5 February 2021
Check against delivery!
Good morning Mr. Chairman, Honorable Members,
I am pleased to be here with you all to debate the future of the Eastern Partnership, as we continue to adapt to these challenging times.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had and continues to have a major impact across the globe, including in our partner countries. The consequences are and will be felt both economically and in the health sector.
From the outset, the EU has been quick to react, showing EU solidarity. We rapidly redirected about €1 billion of our grant assistance in support to our Eastern Partners. This includes €80 million for immediate needs to support health, civil society, and independent media, as well as €900 million for longer-term socio-economic recovery. Together with the World Health Organisation, we are providing medical supplies across the region, with deliveries in 2020 of over:
- 11 million items of personal protective equipment;
- 12 000 lab kits;
- over a 1500 ventilators, oxygen concentrators and pulse oximeters;
- and over 20 000 PCR testing kits.
We are saving lives by providing key medical supplies across the Eastern Partnership region. In Ukraine, the World Health Organisation estimates that through support, the timely delivery of key COVID-19 supplies has already saved 100 000 lives.
The assistance for socio-economic recovery is also being rapidly mobilized in support of small and medium enterprises and local communities.
Altogether, we will provide support to at least 500 000 small and medium enterprises to help ‘build back better’. The EU will provide financing in local currencies to reduce risks for SMEs. We will encourage European companies to invest to help consolidate the performance of specific industrial sectors.
Emergency macro-financial assistance of €1.45 billion is being provided to Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova in the form of loans on highly favourable terms to help the countries cover their urgent financing needs.
We are making every effort to deliver vaccines to essential medical workers and vulnerable groups across the region as soon as possible.
This is a challenging backdrop for our future work together on the Eastern Partnership. In March last year, we set out an ambitious vision for strengthening our partnership. We proposed to focus on the following five priorities, underpinned by the overarching theme of resilience.
- First, investing in the economy and connectivity, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, is an absolute priority. It is essential that we support small and medium enterprises, which are the backbone of the region’s economy. Connectivity is also key. We have already built or upgrade over 550 km of roads and railways. Looking ahead, we will work hard to complete more than another 2000 km.
- Second, we will accelerate and invest in the green transition, in order to build back better after the pandemic. We will build on previous investments, notably as regards energy efficiency in buildings. Thanks to EU support, over 3 000 public and private buildings have been renovated, reducing CO2-emissions and energy bills of approximately 120 000 households.
- Third, we have an opportunity to significantly accelerate the digital transformations. We have supported the creation of national broadband strategies and access to high-speed data networks for more than 800.000 people and over 400 institutions. Looking ahead, we need to prepare our partners for an increasingly digital world.
- Fourth, both citizens and business need to have confidence in the rule of law, credible justice reforms and efficient public administration. Supporting our partners to strengthen rule of law and fight corruption will remain a cornerstone of our future work.
- Fifth, we will invest in fair and inclusive societies. Last year alone, through our support, we enabled more than 100 local civil society organizations to provide essential social and legal services.
EU and Eastern Partner leaders endorsed these five priorities in June last year.
Ahead of the next Eastern Partnership Summit, we are preparing a more detailed plan with concrete targets, which will shape the future of this Partnership. In particular, we intend to frontload economic recovery, connectivity and investments. At the same time, we will ensure that the citizens remain at the heart of our policies.
The region today faces a number of challenges. Let me now touch upon two particularly concerning situations.
First in Belarus: This weekend marks 6 months since the people of Belarus bravely took to the streets. We are impressed by their courage in pursuit of a democratic future and we continue to stand firmly in solidarity with the people of Belarus. I expect this to resound loud and clear during the International Day of Solidarity with Belarus, called for 7 February. The commitment of the European Parliament to the people of Belarus, as also demonstrated by the Sakharov Prize award for 2020, is an inspiration for us all.
In Belarus, we are mobilising legal assistance by documenting 1100 cases of torture and ill-treatment. We are providing key medical support to assist the victims of repression. Moreover, we are working closely with the European Endowment for Democracy and other partners to step up our support to youth, civil society and independent media.
Secondly, the recent conflict in Nagorno Karabakh has had a devastating impact on citizens from Armenia and Azerbaijan. We are providing urgent humanitarian assistance to support the most vulnerable by providing shelter, essential food supplies but also psychological support and education for the many affected children.
Turning now to Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, let me reassure you that we recognise their aim to deepen partnership with the European Union. While the potential of the current bilateral agreements needs to be fully used, we support their ambitions to deepen reforms and cooperate more closely with the European Union. I know this issue is of particular importance to this house. The faster a country implements reforms, the closer they can interact with the EU.
Looking ahead to this autumn’s Summit, let us work together to offer a vision that will bring real tangible benefits to citizens across the Eastern Partnership.
In order to succeed, we need to strengthen our partnership with each and every stakeholder in our partner countries. The European Parliament and national parliaments play a key role in strengthening the partnership with our neighbourhood and I look forward to our continued cooperation.
Thank you for your attention!