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José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
Opening remarks by President Barroso at the Plenary Session of the 3rd Eastern Partnership Summit
Eastern Partnership Summit/Vilnius
29 November 2013
Ladies and gentlemen, let me begin, like Herman, by thanking our Lithuanian hosts for their work in preparing and managing this historic summit. You have combined hard work, experience and expertise which has been decisive for today’s successful outcome.
In the four years since Prague, much has been done to strengthen our links through political association and economic integration.
As I mentioned yesterday over dinner, I am proud to have been present, with some of you, at the launch of this initiative four years ago in Prague. I am proud that the European Commission has helped to shape this policy in the last four years with the help of my colleagues in the Commission, Cathy Ashton, Stefan Füle and Karel de Gucht and others.
Ultimately, what we are trying to achieve with our Eastern Partnership is to bring the space of prosperity, security and stability that we enjoy in the European Union to our close neighbours in the East.
Yesterday we heard at length the strategic nature of our relations, today President Van Rompuy touched on the more political aspects, so let me now concentrate on the concrete benefits of our Partnership to our countries and citizens. We heard last night from the leaders of Poland, Bulgaria, Romania and the President of Lithuania of the progress in these countries from the support from the European Union. The European Union is a guarantee of independence for these countries and for their economic progress.
First of all, the economic benefits. Our bilateral relations have developed dynamically. For example, over the ten years from 2002 to 2012 EU exports of goods and imports from the six Eastern Partnership countries have more than tripled. Moreover, trade in goods with our eastern partners, as a percentage of our total trade, has almost doubled. Integration is already happening. This is evidence of a growing relationship, of its mutually beneficial nature and of the enormous potential that can be further developed.
The positive effect that EU related reforms have had in many countries all over Europe can best be demonstrated by the performance of the so-called EU10 countries in the period 1990-1996. All the EU10 signed Association Agreements with the EU in the early 1990s, more than 10 years before their accession – and, what are the results:
From 1990 to 1996, GDP per capita increased by 57%;
Investments per capita increased in the EU10 by 61%;
Exports per capita increased by 65% in the EU10.
I make this point because I have heard propaganda that the Association Agreements with the European Union are to the detriment of the countries. This is false.
The economic potential of access to the EU will also be significantly increased thanks to regulatory approximation with EU legislation, going well beyond simple tariff dismantling for goods.
This will contribute to create a more favourable business climate, attract investors and strengthen the competitiveness of companies, while ensuring high levels of social, environmental and consumer protection. It will provide governance rules, especially for SMEs.
For the past 50 years the European Union has been a "convergence machine" – as the World Bank has called us – that have turned the EU into the world's largest single market by value, with over half a billion people, 23 million Small and Medium Sized Enterprises, a GDP of €12.7 trillion, and 20% share of world exports. And, our neighbours have greatly benefitted from this.
But, all this goes much beyond pure economic exchange. It is also about transforming lives and societies. It is about achieving our Partnership's broader political objectives, based on shared values and principles: freedom, democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law.
Mobility and visa issues have also been at the forefront of our co-operation. This week and in recognition of the fulfilment of the benchmarks that had been set, the European Commission adopted a proposal to establish a visa free regime with Moldova. We hope that in future, following the full implementation of all the Visa Liberalisation Action Plan benchmarks, we will be able to do likewise with other partners too.
Energy security is a further condition for sustainable development. Our Eastern partners play different roles as producing, transit and consuming countries. Thus, co-operation in areas such as regulation, infrastructure development, sustainable energy and nuclear security are all important.
2013 saw some very significant energy security developments. These included: (i) the decision of the Shah Deniz Consortium in favour of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline this is an important advance in the first phase of the Southern Gas Corridor which I have been pushing together with President Alyiev; (ii) the development of capacity for bi-directional gas flows and (iii) new connections with the EU energy market allowing the import of gas from the EU.
These are important developments. However, in my view energy security in both the EU and partner countries requires market integration on the basis of energy sector reforms which support and attract investment. For this, we need stable and transparent regulatory regimes and we need to have everybody playing by the same rules. Here our Energy Community has a key role to play.
But, to develop our potential, our economies need adequate transport capacity. Thus, we welcome the engagement of all in the Eastern Partnership transport network. A list of priority projects should give substance to our goal of bringing the EU and our partners closer together. A number of aviation agreements are being worked on; we signed this morning one such Agreement with Ukraine. Safer, more efficient and sustainable transport links will have a positive impact on our trade flows and people-to-people contacts.
We have been committed in all these areas. After the inception of the EaP the Commission made available €2.5 billion in grants for bilateral and regional programmes. A further €4.1 billion has been leveraged from European financial institutions through the Neighbourhood Investment Facility.
All these figures and examples are a clear demonstration that - besides the transformative impact of our agenda - this Partnership also brings clear and tangible benefits in the short term.
Our agenda does not propose to go back to the past to secure our present. It does not propose to trade our future for the sake of our present. On the contrary, it gives a sense to the present and past because there is a sense of direction in our future journey.
Of course, some of these decisions are not easy. They require sustained effort, vision and leadership. It is thus important that we communicate clearly our vision and that we lay out the challenges. It is important that we speak clearly to our people. They will not always agree with us, but they will certainly understand, as they do, the strategic sense of our march.
For those partners committed to reform, political association and economic integration, the EU will continue to encourage and accompany your march. We will keep providing political, economic and financial assistance and share know-how to ensure that our aid brings lasting change and realises the promise of our Partnership.
I know it is sometimes difficult and takes time to get agreement with all EU Members states. But my message to you is that we stand by you and if you keep your responsibilities, I have hope and confidence that we can go on this journey together.