European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy
Eastern Partnership of the EU
Bratislava Global Security Forum (GLOBSEC Conference)
Brussels, 3 March 2011
Dear Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great privilege to address you on the issue of the Eastern Partnership. I should like to take this opportunity to make a few remarks regarding the achievements of the Eastern Partnership over the past year before turning to some of the challenges that we face. I should then like to conclude with some reflections on recent developments in the Southern Neighbourhood.
The achievements of the Eastern Partnership
The Eastern Partnership was launched in Prague in May 2009, with the ambitious aim of promoting political association and further economic integration between the European Union and the six partner countries. Since its launch the Eastern Partnership has made excellent progress and has proven its value and its continuing relevance.
Let me give a few examples of successes over the past year, starting with the Association Agreements, although there are many more that I could cite. At the heart of relations with our partners, lie new, ambitious and forward-looking Association Agreements which we are in the process of negotiating. Since the launch of the Eastern Partnership we have opened negotiations with four new Eastern Partners and have accelerated negotiations with Ukraine. In essence the Agreements provide a blue-print for reform which will bring our Eastern partners much closer. Ultimately they could include, as an integral part, the establishment of deep and comprehensive free trade areas with the EU – leading to full access to the EU’s internal market of 500 million consumers. And as countries reform and gain access to the EU’s internal market, we can expect that their share of global trade will increase as well as trade between them. I do not believe that we could have opened negotiations with all of these countries with such speed and with such a high level of ambition were it not for the political impetus provided by the Eastern Partnership.
In the area of mobility important steps have also been made. At the end of last year, we were able to announce Action Plans for Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova towards the establishment of visa free regimes for short stay travel. On Tuesday 1 March, Visa Facilitation and Readmission Agreements came into force with Georgia. Preparations are under way for negotiations of similar agreements with the other countries of the Eastern Partnership not already benefitting from such Agreements. Again, the momentum for these developments has come directly from the Eastern Partnership.
We have seen similar positive developments in a number of important areas covered by the Eastern Partnership. These include the establishment of a Comprehensive Institution Building Initiative with the aim of strengthening the administrative capacity of our partners to carry out reform. Memoranda of Understanding have now been signed with five of our partners.
The multilateral dimension of the Eastern Partnership has now been successfully launched with a wide range of activities designed to promote exchanges of best practice and experience and partnerships across Europe in key areas of common interest. The multilateral dimension does not just target governments. It also seeks to bring together businesses; researchers and students; civil society groups and ordinary citizens.
We have also helped establish a Civil Society Forum with representatives from all Partner Countries and from EU states to ensure that civil society is able to have a strong voice in the work that we are undertaking together and by extension in the reform agenda in their respective countries. I saw the work of the Civil Society Forum at first hand last November in Berlin.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have achieved a great deal in the past two years. But much more remains to be done to ensure that the full potential of the Eastern Partnership can be realised. There is therefore no time for complacency.
As you may be aware we are currently engaged in a Strategic Review of the European Neighbourhood Policy. This is an important exercise which should allow us to increase the effectiveness and impact of our support to countries in the Neighbourhood. It will also be central to the future development of the Eastern Partnership. I should like to mention some preliminary conclusions from this process.
One of the key issues concerns the concept of differentiation. Some of our neighbours are willing to conduct painful economic and political reforms. They are asking us for more support, including financial and in sensitive areas such as mobility or trade. We should not shy away from addressing these demands — in return for the continuation of reforms that make them democratic and stable countries and increasingly attractive economies.
This approach - described as “more for more” - implies developing a framework with clear benchmarks in which our expectations of partners as regards reform are spelt out more clearly, as are the “rewards” that our partners will obtain if those expectations are met.
These should cover governance, human rights, democracy, co-operation on security matters, as well as partners’ ability to cope with competitive pressures. Those who do not make convincing progress towards meeting these benchmarks should not expect more in return from the EU. And those who move away from these benchmarks should also expect a reaction from our part.
At the same time we need to examine where we can be more ambitious.
In particular we need to communicate with greater clarity where we wish the European Neighbourhood Policy, and by extension the Eastern Partnership, to lead. The review process is likely to recommend that we promote a strong positive vision of closer relations based on further economic integration. And here it will be important that we escape from the logic that defines anything short of accession as a negative.
As regards the Eastern Partnership itself, in the run up to the Eastern Partnership Summit, we will work on strengthening certain aspects of the offer we made to partners two years ago in Prague. This could involve a number of areas:
further enhancement of mobility;
the opening of EU Programmes to Eastern Partner countries (as well as allowing access to EU agencies);
deepening cooperation in the areas of energy and transport;
further enhancing the role of civil society;
considering how the Eastern Partnership can contribute to conflict prevention and resolution as well as reflecting on Eastern partners’ involvement in actions under the Common Foreign and Security Policy. I expect that we will also be able to welcome progress in further identifying pilot regional development programmes, in support of the goal of regional development identified in the original Prague Declaration.
Of course, ultimately the success of the Eastern Partnership will depend upon the readiness of partner countries to engage in wide-ranging, systemic reforms. This means a commitment not only to an agenda of economic and sectoral reform, but also to the common values which underpin the Eastern Partnership: respect for fundamental rights; democratic values and the rule of law. I will come back to this in a moment.
The South and the Eastern Partnership
I should like to make some remarks regarding the dramatic events that we have witnessed in recent months in the South. 2011 is proving to be an extraordinary year of change with reasons for both optimism and anxiety. Like 1989 and 1990 in Central and Eastern Europe, the changes that we are witnessing will resonate into the future. Europe needs to be ready to respond to these events with determination, imagination and solidarity.
In the turmoil and exuberance of the past weeks, a number of voices have questioned the future direction of the EU’s relations with our Eastern Partners. Some argue that it is time to focus our efforts away from Eastern Europe in order to respond effectively to challenges in the South. Some contrast the gains in the South in terms of “people-power” with backward steps in Belarus or what they describe as democratic “stagnation” in Ukraine. They argue that the progress as regards so-called “Western values” such as respect for human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law has given way under the weight of the post-Soviet legacy of corruption, cronyism and increasing authoritarianism.
Let me be clear: the European Union’s determination to deepen relations with our partners in the East is unwavering. Those same considerations that have driven forward our relations over the past 20 years continue to be relevant today. Closer relations between us are essential in securing greater stability, prosperity and democracy in Europe.
Turning to some recent developments in Eastern Europe. It is true that events in Belarus following the Presidential elections of 19 December have been a major test for the EU and the Eastern Partnership. And let me underline this point. Belarus poses a challenge not just for the EU. It raises issues for all of us here to address. For its part the EU has unequivocally condemned the violent and unacceptable repression of the opposition and more generally civil society. It has called for the immediate release of all those detained on political grounds. At the same time we have worked hard to identify appropriate EU responses to these developments. In our reactions we have sought to find the right combination of actions which target those responsible for the crackdown and others which support civil society and our long-term relations with the population.
Similarly we have been robust in our discussions with partners in Ukraine concerning its democratic development. We will continue to press for political reforms in Ukraine and elsewhere. It is however quite misleading to paint developments in Eastern Europe in a palate of greys. The picture is far more complex and nuanced. Ukraine has made important steps as regards its economic and political development notwithstanding our concerns in certain important areas. The Republic of Moldova has made impressive reforms across the board.
This said, if there is a sense of excitement and dynamism concerning developments in the South, this is because change is being driven by those countries themselves. Whatever the EU may offer or propose, ultimately the momentum for reform must come from our partners. And a reform agenda that does not address people’s expectations as regards political freedoms and democratisation is incomplete. The lessons that we draw from 1989, and from the events of recent months in the Southern Mediterranean, are that political reforms are not only essential to the creation of dynamic, innovative, prosperous and just societies. They are also critical to long-term stability.
Finally, I should like to add a word on the wider region. I am very sensitive to the idea that the Eastern Partnership is a positive agenda aiming at strengthening relations between neighbours, promoting cooperation and openness. It is certainly not intended to erect new barriers in Europe, nor should it be seen as a zero sum game as regards other partners in the region such as Russia. We should therefore study ways of including third interested parties in some Eastern Partnership activities.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Over the past two years I believe that the Eastern Partnership has established itself as an important initiative that will help to shape the future of our continent. We still have a long way to go to realise our common goals. Success will depend upon the efforts and commitments of both sides and all of the various actors involved. From our side we are determined to maintain the momentum achieved to-date. We will work closely with our partners in order to realise this common endeavour. Thank you for your attention.