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Speech at 20th Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum 2016 

16/06/2016 - 00:00

Speech by President Jean-Claude Juncker at the 20th Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum 2016 (16/06/2016)

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Prime Ministers,
Ladies and gentlemen,

[Introduction: the reasons for President Juncker's visit]

I would like to thank the Forum for its invitation, and to thank also all the people you never see who have organised this event. This year marks your 20th anniversary, and I offer you my congratulations and best wishes for the future.

Over the last two decades, this Forum has become a meeting point for business and politics. This year is no different. You have brought together more than 800 politicians and business leaders from every corner of the globe.

First, I would like to say a few words about why I am here today.

We have those who like the idea I am here and those who do not like the idea that I am here. But I like the idea that I am here.

In the coming weeks, the European Union and its Member States will hold a number of important meetings. We will spend many hours talking about our relations with Russia. I take the view that we must also talk with Russia – its leadership, its people. For some this may be a radical idea, for me it is common sense.

From the start of my life in politics, I have always worked to build bridges and for dialogue. I believe that the peace and prosperity of humankind lie in openness and exchange. They are not declared in a treaty but built by ordinary men and woman in daily life. People who live, work and trade together have little desire for war.

[Interdependence and the need for dialogue]

The programme of this year's Forum tells a story. Migration, climate change, inequality, cybercrime… These are the great challenges of our 21st century. They demand cooperation between all nations who aspire to peace, prosperity and social justice.

This is true not only because we cannot solve these problems alone. It is true because – in the world of 2016 – our economies and our societies are more intertwined than ever before.

The European Union and Russia are no exception. Millions of people communicate and trade each day. Russian citizens receive more Schengen visas than anyone else: over 3 million in 2015. And even in 2015 we exchanged goods and services worth 210 billion euros.

And this is far more than a question of trade. Today, and in spite of our differences, the European Union works with Russia to tackle a number of global issues and regional conflicts, ranging from the fight against terrorism to the nuclear programme in Iran, and the conflict in Syria.

And so, this is our starting point: we are interdependent.

The question is what we want to make of it. We could simply accept it as our fate – the fate of geography. Or – like me – we can see it is a shared responsibility, which calls on us to work together and use our power wisely.

But first we need to have a frank conversation about where we stand today.

The illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol, and the conflict in and around eastern Ukraine put the relations between the European Union and Russia to a severe test. Russia's actions have shaken the very principles of the European security order. Sovereign equality, the non-use of force and territorial integrity matter. They cannot be ignored.

But even before these dramatic events, our ties were strained. The EU's efforts to engage and explain were not always welcomed or accepted.

But if our relationship today is troubled and marked by mistrust, it is not broken beyond repair. We need to mend it, and I believe we can.

I have always believed in the power of dialogue. When our relations are tense, we must keep talking. Even when economic sanctions are in place, we must keep the door open. And if I am here with you today, it is because I want to build a bridge.

I have known President Putin for many years. We talk often, and we talk openly – very openly. If we need to have a frank conversation today, it will not be the first time and probably not the last. We will talk as long as it takes.

[Common vision for the future; how we get there]

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I believe we have a choice to make. It is true that history has often divided our peoples. Even as the twentieth century recedes into the past, its shadow lies across us still. And yet, in spite of our heavy burden, we are free to choose our path into the future.

Our world today is more fragile and uncertain than ever. We have truly entered the age of fragmentation. And in this world, Russia has an opportunity – and also a duty, I would say – to use its power for the greater good, working alongside the European Union and as our partner.

For the European Union and Russia, the prize, one day, could be great: a vast region governed by the rule of law, trading freely and working together on common projects.

Of course, this will not happen overnight, but it is not a utopian vision. It is one which – with good will and ambition on both sides – would serve the best interests of our citizens.

In such a world, we may disagree on many things but we must agree on the rules. We might follow different economic policies but we must live up to our WTO obligations. Our vision of the fair society might not be the same but we must fulfil our international commitments on civil and political rights.

These are the issues we must be able to agree upon for our relationship to flourish. The past 25 years have shown it is not an easy task. At times it seemed impossible, but at other times we made it work.

But our path must begin with Ukraine. The Ukrainian people have decided which kind of future they want for their children, and everyone must respect that.

Russia is party to the Minsk agreements. It has made commitments and put them on paper, as have the other signatories. Therefore, the next step is clear: full implementation of the agreements. No more, no less. This is the only way to begin our conversation, and the only way to lift the economic sanctions that have been imposed.

And let me be clear. On Minsk, the European Union is united. And so is the G7.

A stable and democratic Ukraine that continues its economic transition can only be good for Russia: good for the Russian economy, good for Russian businesses and good for Russian citizens.

But a stable Ukraine, at peace with its neighbours, offers a greater prize still. It offers a vision of how the entire region might develop for the good of all.

Each sovereign nation must be free to choose its relations with its neighbours. If one country wishes to develop closer ties with Russia or the European Union – or both at the same time – this choice must be respected. Such a choice can never be seen as an act of aggression or division.

This vision goes far beyond economic cooperation and trade. Our people must be at the heart of it.

Today, Russian students and youth workers are the biggest participants in our Erasmus Plus programme. Last year, more than 3,000 young people took part in the exchanges between the European Union and Russia. This is good, but we want to do more.
European civil society will continue to work with our Russian partners. We will deepen our cooperation in education, science, research and culture. And I hope that Russia wants to do the same, because a vibrant civil society and a free media are the foundation of a stable democracy.

By bringing our people closer together at all levels, we build trust and a shared understanding that a peaceful and prosperous society can only be built on fundamental freedoms, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

[European Union: a partner and asset for Russia]

Today, the European Union is emerging from a series of crises that have tested our institutions to the limit. We have achieved much. But we still have much work to do. We remain a reliable partner and a committed actor on the world stage.

In the face of the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War, we have restored order and put in place a European response.

In the aftermath of the global economic crisis, our recovery is on track and the euro remains the world's second reserve currency.

In the first quarter of this year, the Eurozone was the fastest growing part of the Western world. Unemployment has fallen to its lowest level in five years. Investment is picking up and public finances are improving.

Today, we are deepening the world's biggest Single Market of 500 million consumers. Our Energy Union will help to deliver secure and affordable energy, equipped with clear rules making our market open and our economy more competitive. We need to be sure that all countries of Central and Eastern Europe have non-discriminatory access to energy supplies. I have a strong preference for pipelines that unite rather than for pipelines that divide.

And with our international partners we have worked hard to secure an international order that is based on rules and cooperation – from climate change to global trade to fair taxation.

In all of these ways, the European Union's project for peace and prosperity is alive and well. I believe Russia should welcome this because a stronger and more effective EU is a strategic asset and a better partner for everyone.


Ladies and gentlemen,

We can have no illusions about the problems weighing on our relationship today. They exist. They are real. It would be pointless, possibly dangerous, to ignore them. We must tackle them urgently so that we can focus instead on a better future for our countries and peoples. That will benefit our neighbourhood.

Together, the European Union and Russia – even with our differences – must share a commitment to the basic human values that underpin a free society. In the end, only these values can bring lasting security here and in the wider world.

This is a journey, Ladies and Gentlemen, that requires an honest conversation about our relationship today. It begins with Minsk, and it begins with the respect for international law. It will be a difficult conversation, I have no doubt, but it is a necessary one.

Thank you for listening.

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