For over a decade, the Eastern Partnership has brought concrete benefits for people across the European Union and its eastern neighbourhood.
It has developed through ambitious political and economic agreements, enhanced mobility and youth exchanges, better transport links, more energy resilience and efficiency and more trade and investment opportunities.
It has turned the region into the EU’s tenth-largest trading partner. While the COVID-19 pandemic has hit us all hard this year, it has also confirmed the strength of our relations.
First, it didn’t deter us from working on an ambitious vision for our partnership, and in March we put forward a proposal on the future of our policy beyond 2020 while also addressing the COVID-19 crisis.
Second, in the wake of the pandemic, we confirmed our solidarity with the six partners, providing them with almost €2.5bn of assistance to date.
This includes immediate support delivered on the ground and assistance to deal with the economic impact and recovery from the crisis.
Continued engagement with the six Eastern Partner countries - Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine - remains a key priority for the EU.
Our proposal is ambitious yet realistic. It builds on achievements to date as well as on the inputs from a wide range of stakeholders during the consultations of last year.
Working together in an inclusive manner is key to success and building resilience across the region is the overarching theme. We are proposing to our partners to work on five policy objectives.
The first is entitled ‘Together for resilient, sustainable and integrated economies’. Strengthening the economy is key to meeting citizens’ expectations, reducing inequality and making partner countries places where people want to build their futures.
Good governance, the rule of law, successful anti-corruption policies, fighting organised crime, and democratic institutions are cornerstones of stable and resilient states and societies and are preconditions for a functioning market economy and attracting investment.
“While the COVID-19 pandemic has hit us all hard this year, it also confirmed the strength of our relations...and in March we put forward a proposal on the future of our policy beyond 2020, while also addressing the COVID-19 crisis”
So, our second policy objective is ‘Together for accountable institutions, the rule of law and security’. Our third objective, ‘Together for environmental and climate resilience’ highlights the need to protect our world for generations to come.
We all need to take responsibility and the EU will help its partner countries fulfil their nationally determined contributions to the Paris Agreement while modernising their economies, reducing carbon footprints and moving towards climate neutrality.
The fourth objective, ‘Together for a resilient digital transformation’, is based around a strong digital presence in the EU’s neighbourhood that will enable growth and drive sustainable development.
The EU will support the digital transformation of these partner countries, to extend the benefits of the Digital Single Market and support the full implementation of our partners’ commitments in the Association Agreements and other bilateral agreements.
The final objective is titled ‘Together for resilient, fair and inclusive societies’. Free and fair elections and citizen-friendly and accountable public administrations are essential for democracy.
The EU will continue to engage with civil society, and support free, plural and independent media and human rights, as well as ensure mobility and people-to-people contacts; important. This is due to disinformation on EU values.
The past decade has seen political engagement enhanced with each individual country. Far-ranging Association Agreements/Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas are in place with Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, covering up to 70 percent of the EU acquis and with untapped potential remaining.
A new comprehensive agreement with Armenia is a blueprint for reforms and enhanced partnership, and we are looking forward to finalising negotiations for a new ambitious agreement with Azerbaijan.
Work is also ongoing with Belarus on shared partnership priorities. A delicate balance between differentiation and inclusiveness ensures that the partnership remains flexible and relevant to all partners.
The Coronavirus crisis has shaken Europe and beyond, testing our healthcare, welfare systems, societies, economies and our way of living and working together. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the call for everyday cooperation and solidarity has become even more acute.
The EU has been at the forefront in supporting partners addressing the global pandemic. In early April, as part of Team Europe - a Global EU response to COVID-19 - we put together a package of practical support for the Eastern Partnership region of close to €1bn.
The package covers immediate health needs, including providing front line health workers with key medical and protective equipment.
It also ensures financial assistance for the socio-economic recovery, targeting vulnerable groups, small- and medium-sized enterprises, as well as direct support for governments, allowing them to deliver key public services.
In addition, we have recently adopted macro-financial assistance packages for Ukraine (€1.2bn), Georgia (€150m) and Moldova (€100m) in the form of loans on highly favourable terms to help these countries cover their immediate and urgent financing needs and maintain macro-economic stability.
Our broad and inclusive partnership ranges from working together to shape the green and digital transformations to building more accessible public service delivery, enhancing mobility through visa facilitation and readmission agreements and providing high quality education through the European School in Tbilisi.
In doing so, it is our people, parliamentarians, regional and local representatives, civil society, entrepreneurs, academics, journalists and young people, who give our partnership life and colour. We are stronger together.