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Thank you, Prime Minister [of Ukraine, Volodymyr Groysman], it is a pleasure first of all to meet you again. Indeed, we meet very often and regularly, and it is always a pleasure to exchange views with you, especially on our common work on the reform path for Ukraine and the Ukrainians.
It is my fifth time in Kyiv - I think the third as High Representative - and it is always a pleasure to be back, even if we always take opportunities to meet in Brussels or elsewhere. But it is the first time I visit here since our Association Agreement and the visa-free travel to Europe for Ukrainian citizens entered into force last year. We worked very hard together to achieve these two successes and I think the main message today for us is that we build on these successes, we consolidate results, and we continue to work together as closely as possible, to further strengthen the European Union-Ukraine relationship.
I also bring a message of continued support from the European Union side, both on the territorial integrity and the sovereignty of the country – I will come back to this in a moment - and on the reform process that the Ukrainian citizens want to see and expect from the government, and on which you have personally done so much and continue to do so much. I would like to express my support, my recognition, my admiration for your determination in moving forward the reform agenda in this country.
We have seen a lot of reform progress in very important and necessary sectors. Today, we looked at how these reforms are advancing like we did at the Association Council we jointly chaired in December in Brussels, and that was an extremely positive Council. Many reforms like decentralisation, health care or pensions touch directly the lives of Ukrainian citizens and I would like to commend your personal commitment again, Mr Prime Minister, and the work your government is doing under your leadership in taking them forward.
We are there to support you step by step and we will continue to be at your side in the most consistent way we can. The European Union is Ukraine's partner and strongest supporter in striving to build a stable, prosperous democracy and economy. I would like to stress this point, because I know this is essential for the everyday life of Ukrainian citizens. Just last Friday, following a request from the Ukrainian authorities, the European Commission proposed a new European Union macro-financial assistance program for up to €1 billion in loans, and this will support economic stabilisation, as well as structural reforms in Ukraine.
It is not just a friendship in words, but it is also a friendship in concrete terms. In particular, we - and I believe the Ukrainian citizens, and especially the young people in Ukraine; I have met and seen so many of them in recent years - expect and want to see more consolidated progress in the fight against corruption. And I know this is also a personal commitment from your side. The anti-corruption institutions - as we discussed and as we agreed - must be allowed to do their work independently, with enough powers and resources to investigate, prosecute and eventually ensure the conviction of those responsible for corruption. As we discussed and as we agreed with the Prime Minister, we are seeing things really in an identical manner in this respect.
In short, on anti-corruption, we agreed with the Prime Minister and I had no doubt about that, that the importance of establishing an independent anti-corruption court, fully in line with the recommendations of the Venice Commission, would also help the business environment and the investment climate. And this would also help - together with continued progress on privatisation, energy and land reform - to unlock the Ukrainian economic potential that is so vital also for the priorities of your government. And we also expect civil society to continue playing its essential role in all these anti-corruption reforms.
On this, but also on other things, in particular on the benefits of our Association Agreements and our partnership, I am particularly proud to be launching today a communication campaign called "Moving Forward Together", to inform Ukrainians about all the opportunities and benefits of the EU-Ukraine cooperation in all different fields.
Apart from reforms, we obviously also discussed at length with the Prime Minister the situation in the East of Ukraine. The European Union continues to support the full implementation of the Minsk agreement. In our talks with the Prime Minister, we have underlined Russia's responsibility in this. As you know, the European Union sanctions on Russia are directly linked to the full implementation of the Minsk agreement. We are ready, as the European Union, to do more, including for instance on reconstruction, but first and most of all to move forward on the full implementation of the Minsk agreement.
Two weeks ago we announced another €24 million in humanitarian aid for people affected by the conflict in eastern Ukraine and this brings our humanitarian aid to a total of almost €700 million since 2014. And we have also recently launched new contracts for Non-Governmental Organisations to protect civilians and support youth in conflict areas. So our determination stays, as well as on the non-recognition policy of the illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol, where we call for respect of human rights of all Ukrainian citizens in the Peninsula.
I finish with one additional sentence to say that we discussed with the Prime Minister, as he mentioned, the recent decision by Gazprom to suspend already prepaid gas supplies to Ukraine. And we agree that Gazprom must respect its contractual obligations. The European Commission is having intense talks in these days through [European Commission] Vice-President [Maroš] Šefčovič [in charge of the Energy Union] to try to facilitate a positive solution to this.
So let me say a big thank you and a big message of encouragement, support and optimism both on the track of the reforms, but also on the work we need to do together to restore territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine.
Link to the video: http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I152412
There will be a meeting of the leaders of Turkey and the EU in Varna, Bulgaria on 25 March. What kind of expectations do you have concerning that meeting?
Today we talk about Ukraine. And let me say this is extremely important. Not only that we talk about Ukraine, but that we work together. And I would like to take this opportunity to thank, once again, the Prime Minister [of Ukraine, Volodymyr Groysman] for his leadership and his determination. And he knows that he has our full support, in particular to push on the economic agenda. And I know that he knows how essential the work on anti-corruption is, also to move forward for the investments and the business presence here. I have seen the results of his work in these months, we have all seen it. The European Union will continue to be at your side to move forward in this direction.
Link to the video: http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I152413