RIGA - Attendees of a high-profile Nov. 23 foreign ministry conference in Riga blasted the EU neighborhood policy for its shortcomings in addressing the problems faced by ENP countries.
"Neighbors are not members 's by definition they are outside, which may be seen by some as a strong signal," Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov said.
Mammadyarov said that the development of the policy indicates that the EU is suffering from "enlargement fatigue." He specifically pointed to the EU's inconsistent approach to frozen conflicts and issues such as territorial disputes and ethnic cleansing.
The conference, titled 'The Baltic States and The EU Neighborhood Policy,' was organized by the Latvian foreign ministry in conjunction with the Baltic Assembly.
In total, more than 250 representatives of 30 countries showed up for the event. Though there was a relatively strong turnout, the conference was still somewhat subdued by a few notable absences.
Former Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks, who had acted as the driving force behind the conference, took a backseat role despite having relied on many personal contacts to put the conference together. Georgian representatives were also conspicuously absent from the event, having been forced to stay home to deal with domestic problems.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Petras Vaitiekunas, however, was happy to defend Georgia's interests in their absence. "A discriminating policy has emerged with regard to Georgia and territorial integrity," Vaitiekunas said, referring to the breakaway region of Abkhazia.
Vaitiekunas also defended the ambitions of Moldova and the Ukraine to eventually join the EU, saying that the EU has "unfinished business" with the two countries.
Moldovan deputy Foreign Minister Valeriu Ostalep used a number of specific examples to highlight the shortcomings of the neighborhood policy. He pointed to the fact that in order for a Moldovan citizen to visit a Western European country, a traveler first needs to apply for a Romanian visa in order to travel to Bucharest and apply for other European visas.
Ostalep also pointed out that, due to a "lack of support" from the EU, the country was forced to draw on U.S. funds to build two informational centers on the advantages of EU membership.
Belarusian deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Yeudachenka also attacked the neighborhood policy, calling EU import quotas on Belarusian goods "obsolete and forbidden."
"I trust 2008 will be the year when the EU drops import quotas on Belarusian textiles," Yeudachenka said. He also asked the EU to stop blocking Belarus' attempts to join the World Trade Organization.
Participants of the conference included parliamentary speakers, MPs, foreign ministers, deputy ministers and senior ministry officials as well as representatives from academia and NGOs from the EU and its neighboring states.