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Fellow members of this House,
Today’s debate is taking place at a time marked by dangerous tensions in our eastern neighbourhood and the efforts to find a political solution to the Ukraine crisis. I would like to extend an especially warm welcome to the ambassadors of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, who are sitting in the visitors’ gallery.
By annexing Crimea in violation of international law and destabilising eastern Ukraine, Russia has called the foundations of Europe’s peaceful order into question. 25 years after the disappearance of the Iron Curtain, there is a very real risk that new dividing lines will emerge on our continent.
Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia would be directly affected by new walls and renewed estrangement – not only due to their geographic location.
Efforts – although to differing degrees – are being made in both directions in all three countries: efforts on the one hand to maintain the traditionally close relations with Russia and, on the other, to seek closer ties with Europe.
In view of the current crisis, it’s all the more remarkable that these three countries want to intensify their cooperation with the EU once more at this particular time. The conclusion of the Association Agreements with the EU on 27 June 2014 confirmed this in an impressive way.
With these Association Agreements we want to support Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova as they go down the difficult path of reform – by offering help and advice, as well as financial assistance. The agreements set out a clear and binding framework for further radical reforms.
Our eastern neighbours are gradually modernising, opening up and democratising their political systems, economies and societies. I’m pleased with the progress that has been made to date. However, the real challenges still lie ahead of us. The task now is to implement the over one thousand‑page documents. That will require strenuous effort, which will most likely dramatically change these countries. Such a radical change cannot be undertaken without tensions. There will not only be winners but – in the short term, at least – also losers.
Nevertheless, opinion polls in Georgia show that more than 80 per cent of the population want closer ties with the EU. The outcome of the elections in the Republic of Moldova gave its political leaders a historic opportunity to resolutely continue the reforms already initiated. And in Ukraine, too, the parliamentary elections in October showed that there was a clear two‑thirds majority in favour of comprehensive reforms.
The governments in our partner countries know what people in Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia now expect and demand from them: the rule of law, progress in the fight against corruption, as well as an effective judiciary and administration. If they succeed, then what we want in the interest of ordinary citizens will move within reach: stable democracies, in which the law is respected and human rights are protected, healthy economies and a strong welfare state.
However, we also know that the EU will only manage to achieve the goal of a stable and democratic neighbourhood with thriving economies if these countries also cultivate good relations with their big neighbour in the east.
That’s why we’ve always made it clear that Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia are not facing an either/or decision. For the Eastern Partnership is not intended to confront our partner countries with this choice. And this project is most certainly not directed against Russia.
But let me be quite clear: Russia has no right to make claims relating to Ukraine’s territory or to impose penalties on Eastern Partnership countries. The European Union stands shoulder to shoulder with our eastern neighbours and they can count on our solidarity.
Russia has only just made known its serious reservations about the Eastern Partnership after years of association negotiations. And, unfortunately, it has chosen means which are by no means compatible with good neighbourliness or international law. There was no justification at all for choosing such action.
For I know from many personal talks that none of our eastern partners want to break off their centuries‑old ties with Russia. The EU, too, continues to attach great strategic importance to its relations with Russia.
The German Government is not only working tirelessly to find a political solution to the Ukraine crisis. We’re also taking Russia’s concerns about the impact of the Association Agreements on its economy seriously. For our readiness to suspend the provisional application of the free trade agreement with Ukraine for 15 months shows that the EU and its partners are keen to work with Russia to find sensible solutions. Yet it’s also a given that when the EU concludes agreements with third states, Russia cannot claim a right of veto.
The next Eastern Partnership Summit will take place in Riga in May 2015. A large majority of our EU partners will have concluded the ratification of the three Association Agreements by then.
As one of the engines of European Neighbourhood Policy, we too should aim to deposit Germany’s instruments of ratification for the three agreements by May. On behalf of the Federal Government, I ask for your support.