Friday, May 6, 2011

Ashton welcomes the convening of the first Euronest meeting

Address of HR/VP Catherine Ashton to the First meeting of EURONEST
European Parliament, Brussels
Tuesday 3 May 2011

Mr President of the European Parliament, Honourable Speakers,
Honourable Members,

I warmly welcome the convening of the first meeting of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly today. I would like to congratulate those who have come to Brussels to take part in this important occasion, as well as the Members of the European Parliament present today.

I would like to highlight three points: first, the significance of Euronest; second, the priorities of the European Neighbourhood Policy and of the Eastern Partnership, and third, the contribution that I hope Euronest will make to the realisation of these priorities.

First, Euronest is particularly important for the EU High Representative because it completes the institutional framework of the Eastern Partnership. The EaP is not only a partnership of governments: it is also a partnership of peoples and of the Parliaments that represent them. We already have numerous fora for meetings among civil servants; we have meetings of Ministers and Heads of Government; and we even have a forum for civil society, the EaP Civil Society Forum. But only now does the Eastern Partnership have its own parliamentary assembly.

It is regrettable that the Belarus parliament is not represented at this first meeting of Euronest. That is because Belarus did not live up to the democratic standards expected of the Eastern Partnership participating states. I do hope that respect of democratic values in Belarus will improve, and that Belarus parliamentarians will be able to join this assembly in the future. It is Euronest that will have to monitor the situation in Belarus and take that decision when the time is ripe.

Second, this meeting takes place at a time of historic upheavals in the Southern neighbourhood of the EU. These people-led movements demand more democracy, rule of law and respect of human rights. Or, as they would put it, they demand dignity. They show us that we can achieve real stability, prosperity and security in the neighbourhood of the EU only if we build them on these foundations.

I believe this applies to the South of our neighbourhood as it applies to the East and to the EU itself. And what better guarantee of democracy, rule of law and human rights can we imagine than democratically elected parliaments, which pass fair laws and ensure they are enforced in full respect of human rights? This shows the importance of your role and of parliamentary cooperation.

The attention of the EU is currently focused on the South, but I can assure you that the East is not forgotten. Far from forgetting it, we have actually set ourselves some very ambitious goals:

I. Negotiations on New Association Agreements

We are currently negotiating new Agreements with five partner countries. These cover all aspects of our relations. Ultimately they could include, as an integral part, the establishment of deep and comprehensive free trade areas with the EU – leading to full access to the EU’s internal market.

II. Mobility

Mobility is a critical issue for our partners – and one which has an enormous potential to transform the lives of our citizens and bring us closer. We have made good progress with the launch of Action Plans for Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova last year and we are advancing toward our goal of negotiating Visa Facilitation agreements – albeit at different speeds - with all our partners.

III. Deepened Sectoral Cooperation in key areas such as energy and transport.

In the area of energy, Ukraine and Moldova’s accession to the Energy Community Treaty are important in ensuring closer links between our energy markets through the adoption of the EU acquis.

IV. The strengthening of the administrative capacity of partners including through the implementation of Comprehensive Institution Building Programmes (to a total value of €173 million over 2011- 2013).

V. Efforts to support cohesion within our partner countries through the development of Pilot Regional Development Programmes (worth approximately €70 million over 2012-2013).

We will take stock of progress in all these areas at the second Summit of the EaP in Warsaw this September. The Summit will be the occasion to renew our joint commitment to the ambitious goals of the Eastern Partnership and to the values and principles that found it: and in particular democratic principles and practices, the respect for human rights, good governance and the rule of law.

There is no competition between the South and the East of our neighbourhood: any additional resources allocated to the South to address the current upheavals there and the needs of our Southern partners will not come at the expense of the East and will not result in reduced resources for the East in any way.

Increasingly, the EU will allocate resources to its partners based not on geographical location in the East or in the South, but on the principle of conditionality and differentiation, sometimes called “more for more”. “More for more” means that the EU will allocate more resources to those partners that are willing to make more progress towards universal values and EU standards and are ready to engage in serious reform efforts.

The EU has much to share with its neighbours: successful peacebuilding, after a devastating second world war; effective political integration based on human rights, democracy and the rule of law; the experience of a relatively recent transition to democracy of many Member States; prosperity built on deep economic integration; a sense of solidarity among its people and its member states; and an independent, thriving civil society which actively participates in governance and acts as a counter-weight to state institutions.

Events in the Southern neighbourhood of the EU have brought to the fore the need for the EU to engage more strongly in democracy promotion, to enhance democratic processes and improve the workings of democratic institutions in our partners. One possibility that we will examine is the establishment of a European Endowment or Foundation for Democracy that would channel support for democracy promotion through civil society actors.

This is one of the main results of the ENP review, which will be laid out in a Communication of the European Commission and High Representative later this month. The other main points that will be highlighted by the Communication include the need for partnerships with peoples and societies; the need for enhanced political dialogue, and the need for greater political steering of our relationships.

Which brings me to my third and last point: what is the contribution of Euronest to the ENP and to its eastern dimension, the EaP?

After the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the EU is a more cohesive political actor beyond its borders. Euronest can make a very important contribution to political dialogue and political steering of the EaP at the level of parliaments. Furthermore, I believe it is very important that the EU be open to its partners. The EU must learn to listen more to its partners in its neighbourhood, so it can better shape its policies. Euronest provides a very good opportunity to do that. Euronest can also help provide more visibility for the EaP. Together with the EaP Civil Society Forum, it can help provide feedback and guidance for the EaP and bring it closer to the concerns and the needs of the people.

Most importantly, Euronest is a multilateral forum where partners can exchange experience on reform and approximation to EU standards and on legislation to enhance democratic governance in their countries. I mentioned earlier our goal of concluding Association Agreements. These Agreements include a commitment to democracy, rule of law and respect of human rights. Parliaments have an essential role to play in adopting legislation that furthers these values and in monitoring its effective enforcement. Progress towards these values will help speed up the conclusion of Association Agreements and will be a crucial part of their implementation.

I wish you a productive and successful inaugural meeting of the Euronest parliamentary assembly, which will put in place the necessary institutional arrangements. And I look forward to the important contribution of Euronest to the realisation of the goals of the Eastern Partnership.

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