Statement by President Barroso at the Eastern Partnership Summit
European Commission - SPEECH/13/1000 29/11/2013
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José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
Statement by President Barroso at the Eastern Partnership Summit
Eastern Partnership Summit/Vilnius
29 November 2013
Let me first thank President Grybauskaite of Lithuania for the organisation of this very successful summit.
Four years ago, when we launched the Eastern Partnership, our objective was to support partner countries' political and economic reforms, to assist their modernisation process and to move them closer to the European Union, while respecting the degree of closeness chosen by each one.
This Vilnius Summit has been a summit of real progress, a Summit where we have delivered on our commitments.
The Association Agreements which Moldova and Georgia have been initialled today and they are a very important force for change.
I firmly believe that these Association Agreements including a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area provide the best possible opportunity for political and economic reform today. History can show us why.
In the early 1990s, ten central and eastern European countries signed up to Free Trade Agreements with the European Union, including the country where we are today. Within 6 years, the GDP per capita in these countries had increased by 57%. Investment per capita had increased by 61%. And exports per capita had increased by 65%. As a result of these Agreements, those ten countries began one of the major transformations of their recent history.
So I think it is very important to remind us of the record already of Free Trade Agreements that we have before the accession of the new Member states of the European Union.
Contrary to what some are suggesting, these Association Agreements and Free Trade Agreements have been an extremely important contribution to growth, to jobs, to social and economic development in all those partners. Partners, some of them that today are full members of the European Union. One of them is having the current Presidency of the Council, it is precisely Lithuania.
Yesterday and today we have discussed about this. Many of those new Member states said what they have gained becoming members of the European Union and how important is the European Union as a guarantee of independence and of social economic development.
During our summit, today and yesterday we have reiterated to Ukraine that the offer to sign these Agreements remains on the table, provided the government of Ukraine delivers on its commitments.
This Agreement would save Ukrainian business some 500 million euros a year just in import duties. It would increase Ukraine's GDP by more than six per cent in the longer term. And by confirming Ukraine's modernisation pledge, it would also give momentum to billion-euro loan negotiations with International Financial Institutions. The Ukrainian people have demonstrated these last days that they fully understand the strategic nature of the reform's path. We know how much the Ukrainian people feel European, how much they care about Europe, how much they aspire to be recognised as members of the democratic community of nations of Europe and we will of course now pursue our conversations with our Ukrainian partners, knowing well that we should always respect Ukraine’s sovereign decisions.
Because this partnership was from the very outset based on the key principles of mutual respect, transparency, individual and collective ownership.
This Partnership was never an imposition, but rather a proposition.
And all stand to gain. Our neighbours; and the neighbours of our neighbours. Let me be clear, this is a process for something. This is a process not against someone. This is a process for something; it is for democracy, for stability and for prosperity. It is not against someone, because I don't believe someone should be against democracy, against stability or against prosperity.
And our partnership also has a real meaning for the citizens.
Take firstly the issue of travelling without the need for a visa. Something very concrete, something all our young people in Europe want: freedom of movement. Just a fortnight ago, the Commission published its final report on visa liberalisation for Moldovan citizens. Moldova has met all the benchmarks set, so the European Commission has already issued a proposal to enable visa-free travel to the European Union for Moldovan citizens who own a biometric passport.
Today, we have also signed a Visa Facilitation Agreement with Azerbaijan, which will make the process of applying for an European Union visa easier. By the way, with Azerbaijan, today we've heard the President and also the members of the European Union showing their commitment to the progress in our strategic modernisation partnership. And today also, we knew about the willingness of Belarus to negotiate a Visa Facilitation Agreement. I'm sure this will be for the benefit of the Belarusian citizens, especially their young people. And I also hope that the future democratisation of Belarus will enable the country to fully seize the potential of this partnership. So, the point I want to make clear is the following: the Eastern Partnership is not just about the economy or not just about abstract concepts; it's about concrete benefits for citizens, removing barriers, enabling people to meet each other. It is in fact a transformational project of the highest importance.
An important issue that we also discussed is energy. Making sure that no European nation is an energy island – isolated from European networks. That is why we have taken very tangible steps over the last years to link our neighbours to the EU market, through new corridors, new physical connections, the possibility of reverse flows, support for their domestic energy reforms and so on, everything to bolster our shared energy security.
And today we have shown, as European Union, that we can deliver on our commitments. I want to thank all of those that made possible the progress today. And allow me a special word of thanks to my colleagues in the Commission. Of course to Vice-President and High Representative Cathy Ashton, but also to Commissioner Füle, who is responsible for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy and of course Commissioner for trade Karel De Gucht. And other colleagues also that are giving their contribution in energy or in the issue of visa-free travel, from Commissioner Oettinger to Commissioner Malmström, the European Commission is fully behind this agenda and today I was very happy to see the strong support of all the European Union Member States and also the willingness of our partners in the East to go forward in this common journey.
I thank you.