Check against delivery!
Excellencies, Distinguished guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to open the fifth Eastern Partnership Business forum.
I would like to thank the organisers and in particular, AUSSENWIRTSCHAFT AUSTRIA, for preparing this event. Let me also express my appreciation to the Austrian Presidency for proposing such an event of interest both for EU and Eastern Partnership countries.
As a former businessman, I am always keen to have the opportunity to meet entrepreneurs, captains of industry, and investors seeking opportunities. And to discuss how we - policy makers, meet your (stakeholders) demands.
One of the most important objectives of European Neighbourhood policy and the Eastern Partnership is to foster economic development and further integration of our economies for the benefit of all. It is also at the heart of our financial assistance. Under EU4Business initiative, we cover all your needs, from business environment, to business support organization, advisory services and access to finance.
For example, since 2016, 70.000 SMEs in the region have benefited from EUR 2 billion in loans, half of them in local currency. 70.000 entrepreneur were able to transform ideas into reality and to grow and develop new activities. 14.000 additional jobs have been created.
Since the introduction of Deep Comprehensive Free Trade Area, in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, we have already witnessed an important increase in trade, but only the full implementation and enforcement of reforms will lead to expected trade growth.
In addition, the External Investment Plan we designed last year, will help unlock the investment potential in our partner countries. With its innovative guarantee scheme, we expect the Plan to crowd in private investments that would otherwise not materialise.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Today’s forum will focus on two sectors with great investment potential:
- energy efficiency and renewable energy;
- as well as information technologies and digital markets.
In the European Union, Energy Efficiency is considered as a source of energy, in fact the cheapest source of energy. There is no cheaper energy than the energy not consumed. In the European Union, energy efficiency transformation has created more than 1 million jobs in the past years.
The Eastern Partnership region is much more energy intensive. While this is a major challenge, it is also an opportunity for the business community to tap into this vast potential of energy saving and optimization.
The EU can help you avail of these opportunities. That is why we support several programmes including:
- grant incentives coupled with loans in local banks;
- small business advice and energy audits;
- and the introduction of EU standards in building, industry, ecodesign and energy labelling.
The EU has a strong track record in financing energy efficiency in Eastern Partnership countries.
We have provided 170 million euro through 13 programmes. At the last Eastern Partnership Summit, we have committed to provide a further 220 million euro for energy efficiency until 2022.
Over 20,000 SMEs have benefited from EU support to invest in Energy Efficiency processes, machinery and equipment.
The European Union has also been investing substantially in the sector of Energy Efficiency for residential buildings. I am proud to say that today around 12 000 families have benefited from such programmes. All our pilot programmes have demonstrated that investments to improve energy efficiency of old buildings led to a positive return within 5 to 7 years.
Our responsibilities toward future generation, the unavoidable energy transition, and the decreasing cost of green technologies, create new business opportunities in the region.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
New technologies are changing the fabric of our economies. The World Economic Forum estimates that 65% of today’s students will ultimately end up working in jobs that do not yet exist. Neither the European Union nor the Eastern Partner countries can ignore these enormous structural economic changes.
Last year in Tallinn, the Eastern Partnership countries adopted an ambitious Ministerial Declaration creating the framework for the Harmonisation of Digital Markets.
Just six months ago in Minsk, Eastern Partnership countries agreed on the adoption of an intra-roaming agreement by 2020. This will help reduce international roaming.
To respond to the new reality and the commitment of Eastern Partnership countries, ambitious target have been jointly agreed for 2020. In addition, EU is planning to invest at least 50 million in the coming two years to support the harmonization of digital markets.
On broadband, we are supporting the roll out of high speed broadband via the EUR 13 million Eastern Partnership Connect project. This project helps to connect 2 million researchers at over 700 Research and Education institutions in the six Eastern Partnership countries.
Digitalisation is among the priorities of our External Investment Plan developed in cooperation with International Financial Institutions. This will translate into concrete investments to extend for example broadband access in rural areas.
I am also pleased to announce that in the coming weeks we will sign the EU4Digital initiative. This 11 million euro contract will focus on e-services and it will complement a 7 million euro cybersecurity programme.
In addition, we are supporting the development of Information Technologies through numerous innovation centres that incubate start-ups and provide mentoring, training and seed funding.
Fellow business women and businessmen, investment opportunities in the region are numerous. All our 6 partner countries have a cohort of highly skilled scientists (mathematicians, technicians, engineers) while EU suffers from a shortage of 350,000 Information and Communication Technology specialists. On the other hand, start-ups in the Eastern Partnership often lack critical skills (marketing and financial analysis) and are poorly connected with customers and value chain.
To conclude, let me encourage all of you to network, discuss and share experience. EU and its Eastern Partner have mutual interests, complementary strengths in both IT and Energy, as in many other sectors. I am confident that today’s discussions, and this afternoon’s Business to Business matchmaking meetings will lead to new collaboration, and translate into new jobs and value creation.