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Speech by President Charles Michel at the Batumi International Conference

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Raad, gepubliceerd op maandag 19 juli 2021.

It's a pleasure to participate in this meeting today and to be back in Georgia.

Today, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine have been independent for 30 years, for one generation. One generation of hard won progress and sometimes painful setbacks. One generation of defining your own future and building your own space of prosperity and cooperation based on shared values. It has not been an easy journey, with periods of destabilisation and conflicts, with your countries facing interference or aggression. The EU stands by you in full solidarity.

There also remain challenges to your reforms. It's our common goal to overcome these challenges together. We want to nurture stability and resilience in the interest of our citizens, together with our Trans-Atlantic partners. In one generation, the EU has also experienced profound change, creating the world's largest democratic area. We have worked to forge our unity and uphold our freedom and our fundamental values.

In 2009, at the Prague summit, we decided to launch our Eastern Partnership and today, 12 years later, our Eastern Partnership is a reality that benefits all our citizens. We share a common agenda and purpose, determined by common priorities and needs. In December, we will hold the next Eastern Partnership summit in Brussels. Today I make a promise to you: the EU will remain a strong and reliable partner for your region. We count on your commitment to advance reforms, not to please Brussels, but in the interest of your people and your societies. Together, we must always stand up for human rights and the rule of law, equal rights, non-discrimination, and freedom of expression, assembly and the press. They define who we are, and they are the best guarantee for prosperity.

Today we face a great global challenge: COVID-19. We all know the only way out of the pandemic is global cooperation. Our Eastern Partnership is a prime example of this. When COVID struck, the EU responded quickly to the needs of our six partners. Together with the EIB, we mobilised over 2.5 billion euros to support you in tackling the health crisis and addressing the social economic recovery. This strong EU support clearly shows the strategic importance we give to our partnership. And we will continue to support vaccination campaigns because this is a key condition for sustainable recovery. The EU is the largest supporter and donor of COVID vaccines to the world, and we have exported or donated over five million doses to the six Eastern Partnership countries.

We also face many other challenges together: economic growth, climate change, digital transitions and promoting fair and inclusive societies. I firmly believe our Eastern Partnership can be a launchpad for greater cooperation in all these areas and more. It serves as a catalyst for democracy, good governance, reforms, the rule of law and reinforcing societies against destabilisation.

Our three Association agreements, including the free trade areas, have generated concrete benefits for citizens. They are among the most ambitious forms of cooperation that the EU has with any third country. By 2019 our trade had significantly increased, in some cases by as much as 45 percent. Today the EU is your largest trading partner. And I'm convinced that our free trade area can deliver much more to shape your legislative framework for the benefit of your societies, notably by getting you fit to compete on the global market.

We are also seeing impressive results of visa liberalisation with Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. More than half a million of your citizens have benefited from visa free travel so far. We also support the young generation with over 80,000 exchanges through our Erasmus+ programme.

Now let me turn to the future. I see three main priorities. First, the huge and unprecedented economic investment package, with concrete flagship initiatives for each partner country. This economic and investment plan will be supported by 2.3 billion euros, with the potential to mobilise up to 17 billion euros in public and private investments for the region. Second, I strongly believe in connectivity, in a broad sense. Our partnership will improve transport links and infrastructure. We will invest in the creation and renewal of thousands of kilometres of roads and railways by 2030, and this will further shrink the distances between our societies. This connecting investment will also provide access to finance for SMEs, assist the digital transition and support greater climate and health resilience. My third and final point concerns reforms. Good governance is the key to unlocking the benefits that liberal democracy can bring. This means unhesitatingly promoting the rule of law, independence of the judiciary and fighting corruption. This is not only a political necessity, it will also kick start growth and unlock fresh opportunity.

Our meeting here with you, the leaders of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, is an important milestone. It highlights the special ties that connect the EU with its Associated partners. We welcome the two year initiative to foster coordination between the Associated partners and Brussels. This can lead to the sharing of best practises on reforms, on implementation and on a broader agenda for the future.

Today we are also discussing how to introduce closer coordination between the Association partners themselves. Allow me make one suggestion: why not introduce competitive benchmarking on key reforms? This would help galvanise reform momentum and increase mutual support among partners and help secure ever closer ties with the EU.

I believe our Eastern Partnership is the locomotive for transformation, prosperity and growth. It is equally a powerful symbol of openness, mutual confidence and of our cooperation. It has been one generation of independence for you. And in this one generation, the distance between your societies and the EU has shrunk in unprecedented ways. The EU is your most committed partner for greater democracy, for greater stability, for greater prosperity, and above all, for the benefits of the people of your countries.

Thank you.


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