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Catherine Ashton

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission

Statement ahead of the Eastern Partnership Summit

European Parliament

Strasbourg, 27 September 2011

Mr President, Honourable Members,

I am pleased to have the opportunity today to address you in advance of the Eastern Partnership Summit, which will be held in Warsaw on 29-30 September. This House has been a consistent supporter of the Eastern Partnership, and you, Mr President, will speak at this event on behalf of the Parliament. I welcome your personal commitment and your presence at the Summit. And I pay tribute to my colleague Stefan Fule for the immense work he has put into the Eastern Partnership.

The strengthening and deepening of the Union’s relationships with its Eastern and Southern neighbours is a key priority, and central to my work and that of the External Action Service.

It is 20 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union and our Eastern neighbours have changed markedly. It remains vital for the EU to help its neighbours in their process of transition towards sustainable democracy and to becoming market economies. This process is in our interests since it enhances our own security and prosperity.

In May 2009, we launched the Eastern Partnership as a framework in which to build the EU’s political association and economic integration with six countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

We have made significant progress in the last two years and bilateral relations with most of our partners have been significantly strengthened.

This year we aim to finalise negotiations for an Association Agreement with Ukraine including a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area. We also aim to launch negotiations on Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas with Moldova and Georgia, once they have met the necessary requirements.

In addition to trade, we have made progress on mobility. We are implementing Visa Action Plans with Ukraine and Moldova and Visa Facilitation and Readmission Agreements came into force with Georgia a few months ago. We aim to launch negotiations on similar agreements with Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus in the near future.

In Warsaw we will be meeting in the context of strong relationships.

Our partnership extends beyond governments, to links between peoples. I strongly support this Parliament's efforts to enhance its links with its Eastern counterparts, through the creation of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly. Civil society and business forums have been set up within the Partnership, and both will meet in the margins of the Warsaw Summit. In addition, over the last four years more, than 2000 students and academics from Eastern Partnership countries have been funded to study in the EU.

The Eastern Partnership is built on mutual accountability and responsibilities, and the shared commitment to the principles of democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law.

In Poland, we will leave our partners in no doubt that the EU's acknowledgement of their European aspirations and their European choice goes hand in hand with our expectations for their commitment to progressing towards deep and sustainable democracy.

Our Eastern partners are at different stages along this path, and our role is to give practical support to that process of their political association and economic integration with the EU.

Earlier this month I conveyed a strong message to Ukraine, which stressed that respect for democratic principles and the rule of law, including the right to fair and independent legal processes, must remain the basis of our future relations.

Stefan Fule and I are particularly concerned about the cases against Yulia Tymoshenko and other Members of her government, and plans to revert to earlier electoral system, against international advice.

The EU has been unequivocal in the face of the clear repression of democratic and human rights in Belarus – in last December’s presidential elections, and since. It has imposed sanctions against the regime, and called for the immediate release and rehabilitation of all political prisoners. At the same time we have increased our assistance to Belarusian civil society.

Following the Review of the Neighbourhood policy undertaken by myself and Stefan Fule, a key element is that the EU will apply more conditionality in its actions, linking them more closely to the efforts made by our partners towards reform.

This means more financial support, closer political cooperation and deeper economic integration for those partners who have embarked on deep reforms. It is what we call ‘more for more’.

Another important ingredient of the new Neighbourhood Policy is that some support will now be redirected towards Non-Governmental Organisations, as we build partnerships with civil society. We have the tools to make this happen, through a new Neighbourhood Civil Society Facility. We are also working on the establishment of a new European Endowment for Democracy to support democratic change in the neighbourhood.

The conflicts in the region – in Nagorno Karabakh, in Transistria, in Abkhazia and South Ossetia – are perhaps the most concerning obstacles to progress. We expect our Eastern partners in the region to do their utmost to make progress towards peaceful settlement, a strategic priority for the EU, just as we are making specific, dedicated efforts to address the many challenges these conflicts pose. Progress here will mean progress in our relationship as a whole.

In August, on my recommendation, the Council approved the appointment of Philippe Lefort as the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus and the crisis in Georgia. His mandate includes contributing to the peaceful settlement of conflicts in accordance with the principles of international law, working closely with all partners involved.

Clearly, Nagorno-Karabakh remains high on our agenda. In support of the Minsk Group, we are in dialogue with all the parties, to help them find a shared solution.

The EU has the will and capacity to take action in support of conflict stabilisation and also settlement, as, for example, it showed during and after the war in Georgia in August 2008. We established the EU Monitoring Mission, and we are co-chairing the Geneva International Talks.

As regards Transnistria, the EU has played its part in ensuring that a decision on the resumption of the official negotiations in the “5+2” format was taken on 22 September. We are now looking forward to a negotiating process in which all the parties involved will act in good faith and in a spirit of cooperation.

We are all committed, Mr President, to making the Warsaw Summit a success, and to giving renewed momentum to building the closest possible relations with our Eastern partners and neighbours.

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