Five priorities will shape EaP relations after 2020
Important focus was the preparation of the physical summit in Brussels in March 2021Europost , Brussels
Three main items topped the agenda of the Eastern Partnership leaders' meeting held on Thursday via video conference - Covid-19 and the consequences of the crisis, the strategic partnership and EaP’s future. The virtual summit brought together the heads of state and government of the EU 27 member states and the leaders from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine.
The sitting was chaired by Charles Michel, President of the European Council, with EC President Ursula von der Leyen and High Representative Josep Borrell, taking part in its work.
Explaining that because of the Covid-19, it was impossible to have a physical meeting with the Eastern Partnership countries, EUCO President Michel, pointed out at the press conference he gave jointly with EC head von der Leyen, that the strong European support clearly shows the importance that EU gives to the Eastern Partnership.
Over the last decade, our cooperation has flourished, trade between the EU and its six partners has doubled, he stressed specifying that together the EaP states are now the EU's 10th largest trading partner. The EU is the number one trading partner for four of these countries and the second trading partner for the other two.
He outlined that the association agreements with Ukraine, Georgia and Republic of Moldova provide for accelerating the political association and economic integration with the EU and millions of these countries' citizens have benefitted from short-term visa-free travel to the EU.
“The Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement with Armenia is being provisionally applied. Negotiations on a new comprehensive agreement with Azerbaijan are at an advanced stage. And we just concluded visa facilitation and readmission agreements with Belarus, which will enter into force on 1st July.”
Important focus was the preparation of the physical summit that we will organise in Brussels in March 2021. We have identified five priorities, five important topics that we will tackle together in order to be well prepared and in order to adopt next year a joint declaration, EUCO President revealed.
President von der Leyen on her side accented that it is in the EU's strategic interest to have a prosperous eastern neighbourhood and “this is why we are so heavily engaged in helping to build a resilient eastern neighbourhood”. She elaborated further on this aspect saying that it also means economic prosperity, stability and security, even in times of crisis, and that “resilience can only be built if we all respect human rights, democracy and the rule of law”.
She gave more details about the discussion on how to shape and focus the partnership beyond 2020. With the leaders, we have agreed on five priorities for our partnership in the coming years and first of all, we want a partnership focused on the economy that creates decent jobs, better physical connections between our countries, and better opportunities, particularly for young people, she said.
The new Eastern Partnership framework will place a renewed emphasis on progress in good governance, democratic institutions, human rights, gender equality, the rule of law.
Embracing the digital transformation is the third priority, and von der Leyen clarified that the EU will work with its eastern neighbours to modernise technologies, to extend the benefits of the Digital Single Market, and to provide high quality infrastructure and services to people across the region.
On the sustainable aspect, she stressed that it is only natural that the green transition is at the centre also of the new Eastern Partnership framework as it is in the EU.
She also highlighted that the EU's financial assistance to SMEs since 2016 has helped to create or sustain more than 90,000 jobs in the region. Among the examples is Yerevan, where the residents can now benefit from a sustainable metro system and the people from of Tbilisi, thanks to the EU funding, can use environmentally friendly buses.
The EC President recalled as well the immediate reaction of the EU to the coronavirus outbreak with a total of over €2.4bn being made available to the countries in the region. Of this, €900m to support the socio-economic recovery of the region and €80m mobilised to address the most pressing immediate health needs of the partner countries. Of this total amount, nearly €1.5bn in highly favourable loans will be made available to help Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova cover their immediate and urgent financing gaps and strengthen macroeconomic stability, von der Leyen made it clear.