Warsaw, 23 June 2017.
Ministers, Excellences, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I'm delighted to be with you today, for the second day of the Eastern Partnership Youth Forum and to have opportunity to directly address you.
You – young generation – are a key focus of my work. It is about you – young generation – I think when discussing reforms, development opportunities and challenges of your countries. Be it in Member States, be it in the neighbourhood. And you are already shaping the future not only of your countries but also the future of our partnership.
When we look at our cooperation in the area of youth – we approach it the same way within the Eastern Partners as we do within the EU member States. In this respect, you, the young generation, fully profit from our numerous successful support programmes such as ERASMUS+.
Let me say a few words now about today's meeting. It is an excellent opportunity for us to prepare the next Eastern Partnership Summit together. Your commitment and engagement is crucial for the successful implementation of our partnership.
I would also like to share our vision for the Eastern Partnership Summit with you.
Earlier this week we had a very fruitful meeting in Luxembourg with my colleagues, the foreign ministers from the EU and from Eastern Partnership countries. We agreed that the Summit should send a message of unity. We face common challenges on our continent we can succeed only if we are united in facing them. Together we are stronger.
Moreover, we all expressed our commitment to focus on tangible results, results for our citizens, - both of the EU and of the Partner Countries.
Let me mention in this context a very recent landmark achievement which benefits the daily lives of citizens and young people in particular: visa liberalisation for Ukraine and Georgia following that for Moldova.
That is just one example of the successful implementation of our Association Agreements with Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. For these to deliver further results for citizens, implementation of reforms is key.
Turning to our other Eastern Partners, I am pleased to inform you that we have finalised negotiations on an ambitious new agreement with Armenia and launched negotiations for a new agreement with Azerbaijan. We have also taken steps to develop our critical engagement with Belarus.
These achievements were duly recognised by all partners during our Luxembourg meeting. But we are all keen to move ahead with the development of the Eastern Neighbourhood.
We have identified a list of 20 deliverables for 2020 that focus on four broad priority areas:
- Economic development and market opportunities;
- Strengthening institutions and good governance;
- Connectivity, energy efficiency, environment
- Mobility and people-to-people contacts.
At the time of the Summit we will focus on the key actions which show solid benefits and create stronger links between us in areas such as broadband internet connections as well as progress towards reduced roaming tariffs, energy efficiency and intra-regional trade.
It is also in this context that I see a key role for the EU´s support for youth. We will all benefit from more exchanges and stronger links between our future generations.
Education, adequate job opportunities and social conditions, in particular for the youth, are key for the stability of our societies.
Your leadership and commitment will make a big difference, driving reforms and modernisation and acting as a rich source of creativity. You are open to innovation, more flexible and have a stronger stake in the future of your societies than previous generations.
Your skills, competences and ideas are central to further developing your economies.
At the same time, I am also aware of the many challenges that today´s youth is facing. Let me mention the very high youth unemployment in some countries and specifically in rural areas.
This is not only linked to limited employment opportunities, but also the lack of active labour market policies and challenges related to access to education and to the quality of education.
Often, young people do not have the means to be positive proxies of change, because they cannot access the right opportunities for personal, educational and professional development or participation in political and civic life.
This is why the EU offers its support.
For nearly 30 years, the EU has funded the Erasmus programme, which has allowed over 3 million European students to spend part of their studies at another higher education institution or with an organisation in Europe.
ERASMUS+ has brought fantastic opportunities to all - students, staff, trainees, teachers, volunteers and more. It's not just about Europe or Europeans either - with ERASMUS+, people from all over the world can access studies in the EU to broaden their horizons.
For the Eastern Partnership region, in the last 3 years, over 100 million euros of EU support have allowed for 7500 mobility programmes and around 50 capacity building projects for higher education institutes to take place. This will only increase in the coming years.
With this in mind, I very much look forward to meeting Erasmus+ alumni later on today, as well as the winners of the EU Neighbours East youth essay contest "EUaroundU".
We have also invested further in mobility and exchanges between young people from the EU member states and the Eastern partner countries.
It is in fields related to culture and the media, through the Creative Europe programme, and research and innovation, through Horizon 2020 and Marie Skłodowska-Curie.
Let me also highlight the EU's strong support for education across the Eastern Partnership. In recent years we have supported Vocational Education and Training through targeted programs in Georgia, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus.
In Belarus, for example, the EU is offering unique opportunities to professionals, allowing them to share experiences with European partners through a Mobility Scheme for Targeted People-to-People Contacts (MOST Belarus).
Over 1500 young Belarusians take part in training, education and professional exchanges in the sectors of culture, education and youth, science and technology.
Additionally, across the region, over 40 000 young people and youth workers benefit from non-formal learning opportunities to enhance their skills, competences and active participation in society, through - among others - the European Voluntary Service.
In this respect, last year we announced a call for civil society fellowships for young leaders from the EU and Eastern Partnership region to take up opportunities for learning and exchange beyond their own country borders.
Over 80 fellowships will be granted this year.
Moving forward with our support to youth, we will focus in particular on education, increasing employment opportunities and entrepreneurship skills; as well as maximising opportunities for young people to participate in political, social and economic life. Let me give you a few examples:
Firstly, starting with the "very" young: by the end of this year, over 500 schools in the Eastern Partnership will be connected via the e-Twinning Plus programme, which is a platform for school teachers across the region to communicate, collaborate, develop projects, share and, in short, feel and be part of the most exciting online learning community.
Secondly, next year (2018), we expect to open the first Eastern Partnership European School in Georgia, granting scholarships to the best students. It will offer its technical assistance, together with the European Schools, to ensure a high quality curriculum of European teaching and an internationally recognized degree.
Last, but not least, starting this year, the new EU4Youth Initiative will make EUR 20 million available to promote the active participation of young people in society and their employability. The initiative will focus on developing those skills that can support them in becoming leaders and entrepreneurs.
In addition EU4Youth will provide EUR 8 million worth of grants to support young people to participate in political, social and economic life.
Your generation is the driving force behind some of the most inspiring development projects. You are and will be the generation of change makers in global policy, the leaders of the future, those with new and fresh ideas and great energy.
We – policy makers and political leader in your countries – have responsibility to provide you with opportunities and prospects. You have a right to demand – demand reforms [from your governments] and better future BUT for this we need your participatory and active presence.
Many challenges remain ahead of you, of us, some are immense, but so should be our common motivation to overcome them. On our side we stand ready to make sure that you have every opportunity to channel all your energy into helping your communities and be positive agents for change.