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Kyiv, 12 March 2018
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Thank you very much, Rector. I am really honoured, pleased to be here. I would like to apologise for being so late. We had excellent and very long meetings both with the Prime Minister [of Ukraine Volodymyr Groysman] and the President [of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko] and that took a little bit more of time than foreseen. I am also very grateful for the very kind words of introduction, I should come more often and hear how deeply this friendship and this partnership is felt from all of you.
Thank you for having me here because indeed, for me, it is the most important part of my visit. I have met the President, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister [of Ukraine, ] and I will have further meetings with other Ministers, this is of course extremely important, but I have the opportunity to meet with them very often, regularly - I would say almost every month. But meeting with young people like you is in a way more important for me, because it is not rhetoric, this country is in your hands, even if sometimes you may not feel it.
Let me start by saying by quoting a former American President who said that the most important office in a democracy is not President or Prime Minister or Foreign Minister, it is citizen. You, I believe, the young people of Ukraine, have shown this to the entire world in the last years. You have made your voice clearly heard. You have shown what it means to honour this responsibility, to be a citizen. First of all, in Maidan four years ago, calling for changes in your country. Changes that would improve your lives, the life of your friends and families, and bring us, European Union and Ukraine, closer than ever.
Now, the Association Agreement has entered into force and this is the most ambitious agreement that the European Union has ever developed with any partner country and we are working together, day by day, to implement it with the first results already here in front of us. With our trade agreement, Ukraine's exports towards the European Union have increased by one third in just one year. This means more jobs and more opportunities here in Ukraine.
Since last summer, the people of Ukraine can travel to the European Union without a visa. This is another big achievement of our common work. Over half a million of Ukrainians have already done so, to come visit their friends, relatives or for business. It took a lot of work and commitment from both sides, but we made it and we made it together, as a result of a clear, strong partnership. Since 2014, the European Union has invested here in Ukraine more than in any other country in the world. We have put together the biggest support package in our history: 13 billion euros.
But look at the stories behind the numbers, and I know more stories will come and have to come. You know better than myself, and the Rector was mentioning it, the story of more than 400 students and researchers from this same university who have come to the European Union thanks to Erasmus in the last two years only. I have been an Erasmus student myself, I know how powerful that experience is for the continuation of your journey. And we are about to increase now the EU funding for Erasmus exchanges with Ukraine, so I give you a first good news.
Or you can think of the incredible Ukrainian entrepreneurs and innovators who have created ground-breaking technologies with the European Union support - from a new generation of 3D printers to smart houses with zero-energy consumption. Going from technology to basics, think of all those villages in Ukraine that now have new roads and street lighting thanks to the decentralisation process that we have supported as the European Union.
So, sure, the European Union is about values and principles - values and principles we share - but it is also about these little big things that have a very practical impact on our everyday life, that at the end of the day count a lot. I am glad that later this morning we will be launching a new campaign called "Moving Forward Together", and I could not find a better title for it, precisely to talk about the concrete impact of our friendship to our, to your daily lives.
The European Union has been, is and will continue to be here every day by your side, consistently bringing big, small, big results in everyday life. We have committed to our friendship with Ukraine again and again. Let me mention that last Friday, we have proposed a new micro-financial assistance of 1 billion euros to support the economy and the reforms in Ukraine.
We have mobilised every tool we have - and we have many - not only the financial resources, but also our policemen and women, to help reform the security forces here in the country. We are the largest contributor to the monitoring mission of the OSCE [Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe] in Eastern Ukraine. We have worked with the Prime Minister in particular and his government on an ambitious reform agenda on healthcare and pensions, on decentralisation, on education and energy.
I know some of you may think this is not enough. And you are right: this is not enough. It is not enough with all that this country is going through and, first and foremost, the ongoing violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity. Let me be very clear: Crimea is Ukraine, Donbas is Ukraine. The people of Donbas are Ukrainians like you, the people of Crimea are Ukrainians like you. The European Union will continue to keep this position in the most unequivocal manner, and this is why we keep working for the full implementation of the Minsk agreements, which clearly have not been implemented yet, and we clearly see the responsibilities for that.
I will meet later today the Minister for Temporarily Occupied Territories and IDPs [Vadym Chernysh]. I met the Head of the OSCE Monitoring Mission [Ertugrul Apakan], the OSCE Special Representative to the Trilateral Contact Group [Martin Sajdik] and also the Head of the International Red Cross in Ukraine [Alain Aeschlimann]. The situation they described once again to me, but it is not new to my ears, is one of ongoing real conflict and Russia's responsibilities are very clear in this dynamic. And I know every single day there are losses.
The way to achieve peace, we believe, is the full implementation of the Minsk agreements. We as the European Union are ready to increase our support to any initiative to end the conflict and advance the implementation of the Minsk agreements.
Let me go back one moment on Crimea, because I believe it is extremely important not to forget the people of Crimea and definitely in the European Union, we do not forget the people of Crimea. We do not forget those who have been detained in breach of international law, we do not forget the Crimean Tatars and their rights. We do not and will not recognise the illegal annexation of Crimea to the Russian Federation. It is a matter of principles and values, those principles that all of us, including Russia, agreed in Helsinki forty-three years ago.
But our values are very closely tied to our interests: our frontiers cannot be changed through military force. This is a principle, this is a value, but this is also a basic fundamental interest of all Europeans. It is a matter of values and interests alike. This is the foundation of peace and security on our European continent. When this principle is violated, we are all less secure in our continent. This is why you can count on the European Union support, first and foremost, to restore your territorial integrity, but also to fulfil the aspirations of change that your generation expressed very clearly in 2014, and in these difficult years since then.
First of all, the fight against corruption. Important steps have been taken in these years and some important reforms have been passed. But more reforms will be necessary and I discussed this very clearly both with the Prime Minister and with the President. I know that when I raise these issues, I do not only speak representing the position of the European Union, but all the words I have heard in these years from young people like you resonate in my head. I mentioned that this is not something that Brussels asks; this is something that Ukrainians ask.
More reforms will be necessary: the establishment of a High Anti-Corruption Court, measures to guarantee that civil society can contribute to play a key role in full independence and free from undue oppression. Yet, this is not just about better laws or good reforms, it is also about culture and every Ukrainian can contribute. It is a change in mentality and change starts from you, from each and every one sitting in this room and beyond this room. It is a collective responsibility. I believe it is also a generational responsibility to deeply change the mentality and the way in which things work or rather do not work.
I know that a few days ago you remembered Taras Shevchenko, who once wrote "it is terrible to lie in chains but it is still worse when you are free to sleep and sleep and sleep." When things get stuck or when you see a change not happening as fast or as deep as you wish, it is very easy to give in; to give in to cynicism or to frustration or anger. We see this anger coming up more and more all across Europe, caused by the shortage of results of processes that might have not even started. But here it is, I believe, where our collective responsibility lies, where your responsibility also lies.
Keep believing in this country. My message wants to be a message of optimism, because you have managed to change a lot if you look back in the years. Change does not come in one day, it requires people like you to believe, to work, to fight - in a peaceful manner - to cooperate, to imagine, to be creative, to continue hoping and investing in your future, but also in your presence, because if there is one thing I was allergic to when I was your age and even younger, was when people were telling me "you are the future of this country". No - you are the present of this country. You have a responsibility for making this country work better already now and you have done it already enormously.
So, my message is a message of hope. Yes, see the limits of change, see when reforms go slower than you expect or do not go deep enough to what you expect, but do not turn this assessment, this awareness into anger and withdrawal. Insist working for a change, build on the achievements already built and push the agenda forward. I believe this is your responsibility.
Keep believing in this country, as we believe in this country and in you as the engine of this country. Keep investing in this country. You are already the leaders of Ukraine starting today - starting actually some years ago. The most important office in democracy is indeed the office of citizens and this is the basis of democracy.
I believe the path for Ukraine has just begun. You know that you can count on your friends. The European Union is here with you, has constantly been here with you and will continue to be with you. We are closer than ever today. As I mentioned there is no other country in the world with whom we do so much and so closely. We will continue to be with you every step of the way - the easy ones, the not so easy ones, the ones that will require even more energy from your side, because we consider we are exactly on the same side.
I thank you very much and I am ready to take a couple of your questions.
Link to the video: https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I152390