EU interests to have greater focus in review of eastern partnership
Amid a tense and trying political climate, Johannes Hahn outlines why it is crucial for the EU to foster relations with its eastern partners.
For many, the events unfolding east of the EU’s borders are a test for Europe’s unity and resolve. In that sense, I see the forthcoming Riga summit as an opportunity to reiterate the strategic importance we attach to the eastern partnership. Developments in our close vicinity have a direct impact on our own stability, security and prosperity, and this is something we must always bear in mind.
We want to demonstrate our strong engagement and firm determination to pursue closer and tailor-made ties with our six partners - Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, whatever their individual level of ambition in terms of relations with the EU. Based on the partners’ own desires and interests, our eastern partnership is meant to be an inclusive project, with differentiation at the core of our future cooperation.
The EU’s approach to the eastern partnership has always been transparent and centred around our partner countries’ interests and needs. A review will apply both to eastern and southern partners, and will have a stronger focus on European interests.
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Our cooperation aims to build stability through integration and the adoption of the EU’s approach to democracy and good governance. The summit is about relations between the European Union and its six partners, not directed against any third party.
The meeting in Riga will not simply be a political display of our engagement in the east - there will also be a series of practical steps and measures to review and agree on. One of the objectives will be to evaluate the progress made in the relations between the EU and our eastern partners, particularly since the 2013 Vilnius summit.
Over the past few years, political dialogue has intensified and become increasingly comprehensive. The eastern partnership’s multilateral dimension has established a dense network of contacts.
Flagship initiatives and projects taking on common challenges have helped bring home the benefits of cooperation with the EU. In other terms, we have extended the eastern partnership beyond governments, to parliaments, local authorities, civil society and business.
The summit will continue along this path, by bringing eastern partners closer to the EU through progress in political association, economic cooperation and enhanced mobility for citizens in a secure and well-managed environment.
Since the last summit in Vilnius, the signing of association agreements and the establishment of the deep and comprehensive free trade area with Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine have taken our cooperation to a new level.
This time, the Riga summit will be a chance to take stock of the early stages of these implementations and demonstrate our strong commitment to deepening cooperation. I will also take this opportunity to stress the importance of the reform agenda.
We will continue to support its implementation, particularly when it comes to state building, people to people contacts, market opportunities, interconnections and mobility, as is the case with Moldova, whose citizens no longer need a visa to come to Europe.
Moreover, at the Riga summit, cooperation will be strengthened in a number of key sectors, including energy and the digital economy. Further steps are being taken in terms of countries’ engagement in EU agencies and initiatives, such as Horizon 2020, Creative Europe and the competitiveness of small and medium-sized enterprises (COSME) programme.
Last but not least, a number of events will be taking place alongside the summit, involving civil society, media, business and other stakeholders. Engagement with civil society organisations in the eastern partnership ensures the region’s citizens have their voices heard.
Strengthening engagement with civil society means fostering common values and holding governments to account - for this reason, I am deeply convinced that it is crucial in achieving acceptance for reforms at the broadest level.
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