Today is marked by an extraordinary meeting of the European Council devoted to the alarming situation in the Mediterranean Sea. I hope that the outcome of this meeting will live up to the challenges posed by instability in Libya, more generally in Africa and the Middle East, and its consequences for human trafficking. The recent tragic events sadly demonstrate how wide our duty and responsibility is to efficiently tackle the crises that our Southern and Eastern neighbours are currently facing.
These events, as well as the protracted conflict in eastern Ukraine, and more broadly, the growing poverty, political instability and nationalist and religious strainsin the EU vicinity, have exposed new fundamental issues. We cannot ignore them any longer and we have to address them when reflecting on the relations with our neighbours.
Here, I would like to comment the initiative taken by Commissioner Hahn to launch a consultation process on the EU Neighbourhood Policy.
Allow me to stress that the European Parliament and the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly are keen to participate in this process and to contribute with their experience and visions in order to give new impetus to this Policy.
One month ahead of the Eastern Partnership Summit to be held in Riga and after a successful plenary session of Euronest held in March in Yerevan, I would like to share with you a few reflections.
First, there is no doubt that the Eastern Partnership remains a valid concept by offering regional cooperation in an inclusive way. However, Eastern partner countries face various complex situations and show varying levels of engagements. For this reason, we need to propose differentiated offers but also new approaches to partner countries which cut across various EU internal and external policies – such as education, energy and transport policies. The EU should design and run these policies while better taking into account the different interests of our partners and their impact on economic and social development of the neighbourhood. This is precisely the political development that the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly had promoted and supported at its last plenary session, by identifying ways of cooperation in the fields of renewable energy, energy efficiency and transport. I believe that the EU Energy Union should be opened to partner countries.
We also have to link partners’ expectations to realistic objectives and make promises only if we are able to translate them into concrete developments. In that respect, I believe that the Riga Summit will represent an opportunity to clarify the EU priorities and to send a clear political signal to our partners. One can however conclude that the funds available do not match with the ambitious objectives.
Second, we should not lose sight of the original objectives of the Eastern Partnership, based on political association and economic integration, at a time when Russia is challenging the European model and is exerting political, economic and military pressures on our partners. Let me remind you that the Eastern Partnership is founded on the European values and the principles of democracy, human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law. Hence, EU financial support should be directed in priority to democratic reforms, the fight against corruption, the strengthening of the independence of the judiciary and of public institutional capacity. Progress towards a more democratic society goes hand in hand with increased transparency in business and public procurement, the removal of abusive monopolistic positions and of the control and influence of politics by economic powers. To this aim, EU long-term commitment for helping Ukraine to remain on track in its democratic and economic reform process represents the most challenging test case. The EU should also do its utmost to help Georgia and Moldova implement their Association Agreement, including DCFTAs and fully benefit from them.
Third, I believe that the best way to sustain the economic viability of Eastern partner countries is to further encourage EU companies’ investments in their economies and to secure them by establishing a viable and long-term framework for trade relations. Currently, partner countries are “sandwiched” between the EU and Russia and confronted with alternatives which all present detrimental sides to some parts of their economies. For partner countries, access to the EU market is as vital as access to the Russian one. Here, it should be noted that the development of the Eurasian Economic Union, led by Russia, is clearly a vector of the Russian political influence and most likely a will to impose it as a regional integration grouping in order to compete with the EU model. However, it is in our interest, as well as our partners’ interest, to explore how to structure relations between the two trade areas and how to make them at least compatible.
Fourth, I would acknowledge that the success of reform process and sustainable economic development are only possible if peace prevails. For the time being, we observe that all the partner countries except for Belarus are confronted with separatism and territorial disputes in which Russia is directly involved or exerts large influence. As regards the conflict in the eastern regions of Ukraine, we should hold out the prospect of the full implementation of the Minsk Agreements of 12 February 2015 and make clear to Russia that only the respect of its provisions could lead to the lift of some of the sanctions that the EU had taken.
We observe that the Russian economy, which was hit by a 2 per cent recession in 2014, had paid the price of EU and US sanction policies and Russian retaliatory measures. I hope that this situation could prompt the Russian leadership to consider again the conditions of a peaceful coexistence of nations in Europe and to constructively engage dialogue on security issues and protracted conflicts in the EU-Russia common neighbourhood. On our side, the EU should remain united towards Russia and determined to increase pressure on its leadership, including by extending sanctions, if needed.
The EU should also do more and be seen as doing more in contributing to the peaceful settlement of protracted conflicts. For instance, Euronest could encourage and give more visibility to confidence-building measures and cross-border projects. Educational and cultural exchange programmes and networks are instrumental to restoring dialogue between peoples and they deserve further attention and financial means. I am also thinking of the efforts of the local and regional authorities in implementing cross-border projects, even if they lack a strong support from central authorities.
Let me now turn to the role of Euronest and CORLEAP in the general framework of the Eastern Partnership.
My strong wish is that our two bodies continue to use ever more our multilateral fora of discussion as a lever for influencing the course of political developments in our societies.
In Euronest we will continue to provide support and give a parliamentary assessment on critical issues posed to the Eastern Partnership. It is also our responsibility to allow our fellows of partner national parliaments to benefit from our experience in legislative matters, while we also learn from their knowledge and approach of partnership. Finally, we will remain active to raise awareness of the values of dialogue and mutual understanding. To this aim, we will continue liaising with the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum and implementing the Euronest Scola Programme, as well as the Young Leaders Fora which are aimed at young generations.
Speech at the 5th annual meeting of the Conference of the Regional and Local Authorities for the Eastern Partnership (CORLEAP) on 23 April 2015