Ladies and Gentlemen,
I welcome you here today to this conference that we decided to name “After Euromaidan – Off to new horizons”.
What do these “new horizons” look like?
Sometimes, instead of new horizons, you hear skepticism. Some critics even say Ukraine has failed. Some say reforms have failed. Some say the Maidan has failed.
Well, I do not at all believe these sceptics are right. And I always tell them: One of the big assets that Ukraine has is its vibrant civil society.
Certainly, it is true that Ukraine faces unprecedented challenges.
It is confronted with a most serious violation of its territorial integrity and with an acute conflict situation.
It has initiated a comprehensive and extremely challenging reform process.
And it is clear that not everything has been achieved so far. But a lot of things have been set into motion, and some even say that in the past two years more reforms have been completed than in the 20 years before, since independence.
Take the fight against corruption where substantial legislation and new institutions have been adopted since 2014. We hope that these steps will now be implemented.
We welcome the commitment of the new government to continue with the reform agenda, and we think that here, civil society has a crucial role to play.
And this is where Ukraine is unique. Hardly any country of the Eastern Partnership has such a vibrant civil society. Whenever I am there, I am impressed by the atmosphere of open discussion, passionate speech and argument, and hot disputes over how to do things the right way.
I would even say that after the Maidan, civil society emerged even stronger – not only in Kiev, but also in Charkiv, in Lviv, Odessa and in a lot of other places. Today, the civil society vibrates throughout Ukraine, mobilizing tens of thousands of enthusiasts, volunteers, professionals, engaged in a broad range of activities. There is almost no sphere of activity left without attention. Civil society organizations in Ukraine look after displaced persons. They take care of mentally challenged people. They engage in the fight against corruption, they provide advice on legislation, and they work in projects with the youth and the elderly.
This clearly demonstrates the pivotal role civil society plays for the development of effective state institutions, free of corruption and firmly based on the rule of law.
Actually, this is true not only for Ukraine. In Germany too, we need a strong civil society, with an ability to help find answers to the challenges our society faces. For example, social transformation processes, such as we are experiencing in the wake of the refugee crisis, work best when they are supported by a broad commitment and active support of civil society. And civil society here means not only NGOs, but citizens who try to improve their own lives and the lives of others.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Speaking more generally on reforms, Germany stands by Ukraine in its transformation process.
In addition to our continued commitment to resolve the conflict in the east, Germany assists Ukraine with one of the most substantial support packages worldwide. In 2016, we will again contribute about 200 million euros in bilateral assistance in key reform areas such as the energy sector, public administration and decentralization. On top of this, 300 out of the 500 million euros loan guarantees are still available. In June, my colleagues from other ministries and I will go to Ukraine again to push forward the implementation of our Joint action plan for Ukraine.
One of our priorities is also civil society cooperation. The German Bundestag has made available additional funds for cooperation in this area. There is a wide range of topics covered by these projects – from town twinning conferences and youth exchange, to civil society participation in political processes and the promotion of press freedom.
One of the projects that we support is called “Dialogue for change”, and it is exemplary for what this conference today is all about:
It tries to increase networking and exchange between civil society organizations within Ukraine, but also with German and European NGOs and to help them play a significant role in political and transformation processes.
Today’s conference is part of this commitment. It will bring you - representatives of Ukrainian and German civil society - together to share ideas for dealing with social change, and to talk about the potential for cooperation. It is aimed particularly at the younger generation in Germany and Ukraine, seeking to encourage you to play an active part in the future of our two countries.
I would like very much to thank our co-host, the Körber Foundation, as well as the Schwarzkopf Foundation for their great support in making this conference possible.
I look forward to fascinating discussions.