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Let me start by saying how glad I am that we celebrate this anniversary and how grateful I am to our friends from all the six Eastern Partnership for having done this journey together in these last ten years.
I also want to pay tribute to Radosław Sikorski [former Minister for Foreign Affairs of Poland] and Carl Bildt [former Prime Minister of Sweden], and through them, to Poland and Sweden, for having had this visionary and important idea ten years ago.
Yesterday we have been able to celebrate these ten years in the Council with our annual ministerial meeting between the Ministers of the European Union Member States and the six Foreign Ministers from the Eastern partners, and later in the evening, at the dinner with the President [of the European Council, Donald Tusk]. My thanks go also to all of them.
When we started our mandates almost five years ago, I remember very well that the Eastern Partnership was probably one of the most contentious policies we had in place. We were, with some of you in this room, starting with Linas [Linkevičius, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania], together in the Council, and the idea of having a policy that could have been seen or interpreted as a geopolitical instrument or as a work on sphere of influences risked to be prevailing from time to time.
I think that in these five years together, across the institutions, and with our Eastern partners, each of them, we managed to show that this has nothing to do with geopolitics or spheres of influence. This is not the way in which the European Union thinks and works. Because as the Minister [Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia] just said, it is all about people and a cooperative approach.
In these last four years and a half, I think that we have managed to advance reforms, living conditions, opening, even dialogue and cooperation among the partners in the region, to an unprecedented level in a very concrete manner; with each of them in a very differentiated and respectful manner, hearing and listening to the aspirations – especially of the younger generations of these countries, that are young Europeans that do not have to come to Europe, they are already in Europe.
I think we managed, through a good team work, with Commissioner [for the European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes] Hahn, with Commissioner [for Trade, Cecilia] Malmström, with others, to make it clear that this is all about delivering on our people's aspirations, that this is not against anyone and that cannot be played against anyone.
I think that today, this is crystal clear.
If you look at the results today, if you look at the number of trade exchanges, if you look at the number of Erasmus students, if you look at the visa liberalisation, if you look at the number of meetings, exchanges, coordination and telephone calls indeed – this is good because we use each other's numbers to coordinate policies and positions, and to exchange information in a timely manner.
This is what it is about: delivering on people's aspirations. I think we managed to bring this big visionary idea to concrete results that are not controversial for anyone but that are good for all.
Now turning from the thoughts on the past to the vision for the future, I think that this is really what is needed also for the future: to keep the focus on needs, aspirations, dreams and hopes – dreams and hopes are not bad words, I think we can still use them, including in Europe, including in the old continent – of a population, especially in the East of our continent, that has high expectations, including on honesty in the public life, including on transparency, including on civic participation, and that sees in the partnership with the European Union instruments to advance societies, lives, rights and opportunities.
The key compass that will be important to keep in mind and follow - and I will finish on that and let you continue with this important exchange that I think will inform and inspire the next years of partnership - is the direct participation and involvement of civil society and young people in more specific terms. I have had the pleasure within these years – and in the EEAS [European External Action Service], we have worked a lot on that - to involve the younger generations.
I also want to thank our Heads of Delegations in the six countries as well as the ambassadors of the six countries in Brussels, for the good work we have done with young people – not for but with young people – in our respective countries, bringing people together as you were saying, making them feel normal to be together. I think that this is the most exciting thing we have done in these years, and I am proud for having been able to do this with all of you.
Thank you for an inspiring work we have done together. I know that when we started four years and a half ago, some might have had some doubts about my dedication to the Eastern Partnership. I hope that in these four years and a half of common work, these doubts have evaporated completely. I never had any doubt about my passion, willingness and dedication to working so closely together with each of you.
I can only wish that the next ten years can be as successful as the last at least five years, also in delivering to our people.
Thank you for a wonderful experience we have done together.