Talliinn, 26 October 2017
Check against delivery
Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests,
I am delighted to be here for the second day of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Conference after what I understand was an intense and fruitful discussion yesterday and again this morning.
This is an excellent opportunity for us to prepare the Eastern Partnership Summit together. Your commitment and engagement is crucial for the successful implementation of our partnership and that is why I am really looking forward to our discussions and listening to your views.
As every year, we are here to engage in a free and open debate at all levels.
This year in particular, in the run up to the Eastern Partnership Summit, our discussions will help us wrap up the consultation on our approach to the future of the Eastern Partnership. The EU and its Member States are very much interested in your feedback – I have also received your Declaration, which I understand was discussed at length in the previous session.
I would like to pick up on a couple of points made in the previous session and share our vision for the Eastern Partnership Summit with you.
First of all, the Eastern Partnership is a club of committed long-term partners who understand success is the result of day-to-day hard work:
The Summit will reaffirm our united, strong commitment to the Eastern Partnership and its objectives.
For the EU and the Eastern Partnership countries, this will be an occasion to inject new dynamism into the partnership and reaffirm our focus on delivering tangible results.
With this aim we have identified the 20 Deliverables for 2020, which at the same time assess past achievements and set out a clear work plan for the future. We are also reflecting together with EU Member States and our partners on re-invigorating the multilateral dimension of the Eastern Partnership.
As you may have noticed the very first deliverable is on support to civil society; this is not a coincidence or matter of presentation: this is because we believe that empowering you is crucial to deliver on all of our other plans and priorities.
The Eastern Partnership has delivered on what we promised last year; let me mention some examples:
- Our civil society support has reached over 600 organisations in the region; we have the first batch of Civil Society Fellows selected and starting their work. I understand some of them are here in the room today and the Forum has been supported in pursuing its growth and reform ambitions.
- Today we can confidently say that over 100,000 enterprises have been supported and 10,000 new jobs created by boosting access to finance, increasing access to new markets, improving access to business skills and advice, and by creating a network of more than 100 business support organisations providing professional services to SMEs.
- We have rolled out the Gender Action Plan, and now four of your countries have National Equality Bodies.
None of this would have been possible without close cooperation with our partners, under our differentiation and ownership agendas.
We have been updating the Association Agendas. Moldova's Association Agenda was adopted in August. Georgia's is expected to be adopted in November and the revision of Ukraine's Association Agenda is planned for 2018.
Visa liberalisation for Ukraine and Georgia, following that for Moldova, is just one example of the successful implementation of our Association Agreements with the three countries.
With regard to our other partners, we have finalized negotiations on an ambitious new agreement with Armenia and are negotiating a new agreement with Azerbaijan. We have also been working on Partnership Priorities with Belarus, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The new Single Support Frameworks will be in line with these and will be more strategic and address key issues.
Throughout the year we listened carefully to partner and stakeholder views on the 20 deliverables; it became clear that we need to focus even more on those which will have the most meaningful impact on people's daily lives.
More particularly, we have identified a number of common key deliverables to be presented at the Summit in our areas of cooperation.
They respond to requests from our partner countries and include:
- Extending the core TEN-T network by 2030;
- Increasing energy efficiency of partner countries;
- A Digital Package;
- Supporting loans to SMEs in local currency;
- Increasing trade opportunities across partner countries:
- A Youth and Education Package
- And last but not least better governance by empowering civil society.
It is an impressive list of deliverables that I am confident will have a significant and positive impact on people's daily lives.
Today I would be interested to hear more of your views to give a final shape to the deliverable capturing support to civil society.
Let me first present a few ideas. I think we definitely need to:
- Build leadership: we have secured funding for Civil Society Fellowships for the next 4 years;
- Bring everyone on board: all countries will have sub-granting schemes until the end of the year. This will allow us to expand the outreach of our support. Our renewed support for the Forum will allow you to continue engaging in dialogue and pursue the reform objectives that you have set for yourselves;
- Build skills through support for innovation and technical expertise as well as assisting socio-economic reforms.
Our financial support for civil society is meant to help you achieve these ambitions.
However, I would urge you not to underestimate the efforts and resources that will be required to achieve our objectives.
Our partners need to advance on the path to reform and cooperation with the EU. Of course, reforms can prove to be costly, but the EU is making support available to partner governments and civil society in order to achieve these targets. And civil society's engagement in the countries and across the region will be key to sustaining reform processes and building societal resilience to political change.
Lastly, as regards civil society, in your Declaration, you have made your Summit expectations clear; but you know how partnerships work – we also have high expectations from you:
- Number 1: we count on civil society to convey accurate messages to citizens.
- Next, we urge you to engage with your communities around the world, in the EU and not least in your countries. Societies will not progress without reforms taking root;
- And finally, your continued engagement on either side of the EU's eastern border is crucial. And we will continue to need strong leaders; I expect some of them to come from those sitting in this room now.
Ladies and gentleman, it was my contribution to the Conference and to our discussion. As I said in my introduction, I would like to hear from you, especially your views on:
- the role that the Forum sees for itself in the new Eastern Partnership Architecture;
- How can the EU strengthen its engagement with civil society;
- And last but not least, what should the EU's priority be when it comes to engaging with Civil Society in the future?
Thank you for your attention.