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European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy
Eastern Partnership reached important historic milestone
Annual meeting of Lithuanian Ambassadors
Vilnius, 17 July 2014
Minister Linkevičius, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for the opportunity to address you at this very crucial time for the Eastern Partnership. Since we embarked on this endeavour, we have never had a dull moment. This year is no exception.
8 months ago, leaders of the 28 European Union member states and our 6 partner countries gathered in your beautiful capital, to attend the 3rd Eastern Partnership Summit, a Summit certain commentators and politicians described as a "disappointment" because the AA/DCFTA with Ukraine had not been signed. What they may have overlooked was the significance of the moment and the effects it would have on the partnership.
In fact, the Summit delivered on the AA/DCFTAs with Georgia and Moldova, both of which were initialled in Vilnius. Furthermore, the Vilnius Summit injected new impetus for reforms in the region through the Joint Summit Declaration which set ambitious goals to be reached by the next Eastern Partnership Summit in Riga in 2015.
As regards Ukraine, I do not need to spell out what has happened since then, nor what we as the European Union have done. What I will say is this; events in Ukraine have clearly demonstrated that:
Firstly, the values and principles that we adhere to and take pride in are desired and shared by our partners. This shows that the Eastern Partnership is not a unilateral policy that the European Union imposes on its partners, but a joint one.
Secondly, our partnership is adaptable, flexible, and capable of evolving in reaction to situations on the ground. We stood by our partner from the start, providing the necessary support to the Ukrainian government's efforts to achieve political and economic stabilisation and progress in its reform agenda. We were creative. We exploited all instruments at our disposal even establishing new ones, such as the European Commission's Support Group for Ukraine. We will continue to adapt as best and as fast as possible to emerging situations, in the spirit of the partnership.
Thirdly, we respect the sovereignty of our partners and their decisions. We condemned the illegal annexation of Crimea and advocated for a peaceful solution to the crisis, firmly supporting the peace plan and its implementation. Respect of territorial integrity and national sovereignty is a precondition for stability, here and elsewhere in Europe.
Fourthly, we denounce those who are trying to turn the Eastern Partnership into something it is not: a zero-sum game, a battle for the creation of past centuries' spheres of influence in the neighbourhood. This has never been the case. We will not adopt this mind-set.
On the 27th June, the Eastern Partnership reached an important historic milestone with the signature of the AA/DCFTAs with Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, opening up an ambitious path of cooperation as well as a new chapter in the European Union's relations with these partner countries.
Our own experience has taught us that implementation of Agreements is a difficult task. Partners will need to realise that this new phase requires greater political commitment and greater resolve. They can always count on our support. A lot has been achieved already. For example, Moldovan citizens have been enjoying visa-free travel to the Schengen area since April and we hope that other partners will follow suit. And there is more support in the pipeline including the package for Georgia and Moldova, worth €60 million, which we launched last May and which will help public institutions, citizens and the business community to seize the benefits and opportunities of the Association Agreements.
The more ambitious and willing partners are, the more concrete results can be achieved. From our side, we will continue exploring ways in which we can help partners meet challenges through strong political resolve and support combined with the provision of technical and financial assistance.
Furthermore, it is essential for partners to realise that all sectors of society must be mobilised in this effort. Partner governments that have come to power on a mandate of being open and democratic will have to demonstrate their credibility by translating their words into deeds and engaging effectively with their civil societies. Civil society's role as a vector of change under the Eastern Partnership will have to be considerably enhanced. The future challenge will be ensuring that civil society becomes part of the design and implementation of reforms. Cooperation and joint ownership of the process will create confidence and loyalty, providing stronger foundations for democracy to flourish. This is indispensable.
At the same time, we must be extremely careful to ensure that the Eastern Partnership remains an inclusive partnership of 6. We are not at the same level in our bilateral relations with all our partners. Differentiation will remain a core element in our future cooperation. Our policy will require a more tailored approach to take into account the situation in each country.
It will also be important for the European Union to work with its neighbours to find ways to promote greater regulatory convergence between the European Union and members of the Customs Union. The last thing we want to see is a protectionist wall cutting our continent in two.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Events of the past months and our partners' reactions prove that irrespective of obstacles placed in our path, our vision remains joint and strong. Moreover, as we have stressed on numerous occasions, signature of the Association Agreements including the DCFTAs, does not constitute the final goal in our relationship. This is by no means the end of the road. We acknowledge the European ambition and the European choice of these partners. I believe that in a globalised world, this ambition should be shared as it will make us all stronger. I'm talking here about the most powerful foreign policy instrument of the European Union and the expression of its ultimate transformative power - the perspective for a country to accede, as provided by Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union if it shares our principles of freedom, democracy and respect for the rule of law. Our partners need a clear perspective and I hope the European Union and its Member States will rise to that challenge. At the same time it is crucial that our partners deliver on a critical mass of reforms as there is no better way to make irreversible progress on the path towards the European Union.