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European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy
Ambitions of EU and East Partners for the Vilnius Summit
Third ordinary session of the EU Neighbourhood East Parliamentary Assembly (EURONEST) in the European Parliament / Brussels
28 May 2013
This is not the first opportunity that I have had to address you on behalf Cathy Ashton and myself but I will do this through my website and Facebook and let me now share with you nine informal remarks on how I see the Eastern Partnership today and how I would like to see it tomorrow.
Your views matter as this is a joint project and the views of both sides are important.
1. At the Vilnius Summit on 28-29 November I would say that what we are aiming at, as we are still not there yet, is to deliver on the most far reaching agreement we have ever had with partners, an Association Agreement (AA) including its Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA); an instrument for political association and economic integration.
Four years ago we had political declarations, recommendations and programmes to address reforms in this part of eastern Europe but if we are able to sign one of those Association Agreements and initial others, for the first time we will make a quantum leap towards the real transformation in that post soviet space and I do not know whether you would agree or not that this is a game changer.
2. About the overall expectations from Vilnius Summit: it is one thing to have ambitions (and they are very high) and another thing for our partners to allow us to deliver on those ambitions. The summit can deliver only to the extent to which partners are able to deliver on reforms. The more ambitious the partners are and the more concrete the results they deliver, the more the Heads of State can deliver on a number of issues relevant to our partners. This time we will not only have, hopefully, an Association Agreement with Ukraine and also initialled with Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, but also quite some progress in the visa liberalisation action plan process, some countries being able to sign readmission treaties and visa facilitation treaties. For the first time we will be able to deliver on concrete infrastructure projects, in particular thanks to the Lithuanian Presidency and with our support, we will deliver on our ambitions, we will reach an agreement on the Eastern Partnership transport network, including a network suitable for any international financial institution and I hope it will be only one of the steps.
Another important issue concerns how we are going to address the time between the Vilnius summit and the next Summit in two years' time. In Warsaw the Heads of State asked the European Commission and the EEAS to deliver on the roadmap and it took us six rounds of negotiations. This time we would like to have some kind of basic guidelines, a channelled roadmap being agreed at the summit itself that would be enough for us to politically steer the relations between the summits, but to also rely on the substance of an association agenda, hopefully finalised by the time of summit.
3. An inclusive process: we take the lessons learnt very seriously. This time we are determined to put together the structure and arrangements, involving our partners in the real negotiations of those documents.
4. The summit will give us the possibility to ask the question: you have an Association Agreement including its DCFTA but what next? We are thinking about two issues. The first one concerns a study which we are about to launch. We hope to have some results by Vilnius on how to use the fact that we might have number of bilateral Association Agreements and how to turn these agreements into instruments to regionalise this cooperation among our partners and among them and the European Union. Warsaw was referring to a special economic zone shared between the European Union and partners based on those agreements and we would like to share those options with our partners to give them the choice on how to proceed with subsequent steps after the Association Agreement. The second issue to be discussed at the Summit and where you could also help us to address a particular challenge concerns negotiating the Association Agreement which is a demanding process, involving everyone's capacities. It is a lengthy process – the one that dominates our relationship. The challenge is when we conclude these negotiations and start the technical process for preparation for initialling and for signing, we end up without having this strong bond of working together almost on daily basis. And we face in the case of the Ukraine Association Agreement questions about what we could do to keep the level our engagement as high and intensive as possible so that we do not face the consequences of the intensity of our relationship being downgraded
5. The Vilnius summit will be about differentiation. Let me underline that the Eastern Partnership is not a strait jacket, that it does not offer to partners the same patterns, programmes or the same level of ambitions. It is up to our partners to define what they mean by ''closer relationship with the European Union''. We offer a number of Instruments, programmes and policies to deliver on that ambition. If it is through the Matrix or the dialogue for modernisation etc. that is fine. If it means European aspirations, all of that is there for our partners and I am confident that the Vilnius summit is going to underscore this issue.
One thing you have already understood in the partnership - we base it on more for more, it is not only that the more you commit to reforms the more support you get but also the more ambitious you are the more demanding we get and the more we expect from you especially from the countries that have a European Union aspiration.
6. The role of the civil society: we have developed a quite effective and strong element not only by involving civil society through National platforms, but also at a multinational level. We support civil society in monitoring and delivering reforms. I call on you to rely on your contacts with civil society and to cooperate with them.
7. We have developed quite an interaction between the European Commission and partners, ministerials, Euronest, summits, Eastern Partnership civil society forum and also informal partnership dialogues. Every 6 month in the capitals we organise informal exchanges of views with ministers. In Tbilisi we have introduced two new elements: sectoral cooperation and the dimension of cooperation with the civil society. We hope to follow this example at the informal dialogue in September in Yerevan where we would like to focus on education.
8. The more we cooperate with our partners the more we feel the need to strengthen and widen the Exchange of views with Russia. More than two months ago the European Commission was in Moscow for a meeting with the government. For the first time we raised three important issues related to the shared neighbourhood: we explained the lack of compatibility between Association Agreements and the Customs Union. We explained that the reason for that incompatibility is that we cannot make legally binding agreements with partners that are not in charge of their external trade policies. We made clear that this is not about politics or ideology. We are keen for our partners to strengthen their relationships with Russia. We also made the point that we are ready with our partners and Moscow to talk about those policies of the Customs Union and Eurasian union where the partners could participate without putting into question the content of the Association Agreement negotiations. In other words we will be very pragmatic in this regard. Thirdly, we also made an offer to strengthen contacts between the European Commission and Eurasian union on some of the most important areas such as the regulatory framework. We are keen to see that the European Union regulatory work is compatible with the Eurasian union side.
9. Parliament: the last time I was in Baku I asked you to help us to strengthen public diplomacy, to open the platform to exchanges of views with society at large, to cooperation with the European Union and various programmes that we jointly deliver on. At the time we are going to sign or initial an Association Agreement it is even more important to work on public diplomacy. Second request: please pay attention to strengthening of democratic institutions in your countries, starting with parliaments. Unless you have strong independent democratic institutions, free from political interference you can hardly deliver fully on your democratic and transformation agendas.
Let me end as I started, this is a joint project and we are determined to do everything so that you feel part of this joint project.