Ladies and gentlemen,
Indispensable Partnerships towards inclusiveness
I am honoured to be opening the 7th Annual Assembly of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum with my distinguished colleagues: Heidi Hautala, Mikayel Hovhannisyan and PM Yastenyuk. I am particularly happy to be here alongside Prime Minister Yatsenyuk. The EU working in cooperation with governments AND civil society: that is what we all want to see!
Sadly, too many of you work under difficult conditions where supporting democracy, rule of law and human rights requires courage and tireless commitment. The EU will continue to work in your countries for fundamental freedoms – and for the role of civil society as an interlocutor with government.
Your countries need to reform – not to please the EU, but because protecting the rights of the individual is not just morally right – it is the key to prosperous and harmonious societies. The EU's attractive living conditions are not a matter of luck. They are built on freedom for each of us to challenge ideas, pursue our ambitions, and build a life for ourselves and our families. We do this without fear, and in the knowledge that the law will protect us. This is the key to our success.
Civil society is the voice of the citizens on these and many other issues. Everyone benefits when civil society is strong, proactive and independent. Democratic governments know they are stronger when they listen to you.
Events in Kyiv two years ago demonstrated power of civil society in Ukraine – and I must say civil society here is continuing to play a very important role in monitoring reforms. The Prime minister's government is doing some remarkable work on transparency of public finances, on law enforcement reform, constitutional reform and decentralisation. I hope he will agree with me that, while it may not always make his life easier, the constant voice of civil society makes a crucial contribution to this process.
Civil society's role in moving reforms forward to achieve our shared goals
Under the Eastern Partnership we have partnerships that are based on deep political association and economic integration with the EU and others where we are exploring alternative tailored relationships.
But whatever the scope of our relations with partner country, civil society is essential to achieve our shared goals.
In Riga – just a few months ago - we agreed to put the priority on creating market opportunities, increased mobility, people-to-people contacts in the education sector and enhanced interconnection in the energy and transport areas.
These can come only through action at national level where your role is crucial.
Increased EU support must be followed by increased responsibility of the civil societies
The EU will continue involving you in policy dialogue, programme design and implementation.
We have also substantially increased our financial support through the Neighbourhood Civil Society Facility (indicatively estimated at around 150m Euros in the current period up from approximately 90m Euros last time). More than 200 organisations across the region have benefited, including the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum and its National Platforms in Moldova, Georgia and Armenia. We are exploring the possibility of extending support to the National Platform in Ukraine.
Civil society importance in the ENP review
Ladies and gentlemen, the Eastern Partnership is and will remain part of the European Neighbourhood Policy. Just two days ago, I and the High Representative Federica Mogherini presented a review of the policy, and I would like to say a few words about it.
Many of you contributed to the public consultation process from March to June – and let me assure you: your inputs have been fully taken in to account.
When you read the review you will find a new emphasis on stabilising our neighbourhood. Of course, this means a greater focus on security issues in our partnership. It also means using economic development to create the conditions in which some sources of instability – conflict, radicalisation, and irregular migration – can be avoided.
But let me stress again: the EU's own stability is based on democracy and rule of law. That is the kind of stability we mean.
The review promises to continue the work we have already started in the Eastern Partnership to work more pragmatically and effectively with each partner according to their aspirations with more differentiation.
And, it talks about basing our relations on the interests of the EU and of its partners. Some people will try to tell you this means we have given up on our fundamentals. Don’t listen to them. There is no contradiction.
It is true, though, that we will be introducing some new ways of working. We will be monitoring and reporting on countries in a different way. We will be negotiating some mutually agreed frameworks to discuss the key issues. All this simply means that we want to find smarter, more effective ways of working.
And we will do more to strengthen civil society capacities including by creating new Civil Society Fellowships to boost the skills and capacities of up and coming young leaders.
Working together towards enhanced visibility of Eastern Partnership
A word about communication. I know that disinformation coming from outside the EU is very much on your minds. We share this concern. That is why the EU supports independent media and seeks to communicate more effectively the benefits of EU partnerships in your countries.
We need your help to expand the EU's public diplomacy to all relevant actors of civil society in your countries. We need you as our eyes and ears in your media space.
We recognise that some of you work in a particularly challenging environment. But be assured that the EU will support and stand by those who are subject to pressure. I repeat what I said in Riga: do not underestimate your role in these harsh transitional times.
Let me end with this note: when the EU received a Nobel Prize, we asked our youth to describe what peace means to the young, free generation of our times. Larkin Zahra, a 23-year-old from Malta said: "My grandparents would have said 'a dream'. My parents would have said 'a peace process'. I say that it's my everyday reality!”
Dear friends, it is our shared responsibility to make sure that democracy, rule of law, human rights, fundamental freedoms, prosperity and security will be the everyday reality for this and future young generations across Europe. I wish you a successful meeting. Thank you.