Speech by President Charles Michel at the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Assembly
It is a pleasure to address this Eastern Partnership Civil Society Assembly today.
Your meeting takes place two weeks before our Eastern Partnership summit in Brussels – an opportunity for political leaders and governments to boost reform efforts and advance the recovery and resilience of our societies.
When I say “society” I mean all of you who work in “civil society”.
You – representing hundreds of civil society organizations – will be spending the next few days examining the proposals for our Eastern Partnership’s post-2020 agenda. And your commitment is crucial to making the necessary and expected progress in many critical areas. Political cooperation, economic recovery and, of course, democratic reforms. This must generate tangible benefits for all citizens in all our countries and in our partnership as a whole.
Neighbors are always important. If we want peace, stability and prosperity, we must work with our neighbors. History has taught us this lesson. And our Eastern Partnership has witnessed this simple truth for over 12 years. We have advanced our partnership despite challenges ranging from economic crises to armed conflict and the COVID pandemic. And important progress has been made – improving electoral frameworks, reforming administrations, promoting judicial independence and prosecuting corruption cases.
But as we all know, challenges remain. In facing it, we insist and we persist. Strengthening democracy, fighting corruption, defending the rule of law, guaranteeing media freedom and combating disinformation, this is a difficult fight, but essential and worthy.
It is all our responsibility. And you – civil society – have played and are playing a crucial role. You must keep moving forward and making your voice heard.
Today Belarus is of particular concern, where so many people suffer from oppression and where civil society is under enormous pressure. The EU has stood firm, united in its support for the Belarusian people and their desire for democratic change. We have provided substantial financial support to civil society, journalists, independent media and we impose sanctions on those responsible for falsifying elections, spreading violence and repression.
More recently, the Belarusian regime has also taken steps to instrumentalize the most vulnerable in every society – migrants – under horrific conditions. We are responding firmly. The fifth EU sanctions package is about to be adopted and we are considering further measures. Our message to the Belarusian people is clear: we will not let you down. Our overall economic support for a democratic Belarus – up to three billion euros – is our firm European commitment to support a better future and the democratic choice of the Belarusian people.
The protracted conflicts in the region remain a fundamental challenge. They require renewed efforts in accordance with the principles and standards of international law. The EU stands ready to play its role in helping to prevent and resolve conflicts. This includes building confidence and contributing to sustainable and comprehensive settlements – including support for post-conflict rehabilitation measures.
Relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan show the fragility of the situation. I am totally convinced that only political dialogue can lead to a lasting settlement. It will also require Armenian and Azerbaijani civil society to come together, build bridges and contribute to reconciliation efforts.
In Georgia, we must carry out the identified reforms with consistency and credibility, with respect for fundamental values ââand with the support of credible institutions. If we lose ground in these key areas, we risk losing it elsewhere as well.
Our Eastern Partnership must rise to the unique challenges of our time – especially climate change. And we must tackle these challenges together, including through deeper sectoral and regional cooperation. The EU will support all initiatives aimed at creating more synergies and cooperation between partners – including the three associated partners; Georgia, Republic of Moldova and Ukraine.
This will help address common challenges and pave the way for sustainable growth and political stability, using all existing instruments to support their societies, in pursuing their European aspirations, and fostering coordination between partners and Brussels. . This also includes the respective association programs with the European Union, and this should lead to the sharing of best practices on reforms and on a wider agenda for the future.
Civil society has an essential role to play in holding governments accountable and paving the way for this European future. The proposed new agenda for our post-2020 Eastern Partnership focuses on recovery, resilience and reform. It is based on an ambitious economic and investment plan, mobilizing more than two billion euros to support the post-pandemic recovery.
Our core values, human rights, the rule of law and democratic accountability, gender equality and support for youth will remain the cornerstones of our future partnership. EU support will continue to be conditional on these fundamental principles. And of course I want to thank you, the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum and all of you for your valuable contributions to this renewed agenda.
Civil society is a crucial link between governments and citizens. Civil society – all of you in this room – promotes with deep commitment the rights and aspirations of citizens for our societies, respecting human rights and the rule of law, fighting corruption, eliminating discrimination and celebrating freedom of expression and assembly. These values ââdefine who we are. They are the best investment for a prosperous, just and sustainable future.
The Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum will continue to be an essential partner on this path and I count on your engagement, for the benefit of our citizens and for the benefit of our societies. And I look forward to your recommendations from this House in the run-up to our Summit. Thank you.