Ladies and gentlemen,
I am very pleased to be with all of you, here at the Committee of the Regions for this Workshop, jointly organised by CORLEAP and the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly.
As I was only recently elected Co-President of Euronest, this is the first time for me to address participants of the Open Days and I would like to thank the Committee of the Regions for hosting today’s event. It offers us the opportunity to discuss the role of our institutions, in a challenging and evolving context for the Eastern Partnership.
Current challenges of the Eastern Partnership
Let me first look at the development of the Eastern Partnership and draw lessons from some recent events. In 2009, at the launch of the Eastern Partnership, the EU offered to its partners a path towards political association and economic integration, while leaving the question of a possible accession to EU membership open. Since then, three partner countries, namely Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine have made historical steps in this direction, by signing Association Agreements with the EU. Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus do not share the same European aspirations as their neighbours, but still have manifested an interest in forging closer or at least improved relations with the EU. However, in 2013, Russia started opposing and objecting to the EU integration course of partner countries. That coerced Armenia to a U-turn in foreign policy terms, abandoning the perspective of signing the Association Agreement it had spent three years in negotiating. For one year, the Eastern Partnership has clashed with a new and competing model of Russian integration, which is embodied in the Customs Union and the Eurasian Economic Union.
The Eastern Partnership was originally designed to be in the mutual interest of the EU, Russia and their common neighbours. Yet, the EU has also devised it as an instrument to encourage democratic reforms and economic development, whereas Russia has only perceived it as a tool to reduce its geopolitical sphere of influence. Concluding the trade components of the Association Agreements was incompatible with full membership of the Customs Union. As a consequence, partner countries have been compelled to choose between two opposite paths. The Russian economic pressure, the annexation of Crimea by Russia, the conflict in eastern Ukraine and persistence of other conflicts in the region have aggravated this situation, with the result of creating new divisions in the societies of partner countries.
I deplore and condemn the role that Russia plays in the destabilisation of Ukraine and its attempts to deter partner countries from signing Association Agreements with the EU. I also note, with regret, that all the countries of the Eastern Partnership, except for Belarus, are now involved in territorial disputes, and that Russia is directly involved or exerts large influence in all of those.
On its side, the EU and its Member States have faced difficulties in adopting a coherent and common stance on the Eastern Partnership and a policy of sanction towards Russia. Through the European Neighbourhood Policy and its financial instrument, the EU should give the priorities to support for peace, stability, economic reforms and the democratic transition processes. However, the leverage of the EU financial instrument on the political course of its partners is limited. For this reason, I believe in the EU concentrating its resources on its highest priorities and fully applying the ‘more for more’ principle, as an incentive for partner countries to better perform in the process of reforms towards deep democracy and respect for human rights.
In the period until the next Summit of the Eastern Partnership, in Riga in 2015, I believe that the EU and its partners will have to live up to several challenges.
First, the EU must remain firm in its commitment to implement the European Neighbourhood Policy, relying on the principles of inclusiveness and differentiation. This policy should deliver positive and tangible results for all partners involved, including those not enthusiastic about touching upon democracy, human rights and rule of law issues. The EU should also do its utmost to help resolve the on-going or ‘protracted’ conflicts in the region. This would require a renewed dialogue with Russia, but also more incentives for the populations linked to the parties of these conflicts.
Secondly, the EU will have to show unity and coherence in its strategy towards Russia. In this respect, the EU’s decision to postpone the entry into force of the EU-Ukraine DCFTA calls for reflection, even though the EU has renewed the autonomous trade measures providing tariff preferences for Ukraine.
The EU should send a clear signal that the EU will remain at the side of Ukraine in its effort to implement a reform agenda and will not let Russia undermine the EU-Ukraine relations. The discussion within the trilateral group of Russia, Ukraine, and the EU should help remove the concerns of the Russian side but cannot be used as tool for Russia to reopen the negotiations on the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement and to become a party to them. More generally, the challenge remains to convince Russia that the Eastern Partnership is not conceived, nor will develop, at its expense. I note that the policy of sanction towards Russia has been the main instrument to attempt exerting effective pressure. For the moment, the EU has no other choice but to maintain the current sanctions as long as Russia fails to adopt a more constructive attitude in finding a peaceful settlement of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Thirdly, our partner countries, and in particular those who signed Association Agreements with us, should deliver on better governance and reforms in order to draw the benefits of the Agreements. It is essential that they achieve results in such important fields as the fight against corruption and shadow economy, in order to attract further investment from the West and the rest of the world. With the forthcoming parliamentary elections in Ukraine on 26 October and in Moldova on 30 November, we hope that political stability in these two partner countries will further strengthen the proper functioning of their democratic institutions.
Role and achievements of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly
Let me now turn to the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly which was established in May 2011.
Euronest founded on the principles of joint ownership and shared responsibility, aims to provide a parliamentary dimension to the Eastern Partnership. As you may know, it includes 60 Members of the European Parliament and, currently, 50 national parliamentarians from partner countries, with 10 from each country. We stand ready to welcome the missing ten parliamentarians from Belarus, but only once democratic elections take place in the country.
Euronest has the objective to support and give a parliamentary assessment of the Eastern Partnership in the areas of common interest, namely democracy, good governance and stability, economic integration, energy security and cooperation in education and culture.
Given the challenges of the Eastern Partnership, it is also the responsibility of Euronest to make policy recommendations and proposals through its multilateral parliamentary work. Since its inception, Euronest has adopted nine resolutions either by unanimity or by a large majority, in all the areas covered by the four Eastern Partnership platforms set up by the European Commission. As regards the sensitive topic of regional conflicts and territorial disputes, Euronest has even succeeded in reaching consensual positions and areas of converging views. At our forthcoming Ordinary Session to be held in Yerevan in March 2015, the Euronest Assembly will discuss four resolutions covering the issues of the EU European Neighbourhood Policy, the development of renewable energy, transport policies and intercultural dialogue within the Eastern Partnership.
Moreover, the ambition is to favour the establishment of Euronest political groups, which would have memberships stretching transversally from the European Parliament to the Eastern partner component of the Assembly. This would definitely strengthen and deepen the relations between the EU and its partners. It is encouraging to see that some of the parties active in our partner countries are already affiliated to pan-European political parties.
On the basis of their experience, Euronest Members of the European Parliament can also assist their Georgian, Moldovan and Ukrainian fellows to transpose the EU acquis into national legislations, wherever the provisions of the Association Agreements foresee it.
We also believe in the transformative power of the Eastern Partnership in societies and mentalities. To this aim, our Assembly set up the Euronest Scola Programme and Young Leaders Fora which target young generations. The objective of these programmes is to raise awareness of the values of dialogue, knowledge and mutual understanding. We also maintain cooperation with the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum.
Last but not least, we should remain active in monitoring the EU programmes targeting partner countries, and to which extent, the latter draws the benefit from EU assistance and how they live up to their own political objectives.
Thank you for your attention.
Speech at the Committee of Regions Euronest Workshop