It is an honour for me to take part in this Conference in the beautiful city of Batumi, where we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Eastern Partnership.
This year also marks a milestone for other key events in European history, which give our discussion a broader perspective. In 2019, we are celebrating the 15th anniversary of the enlargement that changed the course of history for countries like my own, Poland. And this year also marks the 30th anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet domination in Central and Eastern Europe that started inter alia with the demonstrations in Tbilisi in April 1989, the first partially free elections in Poland in June, and culminated with the fall of the Berlin Wall in November.
This is where one reflection comes to mind. You remember when the Russian President said in 2005: “we should acknowledge that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” Today in Georgia I want to say loud and clear: the collapse of the Soviet Union was a blessing to Georgians, Poles, Ukrainians as well as to the whole of Central and Eastern Europe. And I’m convinced that also to Russians.
It is a highly symbolic time to discuss how far we have travelled together over this past decade - and how to take our common journey forward.
When looking at the Eastern Partnership's first ten years, it is evident that thanks to it and through it, our relations have become deeper, more structured and more predictable. We have concluded Association Agreements with Ukraine, Georgia and the Republic of Moldova, a Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement with Armenia, a new framework agreement close to completion with Azerbaijan, and a more transparent engagement with Belarus.
All this has opened a wide range of new opportunities. Together we have worked to reinforce our economic ties. We have promoted investment and trade. Our cooperation has enhanced transport links and infrastructure, strengthened energy security and efficiency. We are now harmonising our digital markets. We have promoted education - by 2020 we aim for more than 80,000 youth exchanges. Visa liberalisation for Ukraine, Georgia and the Republic of Moldova has seen millions of visa free trips, which has a major impact on the lives of our citizens.
Most importantly though, this partnership has allowed for contacts between our people to grow and deepen. As a Pole, I have always been fascinated by the richness of cultures of your nations. I was never in doubt that you are part of the great European civilisation. Today, also thanks to the Eastern Partnership, this obvious truth is being discovered by Europeans from the Western part of our continent.
Here I would like to recall one of the great Georgian classics, Vazha Pshavela:
'Some people think that true patriotism excludes cosmopolitanism. This is a mistake. Every true patriot is cosmopolitan and every genuine cosmopolitan is a patriot. Cosmopolitans serve their country and seek to uplift it intellectually, materially, and morally.'
His visionary words, now over a century old, resonate as a warning against an isolationism that is on the rise in Europe and globally today. I believe that - by bringing us so much closer together, also as people, and by promoting understanding - the Eastern Partnership has helped counter these negative tendencies.
But we cannot forget that the Eastern Partnership has also evolved against the background of a difficult political context, both in the European Union and in the region, with serious security concerns in most of our Partner countries. Georgia must be mentioned here as one of the countries painfully affected by serious security challenges. And even if the Eastern Partnership was not designed as a conflict resolution mechanism, it is a community of values and principles and as such, it has strived to support stability in the region and to support your countries' ability to withstand pressures.
The Eastern Partnership was created, and has always been, an initiative of peace, not aimed against anyone, with an objective to establish ever-more prosperous societies, with good governance, a strong rule of law and efficient justice.
There are many questions about the Eastern Partnership's future. And your future EU membership is not the only one. But let us not hide the fact that this question remains currently on the agenda. There are many in Europe who have doubts about further enlargement. I don’t have any doubts. As was the case for the European Union itself more than sixty years ago, such processes do not happen all at once, or according to a single plan. They are made through concrete achievements, which first create a "de facto solidarity" – in the words of our founding fathers.
However, one thing is clear: we will remain an inclusive initiative to strengthen the relations between the European Union and all six Partners, while providing a differentiated approach to each Partner, according to their own aspirations and possibilities. We will continue developing opportunities to – and I quote - "accelerate political association and further economic integration between the EU and interested partners", which was the original goal stated in the Prague Summit declaration, still valid today.
Following the 10th anniversary high-level Conference, which took place in May, the EU is launching a structured consultation process on the future of the Eastern Partnership. We count on the active involvement and on contributions from the EU Member States and Eastern Partners, but also on civil society and business communities. We need to jointly reflect on how to make the best out of the opportunities that the Eastern Partnership provides.
For now, let us focus on what the Eastern Partnership has proven that it can do best: improving the daily lives of our citizens.
Allow me now to say a few words from the bottom of my heart. As President of the European Council and as a Pole. For me, Georgia is not only an important partner of the EU. When I say Georgia, I mean “freedom”, when I say Georgia , I mean “ pride”, when I say Georgia, I mean “courage”. You are a small country, but a great nation. You have achieved impossible things, because you were, despite all the differences, united around a common goal, that was a free, independent and modern state.
You have astonished Europe and the whole world. I call on you with an earnest appeal: don’t let yourselves become divided. Only when united, will you endure. Like the whole of Europe.
Long live an independent and free Georgia!