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José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
Speech by President Barroso at the occasion of the Civil Society Forum
Civil Society Forum
Kiev, 19 December 2011
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am very pleased that we have the chance today to join you, to hear what you have to say and to share our own hopes for the future.
“Civil society” in Ukraine includes many different groups with differing backgrounds, from advocacy groups to entrepreneurs, trade unions, charities to academic and religious organisations.
I believe this diversity is good for democracy and good for innovation. It must be recognised and respected as such. It is one of the reasons why active civil society participation is so important here in Ukraine but also in the Eastern Partnership as a whole.
I congratulate the Ukrainian national platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum for its efforts to embrace this diversity and enhance the voice of civil society in shaping our common future, because we are speaking about a common future, a European future.
Active participation of civil society in all spheres of public life is a fundamental cornerstone of the European Union. It is also an essential element of democratic societies, and to their pursuit of economic prosperity. And I believe it is the only viable route to modernisation and the realisation of a people's potential. And when I speak about peoples I do not mean peoples in abstract: I mean every man, every woman, and every child. That is why I would like to thank you for the document you just gave us "Common Values –Common Future." I think the emphasis on values is indeed very important.
The European Commission presented in May this year a communication setting out our new vision for our Neighbourhood Policy. A vision that takes into account events to the South and to the East of our continent. This new vision is centred on two basic and essential pillars. The first one is the implementation of our principle “more for more”, that is the more our partners engage in political and economic reforms, the more we will assist and engage with these partners.
The second pillar is precisely to move our relations from an exclusive partnership between governments into an inclusive partnership with societies and between societies and all actors of those societies.
Today President Van Rompuy and I came to Kiev for the 15th EU-Ukraine Summit to seal Ukraine’s European choice. This was achieved by the conclusion of the Association Agreement. This is the first agreement of this type the European Union is concluding with any country from the Eastern Partnership. It is an agreement that puts Ukraine on a path to political association and economic integration with the European Union.
This agreement has at its very heart the values that underpin our Eastern Partnership and our offer of association: the values of democracy, respect for human rights, rule of law, independence of the judiciary and freedom of expression. These values need to be the lighthouse that guides our cooperation. The indispensable elements of our future relations.
I know that Ukrainian civil society has been a steadfast supporter of the conclusion of this agreement and I thank you for that. Many of you have already been contributing to our work by monitoring and reporting on the implementation of our Association Agenda. This is vital work which has made a huge contribution to the quality of our Progress Reports and our information on Ukraine, helping us to ask the right questions and to focus on the right issues. Please continue this work. In return we will make every effort to give more feedback on your valuable inputs and to debate with you our own assessments and findings as we are doing today.
Ukraine has a flourishing civil society, and I hope it will continue. I know there is an important debate now about the legal framework for civil society activities. I am glad to hear that the government has set up a working group on this legislation, and that there has been some positive feedback on the work done so far. We will wait with interest to see what the final legislation proposes. Civil society's independence and autonomy must be preserved.
Before closing, I would also like to add a word on mobility issues as I know this is one of the most anticipated aspects of the association for the Ukrainian people. It is also one of the most practical and concrete ways to forge the close partnerships I mentioned earlier.
Let me therefore assure you that the European Union is committed to achieving the goal of visa-free travel with Ukraine, so that Ukrainian people, young men and women, have the chance to circulate freely and benefit from closer exchanges with European Union citizens. This is a process which still requires a lot of work on the Ukrainian side as a number of criteria need to be met. It will not be for tomorrow. But it is clearly our goal. And I hope now to see concrete implementation of the steps agreed.
As an intermediate step, we have just concluded a new visa facilitation agreement which should ease many of the obstacles currently faced.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The recent turmoil across the world has brought important lessons. Among these is that for political and economic reforms to be sustainable, ultimately they must be based on open and fair procedures and strong public consent. Only then can they stand the test of time. And the best way to assure stability is precisely through openness. I think that the lessons of the recent transformations in Europe and outside of Europe show precisely that. That is why the role of civil society is important.
Only with a fair and equitable framework which allows for the involvement of civil society, mobilisation and participation of the people of one country can a country rise to the challenge of consolidating its independence, its democracy and also its prosperity. We want to be Ukraine’s partner in rising to this challenge.
I thank you very much for your attention.