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Tallinn, 21 June 2014
Speaking points for President Barroso's joint press point with the Prime Ministers of the Baltic States
Prime Ministers, excellencies, ladies and gentleman, let me begin by thanking you for the warm welcome I was given in this beautiful city of Tallinn, Europe's capital of culture in 2011.
As we were saying in the meeting, in 2004 we were 15 countries. Now in 2014 we are 28. We almost doubled and I am so proud for the fact I've been President of the Commission during these exciting years. Certainly there have been very big challenges and difficulties but in fact I believe we can say now that the European Union has progressed. And one of the great achievements of the EU is the contribution that the Baltic States have been making for our common project. We find here enthusiasm, we find here a good absorption of the Structural Funds and your countries are now more competitive than before and I think that it's fair to say that this also was helped to a large extent by our Union. I want to congratulate all of you, your countries, for this success as very active members of the European Union.
We are meeting just one day after the adoption by the European Commission of the partnership agreements between the Commission and the governments of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The quick adoption of these agreements is the result of the excellent cooperation the European Commission has had with the three respective countries. It is a pleasure for me to thank once again the Prime ministers and to congratulate them for this achievement.
The agreements open up for European structural and investment funding for the 2014-2020 period. The strategies now laid down by the three Baltic States are key for the optimal use of European Structural and Investment Funds for smart and sustainable growth. They link the new approach of the European cohesion policy and our Europe 2020 priorities. These European investments will help to boost growth and create lasting jobs through support to innovation, training and education as well as a low carbon, resource-efficient economy.
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are performing well in terms of absorption of European funds. Good use of these funds in the previous financial period 20107-2013 has been a key argument to secure new investment funding in the current multiannual financial framework.
Since joining the European Union in 2004, the Baltic States have been among the best at seizing the opportunities provided by European integration. And I am not only talking about the funds. The European Union must not be reduced to a kind of cash account. EU accession firmly anchored Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in the family of developed and democratic nations of Europe. It has brought more stability and security to everyone in the EU. This is a particularly important fact to recall, not only because of the 10th anniversary of the 2004 enlargement but also with the current international situation in mind.
The issue of regional security was obviously raised at our meeting today. I thanked the Prime Ministers for their constructive contribution in finding the best way to respond to Russian actions and to the situation in Ukraine. The Baltic States play a key role. We have been sparing no effort to address what I believe is the biggest threat to Europe’s stability and security since the fall of the Berlin Wall. We continue our aid to Ukraine. This week, the European Commission disbursed €500 million to support Ukraine's efforts to address its major economic challenges. We have a clear, firm and unified EU approach to the situation in the region. We want Russia to engage in a dialogue with Ukraine to find a negotiated, peaceful and diplomatic way out of the crisis. But it must be done in full respect of international law and the sovereignty of Ukraine. The solution to the crisis has to be political and dialogue should be promoted.
On this matter let me say that we very much welcome the announcement by President Poroshenko of a ceasefire and a 15-point plan for the peaceful settlement of the crisis in eastern Ukraine. We commend President Poroshenko for his efforts and call on all sides to seize this long sought opportunity to reverse the trend of an ever-worsening security and humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine. All parties will need to abide by the conditions of the peace plan and actively promote its implementation. We in particular call on the Russian Federation to use all its influence to this end and to support this plan publicly and through concrete actions.
Our meeting today has been an opportunity to discuss major regional projects. We all agree that the Connecting Europe Facility constitutes a key instrument for the Baltic States for funding projects of common interest in the energy, transport, and digital fields. It remains crucial to reach agreements on the regional projects in time, before September, so as to submit them for funding under the first call of the Connecting Europe Facility. The main project is Rail Baltic which connects the three Baltic States and Poland in a north-south direction. This project clearly demonstrates genuine added value of regional cooperation supported by the EU budget.
We also discussed the energy security, where the implementation of projects of common interest can be substantially improved in the Baltic States. The Connecting Europe Facility foresees €5.85 billion for the coming seven years. This money should finance the projects that are of critical importance for the European Energy Security Strategy.
This strategy will be a key contribution of the Commission to the European Council next week and I am happy to count on strong support from the Baltic States.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The three Baltic Member States are examples of how quickly you can emerge from a crisis and return to growth through resolute reform. But we cannot be complacent. On the contrary, we must complete what we have started. We need to tackle unemployment, finish reforming our labour markets and make our economies more competitive.
In our annual exercise – the European Semester – we made specific, tailor-made recommendations to the Member States. For instance, for Estonia, there is a need to put priority on work capacity reforms to increase the provision of labour and open up the unused potential in the labour market. Similarly, Latvia started discussion about the health sector reform, while Lithuania is making progress in improving its energy efficiency and security. These are very demanding tasks, but the Commission will do what we can to assist you in carrying them through.
We have seen in the past that these countries have been able to respond to these challenges. It's not for me a surprise that after Estonia joining the euro, after Latvia being able to turn around the economy with great success and becoming now our 18th member of the euro area that we are going to have, I hope , on the 1st January 2015, Lithuania as our newest member of the euro area. These countries show that the pessimists were not right. Don’t forget that one or two years ago many analysts and economists were predicting the implosion of the euro. They were predicting European countries leaving the euro. What we have seen is exactly the opposite. I really believe that the example of these countries in the Baltic are inspiring examples for all of us in Europe.