BRUSSELS — European Union leaders sign historic association accords on Friday with Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova as the three Soviet-era republics look to a future in Europe.
The association accords, plus free trade deals, offer the three countries increased economic and political ties with the 28-nation bloc which could ultimately lead to EU membership.
For the EU, Friday's ceremonies mark the partial success at least of its Eastern Partnership policy, designed originally to also include Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus, but who all changed tack under Russian pressure and blandishments.
The policy was launched by Poland and Sweden in 2009, shortly after many of the states of central Europe joined the EU, so as also to offer their neighbours further to the east closer ties.
The accords offer a cooperative framework covering a mixture of economic and political areas such as energy, visas and foreign policy and favour the independence of the judiciary and boosting civil society norms through the rule of law and eradicating corruption.
The linked trade deals aim at giving the three countries improved access to the EU's single market, the biggest in the world with some 500 million consumers.
Economic gains, reform commitments
For Ukraine, that could boost exports by one billion euros ($1.35 billion), helping its steel, textile and food product industries, and decreasing its reliance on the Russian market, an EU study showed.
Ukraine's struggling economy as a whole could grow by an additional one percentage point, a major boon for a government seeking to put its chaotic finances on an even keel, the study said.
For the EU, the rewards will be more long-term and depend on how successful the accords are.
The EU will have to make a sustained effort to help these countries make the painful but necessary reforms, especially in energy, said Judy Dempsey of the Carnegie Europe think-tank.
In return for EU help and largesse, the three have to take on a tough agenda of reform, potentially requiring change which will have profound political and social repercussions. — AFP