Source: European Union External Action
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President, dear Members [of the European Parliament],
Before starting today’s debate, I would like to thank the [European] Parliament for its continuous support in what has been one of my main personal commitments since I took office: the adoption by the Council of the European Union Global Human Rights Sanction Regime (EUGHRSR). I think this is a landmark achievement. It is a first, strong step forward.
It is evidence that human rights are at the European Union’s core and in our DNA, and signals the European Union’s strong determination to stand united in their defence. We will, for sure, have the opportunity to discuss it more in detail in future occasions. But I would like to take this opportunity to thank you again for your support to get this important initiative through. I hope that Member States will be able to use it, because once you have a tool, you have to take it out of the toolbox and use it.
Now, Mr President, let us go to the recent developments in the Eastern Partnership.
The Eastern Partnership was established 11 years ago. Since then, it has consolidated as a useful and relevant framework for the benefit of both the European Union and our eastern neighbours.
It has offered closer political association and economic integration with the European Union. It has also been key in supporting sustainable reform processes including the rule of law, although I have to say that progress has not been linear and it is very different from one country to another.
It has had tangible impact on people’s lives. I think we should be proud of advancements in mobility, growing trade with the European Union, improvements in digital and energy cooperation. We have achieved a lot despite the challenges faced by our partners.
The last year and especially these last months have been particularly difficult and have tested all of us. We will be facing the consequences of the pandemic, which has shifted our priorities, for a long time.
Several of our partner [countries] experienced conflicts, violent repression, unrest and popular demand for democratic values and reforms. In these times of challenges, the need for cooperation becomes stronger. The Eastern Partnership enables us to address these common challenges and provides a platform for dialogue and exchange of best practices.
The Eastern Partnership forges an area of shared democracy, prosperity and stability with our neighbours in the East. It must remain on top of the European Union’s agenda. It is in our interest. Our partners demand it. For them, the European Union remains the most trusted foreign institution in the region, as our opinion polls show.
Strengthening resilience is the main objective and core element of the future Eastern Partnership policy, as set out in the Joint Communication in March. We will work with partners on five areas of resilience – economic, democratic, environmental, digital, and societal.
I think it is key to empower civil society and independent media to increase accountability, to expose corruption and to enhance critical thinking. There is no hidden agenda behind this approach. We are only guided by the values we believe in – free, open societies based on human rights and fundamental rights of citizens.
Our reflection on the future also encompasses how to make sure that the Partnership remains strategic, ambitious, effective and flexible. The Partnership is designed to offer flexibility to develop more advanced relations with those who wish to do so, but it also has to remain inclusive – not to leave anyone behind. I need to stress the great potential of the current bilateral agreements, notably the Association Agreements and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas with Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.
In the recent months, we have engaged in a comprehensive dialogue with partner countries, with Member States, with civil society, and a wide range of stakeholders on the future shape of the Eastern Partnership.
I think there is a strong consensus that the framework has delivered and that we can be proud of many achievements. But many challenges remain.
The implementation of practical and concrete activities will be the result of this debate and I will conclude after listening to all your observations and remarks. I think it is a very important debate. Our Eastern Partnership is one of the important things we have to deal with, because our stability, security and even economic prosperity depend closely on how these countries are performing.
Thank you for this opportunity. I am looking forward to listening to your remarks.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-200072