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Brussels, 15 May 2019
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am truly delighted to be celebrating with all of you today an important moment in our cooperation, the 10th anniversary of the Eastern Partnership.
Over the past 10 years, the Eastern Partnership has been key in strengthening our relations. This has been a decade of strong commitment of the EU Member States and the six partner countries. What has been achieved? What benefits did it bring to the citizens?
Eastern partners clearly have different aspirations in terms of their relations with the European Union. That is why we recognised from the outset that differentiation was key.
We have far-reaching Association Agreements and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas, and visa free regimes with Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova. This has strengthened the socio-economic ties of citizens. We have a tailor-made Comprehensive Enhanced Partnership Agreement with Armenia, which takes into account its membership of the Eurasian Economic Union. Furthermore, negotiations on a new agreement with Azerbaijan are underway. With Belarus, we have identified a new framework for critical but positive engagement. These differentiated partnerships prove that our cooperation is not directed against anyone.
The Eastern Partnership is also based on the principles of inclusivity, providing a format for all six partners to address issues of common interest and shared values with the EU. For that purpose, we have set out a concrete vision “20 Deliverables for 2020” focusing on four broad areas:
Stronger Economy; Stronger Governance; Stronger Connectivity; and Stronger Society.
10 years on, citizens from across the region are enjoying concrete benefits in three of these areas:
On Stronger Economy
We have been working together towards developing stronger, diversified and vibrant economies, expanding small and medium-sized businesses, attract investment and create jobs and trade opportunities. Support for more than 70,000 enterprises in the Eastern Partnership, backing €2 billion worth of loans, led to the creation of more than 30,000 jobs. Trade flows between EU and its 6 partners have increased by 74% since 2009 and amounted to €74 billion in 2018. This makes the Eastern Partnership region the EU’s number ten trading partner after India and before Canada.
On Stronger Society
Economic development is also closely related to investing in people, in particular young people. We have been working to bring EU and Partner Countries’ societies closer together, while supporting young people to develop their skills and fostering their employability. We have more than doubled our activities concerning mobility, Erasmus+ and other opportunities. We have also established the first Eastern Partnership European School where bright students from the region have the opportunity to learn languages and explore a wide range of cultures.
On Stronger Connectivity
We have been working together to improve transport links and infrastructure to help unlock more economic growth and jobs in the entire region and to bring people closer together. The recently launched Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) Investment Action Plan identifies priority investments estimating the construction of 4,800 km of roads; rails, ports and logistical centres by 2030 in the region.
We also have a strong track-record in supporting energy resilience and efficiency in the region.
However, major challenges remain:
Firstly, in our ambition to strengthen democratic structures, improve the access of citizens to justice, tackle corruption and provide free and independent media. The EU continues to support legal reforms on conflicts of interest and asset declarations, while also advancing rule of law. However, much more needs to be done. A favourable business environment also requires transparency, clear rules and key judicial reforms in place.
Citizens’ engagement and independent media is equally important. To deliver on this in the coming years, political will to drive through reforms will be key.
After 10 years of close cooperation, our joint work is not finished. Implementation of reforms and delivering real benefits for citizens will remain a key priority in the coming years. In particular, boosting economic development is at the heart of strengthening partner’s resilience. The EU has invested over the last 10 years to strengthen the business environment and competitiveness, to boost trade, to support SMEs, and to tailor education and skills to the needs of the real economy. Our work on economic development and support for transport connectivity, energy and energy efficiency, digital transformation and youth is not only delivering but also represents the areas where ownership and support is high which we should further reinforce. Nevertheless, we also need to reflect on how best to jointly respond to global challenges that we will face such as climate change, migration, cyber security threats, disinformation, digital transformation and threats to our democratic structures.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today’s conference will kick-off a broad inclusive consultation process, which will help steer our reflection and identify the building blocks for our future cooperation.
I wish you fruitful discussions and I look forward to a frank and open exchange of views.
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