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President of the Republic at the 5th Annual Tallinn Conference on the Eastern Partnership


Welcome to wintery Tallinn just a week after Estonia celebrated its 100th Independence Day. The celebrations here in Estonia will continue all year around but this does not mean that we wouldn't be working this year. Our EU Council Presidency turned a lot of attention to Eastern Partnership. I remember talking to your business community, your civil society and a very lively press conference with many interesting questions in Brussels on the eve of the Eastern Partnership Summit. It is now time to take this momentum forward and continue with these topics. Estonia will continue to support Eastern Partners and to make sure that the bus will not drive away and we will try to help all Eastern Partnership countries to achieve your objectives of state building and economic development. We know ourselves how difficult these kind of reforms can be. And I would also like to congratulate the Estonian Centre of Eastern Partnership on their fifth anniversary and thank them for organizing this conference.

Summits are important political landmarks. They enable us to take stock of what has been achieved and also to set new benchmarks. And sometimes summits can still be counted successful even if they only manage to hold on to the status quo or if only smaller practical steps are being taken. I believe that the last Eastern Partnership Summit in Brussels was of this category. We didn't slide back, we understood that the isn't great enthusiasm or very much understanding on where the Eastern Partnership is going. Yet we managed to get concrete results and concrete small steps. And we managed to have a declaration that satisfied all concerned parties.

Now it is time to move forward. I noticed that as EU is talking about projecting its values beyond its borders, it is again also talking about new areas of cooperation with countries who are close to the EU, but not ready to join yet. As Johannes Hahn, EU Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations has said, "We need to be ambitious, but also realistic and credible".

Since the establishment of the Eastern Partnership within the European Neighbourhood Policy, a lot has been achieved. The programme has not reached its limits or exhausted its potential. We are reaping the first benefits of the Association Agreements. Huge potential exists in energy cooperation, economic development and market opportunities as well as in people-to-people contacts, to name a few. Our partners' political and economic independence and their moving closer to EU can bring more stability also to our borders.

Perceptions of the Eastern Partnership are not universally positive. Some external ones are deep-rooted in the political mind-set. But our partner countries can shape views internally by reaching out to the wider audiences, engaging with the youth, civil society and business communities. Managing expectations by making sure that there is an understanding of what the Eastern Partnership is really all about, is key to its success.

As Estonia is one of the strong supporters and advocates of the Eastern Partnership, one would think automatically that every Estonian knows all about it. It should not come as a surprise that this is actually not the case. Therefore, I am pleased that today's audience is mostly comprised of Estonians ranging from politicians and civil servants to representatives of the business community, civil society and media. I hope that today's panel discussions will prove to be a good opportunity to broaden our own understanding of the Partnership and also open new horizons for the Eastern Partnership countries themselves. It is not something only for Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. Of course, integration in the form of either association or closer partnership is first and foremost beneficial for the countries themselves. They should seize the opportunities offered to build their societies for the benefit of their people. But we must be there to support them building their democratic institutions, market economy and civil society. This is not only about Estonian political presence, but we also need our civil service, civil society, our business community to be there. We know that sometimes the experiences with these countries are not at all easy, but we all learn from these experiences. And I am grateful for our civil service, civil society and business community for being there for the Eastern Partnership countries.

Estonia has supported the reforms of public administrations and offered solutions for e-governments. Our focus has also been on the development of enterprises and civil society as well as professional media and media literacy. Estonian strong support for the Eastern Partnership is well mirrored in our development aid priority countries – almost half of our overall development cooperation and humanitarian funds are dedicated to the Eastern Partnership countries.

Here in Estonia is a unique hub to improve cooperation with the Eastern Partnership countries. We will always continue to remind our partners that there is the Eastern Partnership Centre and the achievements of this centre have already been quite considerable. Be it programs on strengthening the capacity of the Ukrainian Anti-Corruption Bureau NABU, "on spot" training programs for local journalists in the regions of Eastern Ukraine, support to cooperation mechanisms between law enforcement structures and women's shelter to help prevent and combat domestic violence in Georgia or help with effective public administration reform in Armenia – just to name a few.

This Centre makes Estonian expertise, lessons learned and practices available to the Eastern Partnership countries. And I want to specifically thank the governments of US, Sweden, Norway, Belgium and Germany for partnering up with our Centre. This is an excellent example of effective cooperation among our countries. And I encourage our other friends in the EU and beyond to do the same. This will hopefully be an encouraging example for the Eastern Partnership countries to increase multilateral cooperation.

Today there are those partners who have set themselves really high objectives and who hopefully can enjoy full EU membership or join some other kind of framework which will show that they have outgrown from the Eastern Partnership in its current form. We know that the EU has not taken enlargement easily. The 2004 and later enlargements were difficult for the older European countries to digest and therefor the progress and discussion on further enlargement have been quite slow. But I think that if there are democratic countries who accept democratic values as the basis for their state building, who obey the rule of law and believe in free market economies, who really want democracy in the sake of their own people not just because they want to join the club – then the window of opportunity for these countries must be there. We do not now where or when this window will open, but we do know that it will probably be opened for a very short time. It might open in the morning and be closed by lunch time – but if there are in this case countries who have developed past talking just about democracy and rule of law, then they must and will have a chance of joining the European Union.

Thank you!