers."
There are also a host of recommendations in the judicial sphere, which include the full independence of the judiciary, ensuring that criminal prosecutions are conducted in a transparent way and free of political motivation, and that prosecution activities avoid political bias.
The strengthening of media pluralism and independence is also needed, as is the implementation of the law on transparency of media ownership.
Brussels also underlines the need for Georgia to improve its engagement policy toward it separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia by taking "pragmatic steps to open channels of communication and to encourage trade, education, travel, and investment across the administrative boundary line."
Yerevan walked away from the initialing of an Association Agreement with the EU in September 2013 in order to join a Russian-led customs union. Brussels does, however, state that it is committed to future cooperation with Armenia, although it still isn't stated what this cooperation might look like.
The report notes that "public mistrust of the judicial system remained high and there was a lack of convincing results in the fight against corruption, including in police and judiciary." Brussels urges Armenia to "cooperate with and protect civil society; investigate the cases of attacks and intimidation of human rights defenders; and ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice."
On Nagorno-Karabakh, the EU stresses that Armenia needs to ensure unimpeded access for representatives of the EU to the area, as well as the surrounding region, and to stop actions and statements that could heighten tension.
Baku is negotiating an Association Agreement with the EU without its trade components and has also signed a visa-facilitation agreement, but the report notes that "very little progress was seen" on democratic governance and human rights reform. The texts says that despite the adoption of a National Human Rights Action Plan two years ago, "a number of its stipulations remained on paper only."
Brussels also slams the recent presidential election in the country, noting that "significant problems were identified, including limitations in the freedom of expression, assembly, and association that did not guarantee a level playing field for candidates." The document notes that the preelection climate was marred by the tightening of political freedom and pressure on journalists and activists.
Just as in the case of Armenia, the text urges Azerbaijan to ensure unimpeded access for representatives of the EU to Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding regions and to stop actions and statements that could heighten tensions.
The EU-Belarus relationship is still dire, with 232 Belarusians still under EU asset freezes and visa bans. The document notes that EU assistance to Minsk is limited in scope and focuses "directly and indirectly on supporting the needs of the population and democratization."
The EU says that the general repressive policies in the country continued last year, which includes political prisoners, the intimidation of representatives from civil society, petty harassment, dismissing people from their jobs, not allowing certain citizens to travel abroad, and fining activists or sentencing them to short to medium periods in jail.
Brussels does, however, acknowledge that there has been a positive trend in "Belarus's cooperation with the international community on some specific issues, namely the death penalty and the higher education." The EU also launched negotiations on visa facilitation earlier this year.