In this challenging time, marked by the coronavirus outbreak, we can see how important solidarity and international cooperation in strengthening our common resilience is.
Over the last decade, the Eastern Partnership has brought concrete benefits for people in Ukraine and across the European Union’s eastern neighborhood. The implementation of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, including its Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA), has brought Ukraine and the EU closer together. The EU-Ukraine bilateral trade has grown by 49% since its application.
Since the entry into force of the visa-free travel for Ukrainian citizens with biometric passports, Ukrainians have made almost 3 million visa-free visits to the EU. Moreover, Ukraine is one of the largest beneficiaries of the Erasmus+ program in the Eastern Partnership region, with more than 9,000 Ukrainian and nearly 4,000 European students and academic staff benefitting from Erasmus academic exchange opportunities.
Since 2014, the EU and financial institutions have mobilized more than €15 billion in grants and loans to support the reform process in Ukraine. Moreover, structures like Support Group for Ukraine, EU Advisory Mission to Ukraine and EEAS East StratCom Task Force have been put in place, bringing together expertise from across the European Union to tackle the country’s key challenges.
To ensure our partnership continues to deliver in the fast changing world of today, we need to do even more and better. To shape our priorities, we consulted last year with people, businesses, organizations, and governments of 33 countries from across our shared region [EU countries plus Eastern Partnership countries – Ed]. While there was an appreciation for the results achieved, there was also a clear expectation that we enhance our cooperation when it comes to jobs and prosperity, investments, connectivity, good governance and common challenges such as climate change and the digital transformation.
And now we presented our response to these consultations with long-term objectives for our policy beyond 2020. Our continued engagement with the Eastern Partnership countries remains a key priority for the European Union. Our proposals for the future are ambitious yet achievable. They build on existing cooperation but also identify areas where we need to go further. They are built on fundamental values as the heart of the EU project, such as the rule of law, protection of human rights and fight against corruption.
Concretely, we are proposing to our partners to work together on the following objectives:
- Together for resilient, sustainable and integrated economies: Strengthening the economy is key to meeting citizens’ expectations and reducing inequality and for making our partnership a success. We will focus on job creation and economic opportunities, through increased trade, investments, stronger connectivity, in particular in transport and energy, and linking education, research and innovation better with private sector needs.
- Together for accountable institutions, the rule of law and security: Good governance and democratic institutions, the rule of law, successful anti-corruption policies and security are essential for sustainable development and the consolidation of democracy. They are the backbone of resilient states and societies as well as strong economies.
- Together for environmental and climate resilience: To protect our world for generations to come, we all need to take responsibility. The EU will work with its partners to improve the resource-efficiency of economies, develop new green jobs and promote local and renewable sources of energy.
- Together for a resilient digital transformation: The EU will further invest in the digital transformation of our partners, aiming to extend the benefits of the Digital Single Market to partner countries. Our joint work will also focus on strengthening e-Governance, scaling up digital start-ups and supporting the cyber resilience of partner countries.
- Together for resilient, fair and inclusive societies: Free and fair elections together with transparent, citizen-centered and accountable public administrations are essential for democracy. The EU will continue to focus on these key areas, engaging with civil society, which needs to be given sufficient space, and supporting free, plural and independent media and human rights, as well as ensuring mobility and people-to-people contacts, all particularly important also due to growing disinformation against EU values.
Over the past decade, trade between the EU and its eastern partners has nearly doubled. Over 125,000 small and medium-sized businesses have directly benefitted from EU funding, creating or sustaining more than 250,000 jobs.
We are better connected thanks to improved transport links and easier access to high capacity broadband. And according to recent surveys, the EU is the most trusted international institution among Eastern Partnership citizens.
We will keep this results-oriented approach and look to do much more together in the face of today’s challenges, including when it comes to crises such as COVID-19 pandemic.
And through this, we will build an even more ambitious Eastern Partnership that delivers for all and continues to bring our shared continent closer together.
Josep Borrell is the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy;
Olivér Várhelyi is Commissioner of the European Union for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Policy.