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Eastern Partnership: stability, management efficiency & economic growth

Today Catherine Bearder MEP gave a speech to the Oxford Summit of Leaders on business links between the EU and the Eastern Partnership.

Here is the full text of Catherine's speech:

"First of all I would like to welcome you all to Oxford, My name is Catherine Bearder and I am a member of the European Parliament for the South East region which includes Oxford. It has over 8 million citizens, over 330,000 businesses and is larger than 10 of the member states."

"And what's more I am lucky enough to live in this glorious city. It is a wonderful place and I hope you have managed to find a little time in your busy schedule to explore and see what centuries of learning can do for the built environment. This is the sort of place that results when you REALLY value education!"

"I want to explore today Why we need an Eastern Partnership Agreement, Where we are so far and what still needs to be done."

"As a member of both the Regional Development Committee in the European Parliament, and also the Committee on International Trade, I am delighted to have been invited to come and speak to you this morning on a topic which incorporates themes from both my Committees and which I feel is vitally important to Europe."

"In fact my interest in the Eastern Partnership lies even closer to home for me, as my son Ian is currently the Press and Communications Officer (?) of the European Business Association in the Ukraine. Through him, and the many stories he relates to me of the struggles experienced by both European businesses seeking to establish in the Ukraine and Ukrainian companies attempting to forge a commercial relationship with their European neighbours, I hear first hand of some of the challenges to be met before we can forge a viable, mutually beneficial and successful business relationship with our Eastern Partners."

"The Eastern Partnership is a unique project with the potential to benefit citizens and businesses in both the EU and the 6 partner countries in a myriad of ways."

"The Prague declaration, which brought the Eastern Partnership into existence, has as its stated aim "the creation of the necessary conditions to accelerate political association and further economic integration" between the two sides."

"It is, however, a project which is still in its infancy. It is a project with grand ideals and much potential, but which has yet to truly prove itself."

"Why do we need it?"

"Let's first look at what the Eastern Partnership can achieve for the EU and businesses alike. I would argue that by its very instigation, the EP has already had a positive effect for business. By signing the Prague declaration in May 2010 European and Eastern leaders signalled to the wider business community their willingness to work together to achieve a better, more secure and predictable commercial climate in which to do business. The launching of this flagship European Initiative is a guarantee to businesses either side of the EU border that the future now promises increased stability, better governance, accelerated economic development and a strengthening of trade relations for the countries concerned."

"The last five years have recorded a steady increase in European trade with both the enlargement and the neighbourhood countries. However although EU trade with its European Neighbours grew progressively between 2004 and 2008, a period which saw EU exports rising by 63 % and imports by 31 %, it was clear that neither the EU, nor its neighbours, were benefiting and growing, both politically and economically, to the maximum of their potential."

"From a European perspective, it was clear that a number of the countries within the European Neighbourhood region showed a largely untapped potential for growth, and a market into which EU business could expand. To address this problem, the Eastern Partnership presents itself as an exceptional tool to help these countries develop into reliable trading partners for the EU countries, to the benefit of business on both sides. In addition to the creation of new, more stable and predictable markets into which to export EU goods, the Eastern Partnership will benefit European Businesses by increasing energy security across the Union, this will be of particular benefit to a number of European Countries who have previously been very vulnerable to fluctuations and disruptions in their energy supply."

"The Eastern Partnership opens a clear path to further extend the reach of European Single Market rules, for example through deeper and more comprehensive free trade agreements, which will again benefit not only European but Ukrainian, Belorussian, Belorussian, Georgian, Armenian, and Azerbaijani businesses too!"

"From the point of view of the 6 EP countries, the Partnership provides a reliable contractual framework with the European Union in which to anchor the economic and political reforms which they are striving to introduce. It represents a real opportunity for the Neighbourhood countries, orientating them towards the goals of free trade and visa-free travel to Europe in their efforts to modernise, democratise, and increase transparency and the rule of law within their political systems. In exchange for commitments to democracy and sound human rights policies, Eastern Partnership countries will be the beneficiaries of millions of euros of economic aid, technical expertise and security consultations."

"The further partners can go with their political and economic reform, the further the EU will respond through enhanced political cooperation and further economic integration."

"The European Union is prepared to offer the partner countries new contractual arrangements through the negotiation of Association Agreements, deep and comprehensive free trade agreements when the conditions are right, and steps towards the long-term goal of visa free regime."

"Where are we now?"

"Allow me to evaluate the relationship between the EU and the 6 countries concerned separately. When it comes to Ukraine, the Eastern front runner front runner, the two main challenges are political stability and economic recovery."

"As regards their economic situation, the new administration must implement a raft of reforms. First and foremost, the country must get back on track with the IMF programme."

"At the same time, the EU must offer concrete and tangible support to Ukraine in its reform efforts, for example by providing macro-financial assistance and targeted financial and technical cooperation. The first stage of our engagement has been very fruitful and evoked positive responses on both sides. Ukraine is currently in the process of negotiating an association agreement with the EU and both sides are aiming towards the conclusion of these talks by the end of this year."

"Research from the European Commission shows that a deep and comprehensive trade agreement with the country will bring substantial economic gains to both Ukraine and the EU, and I look forward, through my work on the Trade Committee, to helping to steer a fair, balanced and mutually beneficial Free Trade Agreement with the Ukraine through the Parliament during the course of my mandate."

"As you will, no doubt, be aware, negotiations on an Association Agreement with Moldova were launched in mid-January 2010. At the same time, the current trade regime based on the Autonomous Trade Preferences offers great potential for businesses on both sides of the EU border - though few would deny that things could be improved."

"As regards Belarus, the Commission is negotiating an interim agreement, a sort of pre-association accord, which we would hope to make progress on over the coming year. How far the relationship of Belarus with the EU develops will depend on its readiness to embark on fundamental democratic and economic reforms."

"When it comes to Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, draft negotiating directives for Association Agreements are currently being discussed in the Council."

"So where to from here?"

"Thanks to the joint commitment and efforts of all partners, the Eastern Partnership has had an excellent start. Within a very short time we have achieved significant steps towards strengthening and deepening our relations, bilaterally and multilaterally. The new vision offered by the Eastern Partnership has been taken up and turned into concrete programmes for our joint endeavour."

"Yet as my opening example displays, there is still much progress to be made."

"This month (March 2010) will see the opening of the European Union/Eastern Partnership Parliamentary Assembly comprising of 120 government deputies from across the Union and Neighbourhood countries. The Assembly, which will meet annually, is intended to become a political mechanism of cooperation between the European Union and its six eastern neighbours."

"To maintain momentum, in between these meetings, four "thematic platforms" will be set up, within which "senior officials" will meet at least twice a year. The Prague declaration identified 4 platforms upon which the EP would focus, these were; Democracy, good governance and stability; Economic integration and convergence with EU sectoral policies; Energy security; and Contacts between people." These platforms aim to encourage a habit of open, multilateral debate between the EU and its six partners -- who, it is hoped, will use the forum to air their private grievances."

"My own committee, the Committee on Regional Development, also believes that the Eastern Partnership should become a project for dialogue between citizens and a platform for co-operation between the EU and its neighbours, bringing together local and regional authorities in a form of practical approach based on solidarity and on the citizens' needs. The recent work of the MEPs in regulating the Visa requirements is a first step in this and as the example of my son and his girlfriend illustrate, there is much progress yet to be made."

"The Committee of the Region's Eastern Partnership forum also provides an opportunity to share experiences and encourage local projects among members of the Eastern Partnership countries, businesses and nongovernmental organisations, associations and EU institutions as well as national, regional and local authorities."

"In order to make the Eastern Partnership a success, involvement of businesses of both the EU and the partner countries is essential. Business organisations in the EU can be helpful in capacity building in these 6 countries by using their experience to promote independent business cooperation in the Eastern Partnership countries."

"In addition, the improvement of the business climate is one of the key issues of the Eastern Partnership process, and there EU business organisations can also make an important contribution. A strengthened dialogue with the Eastern Partnership countries is also an opportunity for businesses in the UK to grow and expand into these countries. Open markets and economic integration are central to this project since they are essential for the modernisation of the partner countries' economies in line with international and EU standards. At the same time however, EU companies will also be able to take advantage of improved access to the markets of the partner countries. Market liberalisation will increase their export potential and their options for future investments."

"Also the role of MEPs in monitoring the progress of how the EU stands behind the agreements is vital. MEPs are the eyes and ears and the watchers of agreements and will need to be vigilant to ensure that the agreement works."

"Thank you for your attention and I hope you agree that in order to create prosperity at home, we need to engage with our neighbours to help create prosperity and stability as well. The Eastern Partnership represents a win-win opportunity: increased stability and prosperity for both the EU and the partner countries; and of course increased business opportunities for companies."

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