Tribune by Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth and Micheil Dschanelidse, Foreign Minister of Georgia. Published by www.euractiv.com
The Eastern Partnership strives to bring the six Eastern Partner countries - Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine - closer to the EU without creating confrontational lines in Europe.
Since its inception in 2009, much has been achieved: Association Agreements have been concluded, including Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas between the EU and Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine.
Visa liberalisation was a big success for Georgia, and allows for a vibrant exchange between our societies and enhances the mobility of people. A number of multilateral formats have significantly stepped up contacts and cooperation among the 34 members states of the Eastern Partnership.
As impressive as this may sound, it remains a major task to bring the institutional and intergovernmental framework built over the last years closer to our citizens. Within the EU, not many people have heard of the Eastern Partnership.
Whereas in Georgia, a leader with its European reforms, the popular support to bringing the country closer to the EU has climbed to more than 80% making it the most EU enthusiast country in Europe today. The Eastern Partnership can only be successful if people feel and believe in its positive results and see concrete improvements in their daily lives. It is our expectation that our common future lies in a united Europe.
Therefore, we jointly want to outline five ideas how to accomplish such a popular outreach:
Focus on people and their needs
The reform agenda of the Eastern Partnership aims at improving the lives of people. Therefore, we must focus on reforms that directly benefit all citizens: to fight corruption, to bring justice reform, to improve the investment climate and thus create new jobs as well as to improve our education systems.
We should involve the local level more in decision-making and in the implementation because it is much closer to the people and their needs. We should also continue to support civil society organizations in their important work and foster cooperation among them. And we need to improve our public diplomacy.
We need to be more outspoken about our goals, but also about the difficulties we need to overcome in order to reach them. Thus, society can become a valuable ally in reaching our common goals. A necessary tool for improved communication is a free and pluralistic media.
Concentrate on concrete next steps
We have to give a convincing answer to the question “What is next in the Eastern Partnership?” There are a number of concrete joint projects that we can start as of today. More investments in transport and energy connectivity can deliver benefits to all.
A discussion on the abolition of roaming fees or the accession to the EU Digital Single Market looks attractive. Another important signal might be building up a broadband connection to better catch up with the EU single market system.
And why not discuss more concerted efforts for private sector cooperation, especially SMEs and a facilitated access to the EU labour market for skilled personnel. Closer cooperation in the fight against organized crime and other security matters will bring more stability for all.
Stimulate the potential of the young generation
In the six partner countries, we find many highly skilled and active young people. We need to take advantage of this potential - for their individual countries but also for the Eastern Partnership as a whole.
To this end, we need to help partners to improve education systems, facilitate the exchange of students and scientists, create jobs and an environment favourable for them to unfold their full potential. The “youth package”, a number of initiatives and projects especially dedicated to young people that the European Commission has announced for the Eastern Partnership Summit, will send an important signal.
It is all about reforms
We have to remind ourselves that the goal of the Eastern Partnership is to support the core values we share: democracy, rule of law, the respect for human rights and economic development in the EU´s neighbourhood. It is about transforming societies.
This can only be achieved if the partner countries really want it. In the end, only the thorough and sustainable reform implementation will bring change. The EU is ready to support these reforms. We must find better ways to stimulate them, i.e. by linking financial assistance more strictly to concrete reform progress or by more project-related assistance.
Individual solutions in a common framework
Finally, the Eastern Partnership brings together six very different partner countries - different in their current situation, but also different in their aspirations. The EU acknowledges the European aspirations of the interested partner countries. It needs to respond to these differences and adapt its instruments to each individual context.
On the multilateral side, however, we need to keep up dialogue and cooperation with all six partner countries jointly. We strongly believe that stability and prosperity of the region do not only depend on the development of each individual country but also and most importantly on the development of the relations between the six partner countries among themselves.
In this spirit, we are confident that the upcoming summit offers an excellent opportunity to promote these mutual ambitions in the best interest of our peoples in Europe.