The European Union is set to conclude three Association Agreements with countries in its eastern neighbourhood: with Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine. This Agreement is important – certainly for our neighbours, and no less so for us in the EU!
Hardly any EU Agreement has received as much international attention as the one between the EU and Ukraine. A delegation from Ukraine's Rada has even come to sit in on today's debate in the German Bundestag. Mr Chairperson of the Verkhovna Rada, dear Volodymyr Groysman, dear fellow members of parliament, and dear Ambassadors from the three countries: I warmly welcome you to this session of the German Bundestag!
The great attention I just referred to is first and foremost due to the fact that great hopes are being placed in this Agreement: the people in Ukraine are hoping it will generate growth and jobs after a long period of stagnation, and that it will promote modern and transparent democracy in the wake of corruption and mismanagement – in short, they are hoping for a better future!
It took a long time before negotiations were initiated. Then came six years of talks between the EU and the Ukrainian leadership; this was followed by Yanukovych's about-turn – that I'm sure we all recall. Now, Ukraine's government has approved the Association Agreement, and thereby confirmed that it wishes to work with the European Union to build a better future. It is now up to the member states of the European Union to reaffirm this promise on their side – and that is why I call on you to give your approval today, dear colleagues!
For a complete picture, in all truth it must be said that this Agreement has gained so much attention because it is connected to the dramatic political crisis that has for more than a year overshadowed not only Ukraine, but also the peace order in all of Europe. Especially now that we are approaching full ratification of these three Agreements, we must make perfectly clear: It is not the intensification of a partnership that caused the conflict to escalate, but rather Russia's annexation of Crimea, which is in violation of international law, as well as the ongoing destabilisation of eastern Ukraine. It is not a choice for cooperation that led us into this crisis – but rather the choice of confrontation! And continued confrontation will not lead us out of, but rather deeper into, the conflict!
Therefore I would like to repeat here today what I have said to our Russian partners: The European Union's neighbourhood policy is not directed against anyone! We desire good cooperation not only with our neighbours, but also with our neighbours' neighbours. All 28 European Foreign Ministers clearly stated so in early March in Riga. This is above all our common aim in the German Federal Government, and certainly also here in this house of parliament. That is why we are working so hard to bring about a political – not a military – solution to the conflict in Ukraine. I hope this can be achieved!
For more than forty years, we have stood on a foundation that we jointly laid, also with Russia. “By virtue of the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, all peoples always have the right, in full freedom, to determine [...] their internal and external political status, without external interference” – those are the exact words of the 1975 Final Act of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe. Only by recognising this common ground will we be able to defuse the current conflict, by following the specific courses of action laid down in the Minsk agreement. This is the only way to lay a foundation on which a new future for our neighbourhood can be established, also with Russia. We must not and will not cease to work toward this goal – despite disappointments and setbacks.
The three EU Association Agreements raise to a new level the European Union's relations with Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine. These Agreements will lead to a truly new dimension in political and economic cooperation. Not only that: The Agreements also mean that our three partner countries will have large tasks to fulfil, something they will need to work towards in the coming years. It will be difficult, no doubt. The association process requires Ukraine, Georgia and the Republic of Moldova to implement extensive political, economic and social reforms. Yet I know the hopes that people are placing in this process will generate tremendous energy to get this done.
We can already see this happening in all three countries. Last year, the Republic of Moldova concluded its visa liberalisation process in record time. Georgia has done a remarkable job of modernising its judiciary, administration and border management. And Ukraine, despite the conflict in its eastern regions, is ready to implement fundamental reforms, whether this be in the energy sector or in the fight against corruption. Yesterday, Chairperson Groysman briefed us on the road map for this. The first package of reform legislation was already passed in late 2014.
We – that is, both the European Union and the Federal Government – have an interest in promoting reforms. Above all, however, it is in the interest of the three countries, and thus it is my sincere hope they will receive the necessary political backing. We can support, and we will support – but the process must be driven by political will in these three countries!
If these efforts are successful, then the effects of the three Association Agreements may also be felt beyond these partner countries. We want to make specially tailored offers, as well, to our other three eastern partners who are not seeking association with the EU, namely Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus.
Here, too, I want to emphasise: The hand that we extend to Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus is at the same time reaching out to Russia.
The European Union wants not only strong bilateral ties – we want good and stable neighbourly relations in and with the entire region! This will also be the dominant theme at the Eastern Partnership Summit in Riga. The greatest possible stability and cooperation in the largest possible area – that is something we all have an interest in: the EU, our eastern neighbours and Russia.
I, for one, am convinced: The challenges our neighbours are facing cannot be successfully dealt with if they are forced to choose between East and West. Rebuilding Ukraine, too, will be a tough task to complete – and we all know how urgently the country will need the West's support for this. A better future for our neighbours lies not in making an “either–or” decision, but in opting for “one and the other”. That is why the Federal Government strongly supports trilateral talks between Ukraine, Russia and the EU, in order to underscore that close economic cooperation is a practical possibility between Ukraine and the EU, as well as with Russia. To keep the dispute over compatibility of trade regimes from re-emerging when the moratorium runs out at the end of the year, I urgently call on all sides – including the European Commission – to continue the trialogue and no longer delay the necessary talks.
The situation is grave: Europe's peace order has been shaken. This is all about responsibility. Responsibility that is borne by us, the EU member states, by our neighbours, and by Russia! The three Agreements before us today can help shore up Europe's peace order. Fully aware of this responsibility, we want to not only sign them, but also fill them with life in the coming years.