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Speech - "EU-Mongolia: Third neighbour and first class partner"

European Commission - SPEECH/13/937   17/11/2013

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European Commission

José Manuel Durão Barroso

President of the European Commission

"EU-Mongolia: Third neighbour and first class partner"

National University of Mongolia

Ulan Bator 17 November 2013

President Elbegdorj

Rector,

Dear Professors, Dear Students,

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be here today in Mongolia and it is an even greater honour to be the first President of the Commission to visit your country and address Mongolia’s most prestigious University. It is always with great satisfaction that I come back to the University lecture theatre because I see myself as an academic turned politician.

I am also a firm believer in the central place of education in people’s lives and in the development of a nation, as beautifully captured in the words of the Mongolian poet Injanashi: “One who has a strong body will be a warrior for a generation,
One who has a great wisdom will be a hero for thousands of generations.” as well as in the motto of this University: “From education, the flame of progress flourishes”.

The question we have to ask ourselves is not why is the President of the European Commission coming to Mongolia, but rather why has a President of the European Commission never came to Mongolia before? I was supposed to have come earlier in the year in March, but the unpredictable nature of the political life prevented me from doing so, however I promised that I would come and I like to keep my promises.

In fact, over the centuries, Mongolia and Europe have been much closer than you would think from looking at a map. Our destines have been tied together in the XIII and XIV centuries when the Pax Mongolica enabled east and west to meet for the first time in history: and to travel freely along the silk route which the Khan dynasty secured as a free trade route.

This has played a unique and central role in the process of cultural exchange in the Old World. Goods, technology, ideas, and culture moved back and forth along its length. Mathematics, astronomy, and science travelled east and west, along with different forms of music, dance or painting.

A few centuries later a Portuguese, Vasco da Gama, opened an alternate route between east and west, the “Spice Route”, leading to the decay of the Silk Route. More than 500 hundred years after I hope you will not blame me personally for that!

And despite the historic divisions of the 20th century that have kept us apart, this distance is once again rapidly reducing as the imperatives of the 21st century once again bring us together.

In this, I do not simply mean our common global issues such as climate change and the need to ensure sustainable development. I also refer to the path which you have chosen of democratisation and economic modernisation.

The values that you have adopted as yours: democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law are the values which also underpin the European Union, the values that make us close neighbours and privileged partners, despite the geographical distance. In this respect let me praise Mongolia's decision last year to abolish the death penalty as a symbolic step on the path which you have chosen to follow.

We know from our own experience in Europe, the experience of a war torn continent that turned into a continent of peace, that the path of democracy is the best means to ensure long term stability. It is also highly appropriate that I say these words here in this University which was at the forefront of the struggle for democracy in Mongolia: the University at which the symbol of that struggle, Zorig Sanjaasuren, was a lecturer.

Ultimately of course, establishing a democracy depends upon more than one person, no matter how great their courage and commitment. It depends upon the entire nation, upon the people’s commitment, dedication and sometimes sacrifices to ensure that democracy can not only take root but also flourish.

Over the last two decades the Mongolian People have demonstrated these characteristics in abundance and the progress of your country has your direct imprint.

This year's presidential elections are a further sign of how the democratic process has become, as it should be, a commonplace feature of everyday life: the rule and not the exception.

But the changes are not just domestic, last year Mongolia acceded to the Organisation of Security and Co-operation in Europe thus consolidating its approximation to the Euro-Atlantic values based structures. And this year Mongolia has occupied the Chairmanship of the Community of Democracies. You are widely acknowledged to have brought great enthusiasm, commitment and expertise to your role as Chair, which has resulted in a very busy and successful year.

Mongolia’s choices as a country to embrace multiparty democracy, the rule of law and basic freedoms were not obvious, hence they are even more commendable. And Mongolia’s decision to build good neighbourly relations in the region, but also to look beyond the region turned to be visionary.

European countries’ choice back in the 1950’s to turn their back on centuries of war, to overcome old antagonisms and rivalries and to pool resources, share sovereignty and create common institutions, of which the European Commission is one of the examples, was also not obvious. But, it became over time a unique and irreplaceable project in human history whose success was recognised last year when it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

While your country is establishing its democratic credentials and its voice in the region and the world at large, the European Union wishes to be at your side during this process.

This is why I am so happy that the European Union and Mongolia signed this year our Partnership and Co-operation Agreement with Mongolia. This agreement is wide and comprehensive covering our political relations, economic exchanges and people to people initiatives. It will launch the basis for our future cooperation, a new type of cooperation, more suitable for the interdependent world we are living in, a world where technology has made us all neighbours and where increasingly the actions of one nation can impact on us all.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Next year sees the 25th anniversary of the establishment of relations between the European Union and Mongolia. The Partnership and co-operation agreement is not simply the testimony to the way this relationship has matured: it is as I said the bedrock on which we will develop our relations in the decade, the concrete expression of our common wish to build a future together.

Since we first established diplomatic relations in 1989, EU support and cooperation has played an important role on your transition to democracy, especially on issues such as the effective division of powers, democratic accountability and the rule of law. We are willing to continue and reinforce such a dialogue with Mongolia.

However, we also learnt that democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law are built not just from a change in policy but by changes in practice: by reform of the legal system, the judicial system and of the public administration. There also needs to be an effective civil society, which can hold the institutions of public life to account and provide support for citizens when the burden of change presses down hardest.

We are also bringing our experience and support in these areas to Mongolia. Through our Development Co-operation Instrument we are helping strengthen public administration. We are promoting human rights and we are engaging with the society at large.

Today I can announce that the European Commission will be supporting Mongolia in the next 7 years with a cooperation budget of around 60 million euros that will allow us to continue our close cooperation at different levels, not just between administrations, but also directly between our civil societies.

One of the most important lessons we have learnt is that while government to government contact is important, contacts between citizens, contacts between businesses are the modern Silk Route along which values pass.

For this reason we have ensured that Mongolia will benefit from the international strand of Erasmus+, our university student exchange programme. Since 2004 200 students and scholars have participated in the Erasmus programme. We want to have more Mongolian students, researchers, doctorates benefiting from our scholarships and coming to Europe.

Scientific co-operation is another field where both sides would benefit from closer co-operation and, again, we have ensured that Mongolia can participate in our new Research programme called Horizon 2020.

The opportunities are there it is up to you to seize then.

Distinguished guests.

The efforts made by Mongolia to undertake its democratic transformation have been matched by its economic reform agenda. Over the last few years your economic growth rates have been admired by many around the world.

You will know far better than I that this has been driven by global demand for primary materials. And your government is well aware of the need to diversify the economy, to help guard against adverse movements on the commodities markets.

To this end, attracting foreign investment is vital. This is not simply about bringing financial resources to your country it is also about gaining know how and expertise, about building links to the global economy.

This is why our Partnership and Co-operation Agreement is also important. It will strengthen our cooperation on economic issues. It will allow us to work towards establishing EU standards in Mongolia, the key to accessing the European Union's Single Market, the largest market by value in the world.

In support of this we have put in place an EU-Mongolia project to support the modernisation of Mongolia's standardisation system, to bring its regulatory framework closer to EU standards.

This is decisive to create a predictable environment for global investors. This is, in turn, of utmost importance for Mongolia itself and its economic development. The more European firms become active in the Mongolian economy, the more they will bring with them their expertise and this will spread out across the Mongolian economy.

As a direct contribution to this process I can also announce today that next year the European Commission will organise a ‘Mission for Growth’ to Mongolia, bringing several business people, economic operators to establish contacts with Mongolian authorities and business people. Our goal is to assist you in your growth and increase the opportunities for European direct investment in Mongolia.

The adoption of the new investment law last month is both an important signal to investors and a sign of Mongolia's commitment to its economic development. We wholeheartedly support initiatives that create the best business environment for domestic and foreign stakeholders alike, as such initiatives will deliver the sustainable growth Mongolia deserves.

We also wish to foster cooperation on good governance and transparency for investments in the mining sector.

It is important that transparency and accountability are ensured at all times. Natural resources are a wealth of the country and need to benefit all the population. We are already developing, in close co-operation with the Mongolian government, a project on the good governance of revenues from the mining sector.

However, having access to a market is one thing, benefiting from that access is something else. Ultimately, the right economic conditions need to be in place, not just the raw materials but also infrastructure, a skilled workforce, a sense of entrepreneurship and a culture of building businesses.

We can help, and are helping in all these areas: from support for SME development to educational and vocational training; from improving energy efficiency in the construction sector to ensuring sustainability in agriculture.

The EU trade days which took place earlier this year in Mongolia are a good example of our efforts to support Mongolian business gaining access to the European market by explaining how our single market works and setting out the requirements to be able to export to it.

We have one of the most generous trade systems in the world. Through our Generalised Scheme of Preferences, Mongolia pays lower duties on its access to the EU market, thus further contributing to the growth and diversification of its economy. And we are committed to continuing this through our new GSP plus scheme.

This is another concrete expression of our solidarity and support to Mongolia. Your efforts are not in vain, you are not walking alone: we are at your side.

President,

Ladies and gentlemen.

We have started from a small beginning but there is a saying that the mightiest trees grow from the smallest seed; just as democracy must be tended daily, just as our economies require daily work, so day by day we will build our neighbourly relations.

And I feel privileged for having been able to plant today the seeds that will become one day the solid trunk of our bilateral relations.

I thank you for your attention.


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