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It is not a question of choosing between East and West

Anförande i Kiev, Ukraina

This is my fifth visit to Ukraine in less than a year.

I have been here for meetings with former President Yanukovich.

I have come to speak with the political opposition that has now assumed the responsibility of government.

And I have visited Maidan, first to feel the power of the protests and later to pay my respects to all those young men and women who gave their lives for what they believed was a better Ukraine.

Most of these visits have naturally taken me to Kyiv.

But I have also travelled to Donetsk and Crimea. And from here I will continue to Odessa and Kherson tomorrow.

During these trips, I have seen the difficulties with which this country is struggling.

But I have also seen some of the strengths: the diversity, the talent and the potential of Ukraine. It is a potential that has been missed by misgovernment. Ukraine is the most misgoverned country in the post-Soviet space.

And what I want to speak about today is the Eastern Partnership: the offer that the European Union has put on the table to help Ukraine cherish that diversity, profit from that talent and guide that potential towards creating the kind of country that I believe most Ukrainians want to have for themselves and for their children.

The Eastern Partnership was proposed by me and my Polish colleague Radek Sikorski in 2008 and it was intended for the new neighbours of an enlarged EU: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and, of course, Ukraine. Six countries in the eastern part of the European continent that gained independence with the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. And six countries that - with varying degrees of determination and ambition - sought closer cooperation with the European Union.

Not that we had been neglecting Ukraine. Rather that our priority had been relations with Russia.

When we suggested this idea to our European colleagues, none of us believed that a closer partnership between the EU and these six countries would immediately change the world.

That would have been naive indeed.

But what we did believe was that a more ambitious framework for European integration and European reforms could assist those of our eastern neighbours who genuinely wanted to move forward in the direction of democracy, prosperity and the rule of law.

We knew from experience what a similar framework had meant for the Baltic States and Poland when they, together with other countries, prepared to join the European Union in 2004.

We had seen how it had helped Balkan countries to, not without difficulties, gradually overcome conflict and the bitter legacies of war.

And we were in no doubt that these developments were beneficial not only to the countries concerned, but also to us, the existing members of the European Union.

It was against this background that, five years ago, the Eastern Partnership was finally launched at a summit in Prague, where the EU agreed with the six Eastern European partner countries to promote a process of ever closer relations, based on shared interests and a community of values.


Since then, some of our partner countries have made progress.

Ukraine was the frontrunner, but Georgia and, even more so, Moldova are catching up, and perhaps even moving ahead.

Other partners are standing still, or falling behind.

And the continued absence of any form of democracy in Belarus is of course disappointing in this respect. A mixed record is, however, no reason to give up.

It is rather a call to all of us who believe in the vision of the Eastern Partnership to try harder.

And over the five years that have passed since the Prague Summit, we have jointly developed our relations further.

We have engaged in cooperation in a wide range of areas, bilaterally as well as through regional projects. We have, from the EU side, increased our assistance.

And together, we are removing, obstacle by obstacle, the remaining barriers between us.

Through the adoption of new legislation, through complex bureaucratic processes and through the unification of regulations and standards, we are gradually putting in place the conditions for free travel and free trade.

I warmly welcome the fact that a first Eastern Partnership country - Moldova - has reached the point where its citizens, from next month, will be able to cross the EU border without a visa; and I am convinced that there will be a moment when all Ukrainians, and then the citizens of the other partnership countries, will be able to do the same.

In the same way I look forward to the signing, this summer, of complete Association and Deep Free Trade Agreements between the EU and Eastern Partnership frontrunners Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia.

These agreements are of unprecedented scope and breadth.

They are the most ambitious agreements ever negotiated between the EU and non-candidate countries.

And they will intensify cooperation and serve to progressively integrate the partner countries into the EU internal market, the largest integrated market in the world with 500 million consumers and a fifth of the global Gross Domestic Product. Of the ten most innovative and competitive countries, six are within the Union.

The potential is huge.

Ukrainian exporters, especially in the agricultural field, will save some EUR 500 million annually thanks to reduced EU import duties alone.

And beyond that, all serious studies show that these agreements will have a strong positive impact on the economies of our partner countries.

One such study suggests an overall increase in the Ukrainian economy of 5 per cent. Another study estimates the boost will reach almost 12 per cent.

And all the economists involved agree that, over time, such an agreement with the EU will become a very powerful engine for modernisation and growth, especially if combined with the necessary reforms.

For those who like comparisons, it should be enough to juxtapose Ukraine and Latvia. At the time of the fall of the Soviet Union, Ukraine was richer than Latvia.

During the 20 years following independence, Ukraine, which did not seriously seek European integration, saw its overall GDP per capita increase by 40 per cent. Latvia, which vigorously pursued European reforms, saw its GDP increase almost 8 times quicker, by 340 per cent.

There you see the difference between integration and non-integration, between reforms and non-reforms.

Just imagine where Ukraine would be today if it had followed the Latvian course of European reforms and European integration.

Just think how strange it was when the previous Ukrainian administration suddenly began to claim that the Free Trade Agreement with the EU was too expensive to be signed at the Vilnius Summit of the Eastern Partnership.

And just reflect for a minute on where Ukraine can be in the future. XXX

Since a year or more back, the Eastern Partnership has run into challenges.

Not from the inside, although you have had a vigorous debate, as you should have.

No, what is new is the massive external pressure directed against closer cooperation between the EU and the countries of Eastern Europe.

The Russian Federation seems intent on using all instruments at its disposal to persuade our partners to abandon their European path.

We have seen Armenia reverse course. After having successfully negotiated an Association Agreement and a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area with the EU for three years, the Armenian President was suddenly summoned to Moscow and forced to announce his country's intention to join the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

We have seen the threats directed against Moldova.

And we have seen what has been applied to this country - first to make the previous administration drop the EU agreement in favour of opaque dealings with Russia, and now to wreck every effort by the new government to move Ukraine in the direction it has democratically decided to take.

Let us go back one year in time, and envisage what would have happened had Russia not taken these measures. Then the agreement would have been signed. Ukraine would have been on a better economic course, with more relaxed circumstances.

There would have been an agreement with the International Monetary Fund. You would have been heading for normal presidential elections that would have been held somewhat later than now.

There would have been potential for economic progress for Ukraine over time, which would also have been in the interest of the economy in the Russian Federation.

Russia also has an interest in the stability and prosperity of Ukraine. But every single step has then been taken in order to destabilise and block the way to achieving other ends.

From the EU side, we have made it clear that we support the territorial integrity of Ukraine. And we have begun to impose political and other measures on the Russian Federation that, if necessary, will be stepped up over time.

What Russia has done is totally unacceptable from the point of view of European security and global stability.

Because if we allow countries, whether bigger or smaller, to conduct a policy of smash and grab, what would happen to the possibility of stability in Europe or security in the world?

If one country can do it in one place, another can do it in another place, and other countries can do it in still other places. And then we are not in a world of global equality, we risk being in a world of global chaos.

What is at stake in Crimea is of course Crimea itself. But also fundamental principles of European security and global stability. Those principles are also fundamental to what we want to achieve with the European Union. Therefore we will also stand very firm on these particular issues.

They claim that one should not force Ukraine to choose between east and west. I agree. One should not. Our offer within the Eastern Partnership should not be to the detriment of anyone's relations with Russia. On the contrary: we encourage our friends to have good relations also with Moscow, and the Free Trade Agreements that we have negotiated are fully compatible with the Free Trade Agreements that our partner countries already have with Russia through the Commonwealth of Independent States.

The notion that the EU is forcing Ukraine to choose between Brussels and Moscow is false.

And equally false is the claim that a Ukrainian Free Trade Agreement with the EU would in itself have negative repercussions for Russia or for Russian relations with Ukraine. A prosperous Ukraine is good for that whole of Europe, and that goes for Russia as well.


There is no doubt that Ukraine is a country facing enormous challenges.

Its economy has been ruined by years of mismanagement and graft. The depth of the problem is perhaps best illustrated by Transparency International's latest corruption perception index, in which Ukraine has plummeted towards the bottom and is now listed as number 144 out of 177 countries.

It is not a question of choosing between East and West. It is more between 'up' and 'down'. Between models of society. And between either engaging genuinely on European reforms and European integration, and continuing with business as usual and falling even further behind.

One of the most bizarre arguments from the Russian side regarding the free trade agreement with the European economy is the argument that the Ukrainians are incapable of producing things that are competitive on the European market, that they can only produce inferior products. That is an extremely paternalistic attitude, which wants to relegate Ukraine to a supplier of second-rate products to the Russian market.

Of course Ukraine could have a competitive economy. Even Russia could have a competitive economy outside the oil and gas sector if they reform. Clearly Ukraine has potential in a large number of fields of economy. We are convinced that Ukraine can have an economy that is competitive. As a matter of fact, when we discuss this within the European Union there are countries that say free trade with Ukraine is a good idea in principle but would expose us to competition, and accordingly these countries are holding back.

I will not dwell too much on the tasks that are ahead of you. Because there are many. It is crucial that a presidential election is held on May 25. That there is political stability in a democratic environment, where by necessity people have different choices.

It is also important that you understand the magnitude of the economic task that is there. Because it is a bankrupt economy that has been created by not only years of corruption but also by decades of neglect. The immediate years ahead will be a difficult period. It will be as difficult a period as Poland had for a number of years in the 1990s. It will be as difficult a period as Latvia had when it lost a quarter of its GDP after the crisis in 2008.

But you should look at their example. Then you will see that when you make certain that the rule of law applies, when you open up society, when you secure democracy - then you see not only economic growth returning with employment opportunities, you see the world investing in your future but also in the stability of your democratic environment in the years to come.

I am a firm believer that the task of our generation is to build a Europe that is whole and free, and democratic

and dynamic. That can never be done if we go back to the policies of past centuries. The policies of sending armies around across borders, of annexing territories, of acting with aggression against each other, of moving borders.

This Europe can only be built by a policy of integration. Instead of moving the borders, we should remove the borders between nations and economies. When we move forward together according to the principles of democracy, rule of law, open societies and European values - then we can all prosper together. Be it Sweden, be it Ukraine, and be it in time also the Russian Federation.

Thank you very much.

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