Statement by President von der Leyen at the joint press conference with President Michel following the Eastern Partnership Leaders' videoconference - EU monitor

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Monday, August 3, 2020
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Statement by President von der Leyen at the joint press conference with President Michel following the Eastern Partnership Leaders' videoconference

Source: European Commission (EC) i, published on Thursday, June 18 2020.

Thank you very much.

Indeed, we had a very good videoconference with our six eastern partners. And yes, it is in the European Union's strategic interest to have a prosperous eastern neighbourhood.

This is why we are so heavily engaged in helping to build a resilient eastern neighbourhood. By resilience, we also mean economic prosperity, so stability and security, even in times of crisis, such as the one that we are facing now. And resilience can only be built if we all respect human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

That is what the Eastern Partnership has been working for more than a decade. We have been working for that with progress and with tangible results. And indeed, if you look at the polls, today, the European Union is the most trusted foreign institution in all six countries. Seven out of ten people in these countries say that our relations are good.

Today, we discussed how to shape and focus our partnership beyond 2020. With the leaders, we have agreed indeed on five priorities for our partnership in the coming years.

  • 1) 
    First of all, we want a partnership focused on the economy that creates decent jobs, better physical connections between our countries, and better opportunities, particularly for young people.

Indeed, the numbers are impressive. If you look at the increase of trade volumes, between 2016 and 2019, the bilateral trade volumes between the European Union and all six of our partners increased substantially. For example, by as much as 55% with Azerbaijan and 50% on top with Ukraine. We see also that the intra-regional trade has more than doubled, this is important too, between those countries. And we want to build on this success.

  • 2) 
    The second important point for us is that we want a partnership that empowers. Good governance, democratic institutions, human rights, gender equality, the rule of law - these are demanded by all citizens and these are important values for the European Union. The new Eastern Partnership framework will place a renewed emphasis on progress in this area.
  • 3) 
    Our third priority area is a partnership that connects. We must embrace the digital transformation. We have seen in the crisis - it is self-explanatory - how important digitalisation is. The EU will work with its eastern neighbours to modernise technologies, to extend the benefits of the Digital Single Market, and to provide high quality infrastructure and services to people across the region.
  • 4) 
    The fourth topic that is important for us is a partnership that is sustainable. We need to focus on climate resilience. It is only natural that the green transition is at the centre also of the new Eastern Partnership framework as it is at the centre of the political agenda in the European Union.
  • 5) 
    Last but not least, the Commission will continue to deliver tangible results that citizens can really benefit from. We have a few examples. For instance, the European Union's financial assistance to SMEs since 2016 has helped to create or sustain more than 90,000 jobs in the region. Or if we look at Yerevan, there, the residents can now benefit from a sustainable metro system. If you look at the inhabitants of Tbilisi, there, thanks to the EU funding, we have now environmentally friendly busses. But also for example training local officials in Ukraine improved public services to the citizens.

And indeed, as Charles Michel i just mentioned, as of 1 July, our readmission and facilitation agreement with Belarus will enter into force. With that, the European Union will have waived visa requirements or made them cheaper and easier to obtain for citizens of all countries in the region.

We have agreed today to continue to focus on delivering concrete results, including to use the Association Agreements to their full extent.

Now, a last word on the coronavirus response. That was also a topic of the VTC. The European Union has reacted immediately. It is a total of over EUR 2.4 billion that is being made available to the countries in the region. Of this, EUR 900 million will support the socio-economic recovery of the region. And EUR 80 million has been mobilised to address the most pressing immediate health needs of our partners, Charles Michel just mentioned them.

Of this total amount, nearly EUR 1.5 billion in highly favourable loans will be made available to help Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova cover their immediate and urgent financing gaps and strengthen macroeconomic stability.

We have demonstrated our clear commitment to the region's response to the coronavirus. And we have developed a new framework for the Eastern Partnership that listens to our citizens, focusses on the priorities of the European Union and the eastern partners and adapts to our realities.

So today's videoconference has certainly reinforced our collective commitment to the Eastern Partnership, and the view that the European Union and its eastern partners are stronger together.

Thank you.