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European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy
Eastern partnership challenges on the road ahead
Eastern Partnership Civil Society conference/ Vilnius, Lithuania
28 November 2013
Madam President, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
I appreciate the opportunity extended by the Lithuanian Presidency to address today's Civil Society Conference. My intention this morning is to review where we stand in our Eastern Partnership on the eve of the Summit, and where we intend to go in the near future together with our neighbours in Eastern Europe.
Let me underline that the Eastern Partnership is a joint policy of the European Union and its Eastern European partners. It is about developing democracy, promoting human rights, the rule of law and good governance.
We aim for an Eastern partnership:
The partnership is also about making it easier for business to trade and invest and for researchers and students to work together and embark on joint projects. It is about allowing people to move and meet. This is why mobility of citizens and the objective of visa liberalisation are such important parts of our policy. In fact, only yesterday, the Commission proposed to allow visa-free travel to the Schengen area for Moldovan citizens holding a biometric passport, based on the successful implementation by Moldovan authorities of all benchmarks set out in the Visa Liberalisation Action Plan. This proposal will now be discussed by the European Parliament and the Council, so – congratulations to Moldova!
To achieve the objectives of the Partnership, several partner countries have taken the road to reform. There are no short-cuts on this road, so, from the beginning, we have differentiated between our partners – depending on how close they wish to get to the European Union, and how committed they are to reform. We don't discriminate – our Partnership is inclusive and based on joint ownership.
The package of economic reforms contained in the Association Agreement (AA)/ Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) is tried and tested and has delivered economic benefits for every country that has signed a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the European Union in the past. And in the case of Deep and Comprehensive FTAs the approximation towards the European Union, its rules and standards will ensure that citizens share even greater benefits of better quality products and services.
Before looking ahead to the 'Road to Riga', let me say a few words about decision of the Ukrainian Government to suspend the process of preparation for signature of the AA/ DCFTA.
I regret this decision. It was a unique opportunity to reverse the discouraging trend of decreasing foreign direct investment in Ukraine and to give momentum to negotiations with the IMF on a new Stand-By arrangement. Many of the new opportunities for modernisation and investment that the AA/ DCFTA would have brought for Ukraine and its citizens will now be delayed.
Nevertheless we remain firm in our commitment to bring European Union-Ukraine relations to a new level. The European Union will be ready to resume the preparations for the signature of the Association Agreement as soon as Ukraine is ready to resume its path towards political association and economic integration with the European Union for the benefit of its citizens – citizens that have again shown in these last days that they fully understand and embrace the historic nature of European association.
Looking to the future I see five challenges ahead on the road from this Eastern Partnership Summit to the one in Riga in 2015.
First, supporting partner countries in their steps leading to implementation of Association Agreements. With their far-reaching objectives of comprehensive political, economic and social modernization, significant political will from the partner countries will be needed to drive through the necessary reforms for the benefit of their citizens.
The European Union remains committed to supporting partners through this process. Among the key issues to make the reform process successful and irreversible, I see:
These are essential areas of reform if partner countries are to benefit fully from the Agreements. I wish to stress here the important role of civil society in encouraging reform and monitoring action of governments in this area.
The second challenge is ensuring a greater differentiation in our bilateral relations coupled with our desire to keep the partnership as inclusive as possible to accommodate those Eastern European partner countries that reform at a slower pace.
Third, we need to respond to the Eastern European citizens' desire for enhanced mobility.
Fourth, it will be important that further economic integration proceeds to reform inefficient economic sectors unable to compete on the global marketplace; and
Fifth, last but not least, engagement with civil society will have to continue to be strengthened to accompany and move forward political and economic reforms.
If you would ask me about the deliverables and success stories of the Eastern Partnership, my response would be: engagement with citizens, with the civil society. Engaging not only in the dialogue with us but also through our support in this dialogue involving them in the reform process.
This is all about creating the conditions that will unlock and fulfil the potential for growth, enterprise, and creativity of citizens in Eastern Europe. This is what really counts, and what we have worked to achieve together since the adoption of the Prague Declaration in May 2009.
I wish you a successful conference.