Brussels, 22 July 2014
Opening remarks by Commissioner Füle at the plenary session of the Foreign Affairs Council on Eastern Partnership
Commissioner Füle participated today in the plenary session of the Foreign Affairs Council on Eastern Partnership and this is what he said in the beginning: 'Events in Ukraine since Vilnius have tested our determination and commitment. I believe they have demonstrated the following four elements:
1) They have demonstrated how important the values and principles the EU holds dear are for the strength of our partnership – the Eastern Partnership is not a unilateral policy imposed on them but a genuinely joint policy.
2) we respect the sovereignty of our partners and their sovereign choices. Respect for territorial integrity and national sovereignty is a precondition for stability – in partner countries and in Europe.
3) we denounce those who are trying to turn the Eastern Partnership into something it is not – a zero-sum game, a battle for spheres of influence, and support our partners to withstand the pressures of that logic.
4) Signature on 27 June of the Association Agreements including the DCFTAs with Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine was a historic milestone opening up a qualitatively new level of relations.
A. Implementation is now the key. The EU will be alongside partners every step of the way. The more ambitious and willing partners are, the more concrete results can be achieved. We continue exploring ways in which we can help partners meet challenges through strong political support combined with provision of technical and financial assistance. We do so also in reaction to developments in the region, in the case of Moldova for instance in response to the Russian trade measures. Moldova is benefiting from frontloading of assistance and we are jointly looking at ways of speedy provisional application of the AA/DCFTA in order for Moldova to be able to draw early benefits from the increased quota under the agreement.
There has been crucial progress on visa liberalisation: Moldovan citizens are already enjoying visa free travel and we hope other partners will attain the same goal.
It is crucial that all sectors of society are engaged in our efforts. I therefore welcome the very active role of the Civil Society Forum. Not less important is the engagement with parliaments, the elected representatives of the people; local and regional authorities in in providing an important link between central administration and citizens. The future challenge will be to ensure that civil society becomes part of the design and implementation of reforms. Cooperation and joint ownership of the process will create confidence and trust, providing stronger foundations for democracy to flourish.
B. I agree with Cathy in that differentiation will be the guiding characteristic of our bilateral relations in the coming years.
Our partnership is adaptable, flexible and capable of evolving in reaction to situations on the ground. We have stood by our partners and been able to adapt as best and as fast as possible to emerging situations, in the spirit of the partnership. Ukraine is the case in point: we have provided the necessary support to the government's stabilization and reform efforts. We have been creative, using the full range of tools at our disposal and establishing new ones, such as the European Commission's Support Group for Ukraine.
As we progress with those partners having signed the Association Agreements, we must also progress with Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus. It will be essential to establish the appropriate level of relations, taking into account partners own aspirations and needs. If we can differentiate effectively in our bilateral relations, this will contribute to the inclusivity of the partnership. As we embarked upon this journey with a partnership of 6, we intend to proceed with a partnership of 6. All 6 partners are equally important to the EU – your independence and capacity to decide your own future as well as your foreign and trade policies is equally vital.
C. We have respected the traditional relations our partners have with their neighbours especially Russia and have encouraged their development. EU and Russia coexist on the same continent and therefore must work together to ensure stability, prosperity, global security on basis of respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty of our neighbours. Geopolitical rivalry has no place in this equation.
We should reflect jointly on how we can continue our dialogue with Russia to demonstrate to Russia that closer relations between the EU and our partners does not come at the expense of their traditional relations with Russia.
Communication and visibility activities are essential in this process. While we have put in significant efforts recently, we need to improve our communication capacity still further, show benefits of the Eastern Partnership. We need to talk to local people in their own languages, showing examples of concrete projects that can have impact on their daily life.