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Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood
Ambitious New Partnership for the
Poland, 27 November 2008
Honourable Members of Parliament,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a pleasure to be in Warsaw today and an honour to address this House.
Next year will be the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Iron Curtain. It will also be the 5th anniversary of Poland’s accession to the EU. The Iron Curtain fell in 1989. But it started corroding a decade earlier in the shipyards of Gdansk through brave action taken by Polish workers. The courageous struggle of the Polish people for democracy is engraved in the heart of European history. I salute that courage. Europe as a whole salutes that courage.
In the 20 years since then, Poland has pioneered the sweeping changes we have seen in Central Europe, paving the way for the accession of the eight Central and Eastern European countries – nothing less than the reunification of our continent. And since accession Poland has been at the forefront of bringing our Eastern neighbours closer to our Union.
So I am delighted that it is in Poland and before this House that I can give a foretaste of proposals we will announce next week for the EU's new “Eastern Partnership”.
The countries we today refer to as our “Eastern Partners” – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and the Ukraine – and depending on its own choices Belarus - have become our neighbours as a result of successive – and successful - enlargements.
But they are not only geographically closer. Their political systems and economies are also closer as a result of reforms fostered by the European Neighbourhood Policy.
These changes, Honourable Members, bring new opportunities, but also new responsibilities, not least in the light of this summer’s conflict in Georgia. The EU has a vital strategic interest in seeing stability, better governance and economic development at its Eastern borders. We intend to pursue that interest and support our partners even more strongly.
For their part, our Eastern Partners all seek to intensify their relations with the EU. We intend to support those aspirations, this "choice for Europe".
Ladies and Gentlemen, we want to build a new, ambitious partnership, going well beyond the achievements of the European Neighbourhood Policy. It should bring a lasting political message of solidarity, with additional, tangible support for democratic and market-oriented reforms and the consolidation of partners’ statehood and territorial integrity.
This is what we propose with the Eastern Partnership.Drawing inter alia on Polish ideas, the Partnership will be flexible and tailored to each partner’s needs and capacity. In each case the EU will seek to offer the maximum possible given political realities.
So how do we propose to deliver this? The Commission still has to take final decisions so I can’t reveal the whole package today, but I’d like to sketch the key bilateral initiatives we are planning. I’ll touch on the multilateral aspects of the partnership later.
Let me stress five key elements of the Eastern Partnership:
A strong political bond with the European Union in the form of Association Agreements.
better market access and free trade
higher mobility between us and our partners
our common energy security
and last but not least support for regional development.
First, with those partners ready and willing to take on far-reaching commitments, we want to conclude Association Agreements.
Superseding current Partnership and Cooperation Agreements, these "Associations" will formalise the step change in our engagement and the bond between us. They will be the firm basis for a strong and ambitious relationship.
They will also promote further convergence with EU legislation and standards - key for business and investors - and advance cooperation on the global stage through cooperation on both the Common Foreign and Security Policy and European Security and Defence Policy.
Second, we want to promote free trade.
How? With a mix of instruments: In the short-term: through sectoral support to provide immediate gains for business.
In the longer-term, the Association Agreements will provide for better mutual market access and the creation of Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas, once partner countries have joined the WTO.
This will enable the free movement of goods, capital and services much as our own market does.
In short: We want to use the power of attraction of our internal market – the world's largest – to stabilize our partners and create prosperity.
In parallel, we’d like to encourage partners to develop a free trade network between themselves which could, in the longer term, join up into a Neighbourhood Economic Community.
Of course, not all partners are yet ready to undertake negotiations or implement a Free Trade Area with the EU.
But we can help them reach the necessary state of readiness for this.
This is just one reason why the Eastern Partnership will introduce innovative Comprehensive Institution Building programmes with each partner, to help them develop the capacity to undertake the challenging reforms needed to bring them closer to Europe.
Third, we want to encourage the free movement of people.
This is clearly a litmus test for the credibility of our enhanced European offer - and for the Neighbourhood Policy as a whole. Our Union must gradually open our borders - but of course in a smart, secure, controlled way.
Poland and other Member States had a visa-free regime with their eastern neighbours until recently, and they have understandable reasons for wanting to return to this situation. The EU will therefore offer the Eastern Partners “Mobility and Security Pacts” to promote legal movement of people.
Visa policy will follow a phased approach. We recommend the EU to initiate talks on visa facilitation with partners who do not yet benefit from it; for those who do, provide additional facilitation including the waiving of fees; improve Member State consular coverage through Common Visa Application centres; and, longer-term, open dialogues on visa-free travel with all partners.
Fourth, we want to guarantee our mutual energy security. We will propose:
The inclusion of “Energy interdependence” chapters in the Association Agreements;
The swift completion of negotiations on Ukraine’s and Moldova’s membership in the Energy Community;
The conclusion of Energy Memoranda of Understanding with Moldova, Georgia and Armenia;
Enhanced political engagement with Azerbaijan, as a major hydrocarbon exporting partner to the EU.
Finally, a Commission-Belarus declaration on energy, covering hydrocarbon transit and energy sector reform.
Fifth, we will aim to promote partners’ sustainable development. Drawing on the experience of EU regional development policies, we will help partners address
economic and social disparities, and improve conditions in their less developed regions, thereby laying the foundations for prosperity – in their interest and ours.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This is a long list. But one I hope which illustrates the seriousness of our intent. The Eastern Partnership represents a substantial upgrade in the level of our engagement.
And that is not all. I said at the start that I would mention the partnership’s multilateral aspects. We will also create a New Multilateral Framework for the relationship to be launched at a Summit meeting next spring.
This will enable us to support partners' individual ambitions, in a forum where common challenges can be addressed, experience shared, and joint activities undertaken. Above all it will give us a new way to accompany partners' own reform efforts by explaining EU legislation and standards.
In all of the work I have described, we will involve a wide range of stakeholders, not least parliaments. I hope, once again in this, that we will see the active participation of Poland and Members of this House.
But, Ladies and Gentlemen, we all know that “Advice is judged by results, not by intentions”, as ancient Roman Statesman Cicero warned us.
So let us be clear: I believe that now is the time to act and to make an ambitious political investment, not only in the interests of our partners to the East, but also those of our own citizens. I believe, Ladies and Gentlemen, that the Eastern partnership will yield stability and prosperity "dividends" for years to come.
But, as with so much else in European construction, we need the Political Will of Member States to deliver.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Eastern Partnership will be based on the principle of joint ownership and, as in all of the EU’s partnerships, frank dialogue about reform. Before closing I wanted therefore, in view of recent developments, to touch briefly on two Eastern partners: the Ukraine and Belarus. I thought a few words on Russia would also be appropriate.
Poland has made an important contribution to the EU's understanding of countries like Ukraine and Belarus.
I think we can all be satisfied with the outcome of deliberations earlier in the year which led to the granting to Ukraine of an "Association Agreement" which can now become the model for others in the Eastern Partnership. .
I am happy to report that negotiations are progressing well, including now on the trade track, and that a visa dialogue was launched at the end of October.
Nevertheless, the continuing political instability is a matter of concern, and we all have a part to play in urging the political forces in Ukraine to focus on the serious challenges facing their country in terms of economic and political reform: constitutional reform, reform of the judiciary and the implementation of measures to strengthen the business and investment climate.
As for Belarus, progress in reform is unfortunately slow, but offers opportunities which we must seize.
I welcome recent announcements by Belarus to allow certain opposition media to print within the country, and to seek advice on improving electoral legislation.
These are positive and encouraging developments and we look forward to their implementation.
But, reform efforts must not stop there. Other important steps should include better conditions for registration of NGOs, freedom of assembly and there should be no new political prisoners.
We are therefore pursuing our talks with the authorities in a constructive manner in order to keep conveying our message.
Meanwhile, the Commission has intensified its technical cooperation with Belarus. This will have to be backed with an appropriate increase in our technical assistance. The recent Council decision to suspend some of our restrictive measures was clear: the EU is ready to engage with Belarus, but Belarus must do its part too - by continuing recent positive trends.
As to Russia: we resumed our negotiations for a new agreement, which had been postponed after the Georgia crisis. Our comprehensive review of EU-Russia relations has shown the complexity and interdependence of our mutual relationship. For that reason it serves our best interests to continue these talks. But let me tackle some misperceptions.
The resumption of negotiations between the EU and Russia on a new Cooperation Agreement should not be interpreted as “business as usual”.
We do not accept the status quo in Georgia. The EU continues to support the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia – which needs to be restored.
While some advances have been made, we made clear to the Russians at the recent summit that much remains to be done. The Geneva process is therefore extremely important and has our full support.
The Commission is notably concerned about: the continuing presence of the Russian military in Abkhazia and South Ossetia including adjacent territories; access for humanitarian and reconstruction experts; military build-up and the need to ensure the safe return of Internally Displaced People.
These negotiations will not be easy and I promise you, we will clearly pursue our interests in these talks and ensure that Europe achieves its objectives in the interests of our citizens.
Ladies and Gentlemen, let me conclude:
I mentioned in opening that next year will be the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Iron Curtain. It will also be the 10th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s historic address to this Parliament in which he endorsed Poland’s efforts to join the European Union. And could his Holiness see Poland’s place in the heart of Europe today, I think he would be extremely proud.
I would like to take this occasion to pay tribute to him. A towering figure of hope for so many during the Cold War, and without whom, as Mikhail Gorbachev once said, it would not have ended, he was also a Great European.
In his speech here, Pope John Paul II spoke of: “the two lungs with which Europe should breathe ... East and West”
He said that politicians should realise that there was an “urgent need for new initiatives which might serve the integration of Europe”.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we are heeding his call. I would argue that the Eastern Partnership is precisely one such transformative initiative.
Poland has played a pioneering role in its inception. I know that we can count on Poland, and this House’s, full support to ensure delivery.
"Niech zyje Polska, niech zyje Europa!"