Eastern Partnership in Białystok
Autumn has definitely arrived. It was evident when we were driving to Białystok yesterday for the Eastern Partnership Local Government Forum. The rain was following us all the way. Looks a bit brighter this morning though…
The Eastern Partnership was initiated jointly by Poland and Sweden five years ago and is a process where six countries in Eastern Europe , neighbours to the enlarged EU, were offered a close partnership with the Union. Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan are the countries inv0lved and with four of them EU has negotiated Association Agreements including so called Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas. The partnership includes much more including local and regional cooperation as well a civil society forum.
But these so called DCFTA:s are clearly very important. They are the most ambitious agreements ever negotiated between EU and non-candidate countries.
Late November Lithuania will be hosting the third Partnership Summit in Vilnius and now intensive preparations are ongoing for that key event. The second Summit was held in Warsaw two years ago, one of my first experiences as new Ambassador to Poland. This upcoming Summit will be important to say the least.
The agreement with Ukraine is ready to be signed and what will happen in that respect depends on whether Ukraine fulfills the conditions EU has formulated for signing, much related to the development of democracy and rule of law. Obviously we all hope that it will be possible. The agreements with Moldova and Georgia are following and it ought to be possible to see them finalised in Vilnius. In the first stage they are to be initialled and then there is a some more work to do before signing. Armenia has also negotiated but there is more uncertainty around that process for the moment.
In the panel discussion yesterday I stressed four main points:
1. Sweden is deeply committed to the Eastern Partnership which was initiated jointly by Poland and us. And we are tirelessly working to contribute to a successful outcome of the summit in Vilnius in November.
2. The Eastern Partnership is a partnership based not only on economic interests but also and not least on values. Because the European Union itself is created on that base, securing democracy and human rights on our continent.
3. We should focus on implementation. The agreements are of crucial importance but they must not stay on paper. What is needed are real reforms and practical implementation.
4. And for the future – that the door to EU must remain open for any Europan country that wishes to join and that fulfils all the criteria.
Foreign Minister Carl Bildt recently held a speech on the Eastern Partnership which is very well worth studying for those who are interested in these matters: http://www.government.se/content/1/c6/22/32/99/9260fa0c.pdf
I think one paragraph is especially worth quoting in this context – when he pointed to the need for both EU and the Partner Countries to leave our respective comfort zones:
“We in the EU must be ready to more fully embrace these European states and their citizens. We should also enhance our political, practical and financial support along the way. The partner countries for their part must realise that the EU is not only a club for trade and big politics. It is a civilisational choice. A choice in favour of competitive politics and fully democratic elections. And a choice in favour of the rule of law, of protection of minorities and of a vibrant, and sometimes bold, civil society. Across the region, we need to see a much clearer commitment and more effective actions to strengthen respect for these common European values.”
I have personally worked a lot with these countries during my time as Director for Central and Eastern Europe in the Swedish development agency Sida, visited all of them except Azerbaijan. At that time we expanded our programmes from almost nothing in the mid 90′s. I was especially involved in the start-up of our support to Moldova. Hence, it is great to see the attention that these countries now attract compared to the relative silence at that time. Eastern Europe is Europe and the idea of uniting Europe lies at the core of the European Union. It is as simple as that.
One other memorable event this week was the Conference on “The hate factor on political speech” co-organised by the Council of Europe and the Polish Ministry of Administration and Digitization with support i.a. from the Norway grants. Key issue in Europe these days and excellent messages coming out of the discussions. The tone was set from the start through very engaged introductions by Minister Michał Boni and the Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjörn Jagland – the latter stating e.g. that indifference to hate speech means moral suicide.
The most memorable event, however, was clearly the fact that our new colleague, our Deputy Head of Mission, Ulrik Tideström got a son this Wednesday. We have already sent him and his family our warmest congratulations. And here I do it once more!