Check against delivery!
Thank you, Mr President, for your very kind words.
Indeed it is the third or fourth time that I say goodbye to this hemicycle either here or in Brussels, but it is a pleasure to be back for the last session for which I will be in office.
Just to reassure you, not only will I take the debates today and tonight, but also the urgencies tomorrow and the day after, so I will be there until the very last moment that I could be. This is a sign of dedication and of recognition of the work that this parliament is doing, in particular on foreign policy.
Let me also thank you for the opportunity to look back at these five years of work with our Eastern partners. I remember very well, when I took office in 2014, that was the most important element of our foreign and security policy agenda. I can now proudly say that we have become closer as the European Union to all six of our Eastern Partners, in different ways, and I believe we have managed to improve the situation of each and every one of them through this partnership even if – obviously - challenges remain. I will try to go briefly through the achievements, the positive side, but also the shortcomings and the things on which I see that we still need to work a lot together.
I believe that this positive path that we have followed has been possible because our work has been focussed always on our greatest common interest that we share between the European Union and our Eastern partners, and that is our people. The people of Europe, whether they live inside or outside the European Union.
The twenty deliverables that we are implementing within the Eastern Partnership focus on the issues our people care the most about: jobs, energy security, education, strong civil society, independent media - things that are indeed on top of our citizens’ agendas.
In these years, we have put in place ambitious Association Agreements and Free Trade Areas with Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. Their citizens can now also travel to the European Union without a visa, when they come for business, for tourism or to visit family.
We have also achieved good progress in trade, energy, connectivity or the digital sphere. At the same time, we need to do more in the fields of the rule of law, judiciary or fighting corruption.
Earlier this year we have celebrated the tenth anniversary of the Eastern Partnership together with our partners, and we decided to launch a broad consultation process on the future of this Partnership. We have now collected more than 200 contributions coming not only from governments and civil society, but also academia, the business community, members of the European Parliament, and other stakeholders. I want to thank you for the contributions you have given us.
I am proud I can now leave to you and to my successor [Josep Borrell Fontelles] this huge capital of ideas, achievements, but also aspirations and dreams – as a very solid foundation for the next Eastern Partnership Summit and for the future of our Partnership itself.
Of course, each of the six countries has a different situation and different aspirations too. So let me very briefly go through them.
Ukraine has faced unparalleled challenges, with Russia's violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Since 2014 we have put together for Ukraine the biggest support package in the history of the European Union. We have invested more in Ukraine than in any other country in the world, and no other partner has invested in Ukraine as much as we have done.
This has led to some very important, tangible results. Ukraine today is a stronger, more resilient country than it used to be. The new government has taken a bold approach to reforms as the people of Ukraine expect substantial change on the rule of law, the fight against corruption and the prosecution of the bank fraud.
In recent months, positive developments have also materialised on the security side – mainly thanks to Ukraine's constructive approach. The Normandy 4 Summit of 9 December is now an opportunity for substantial progress.
Our priorities are the same as those of our friends in the Eastern Partnership countries, be it security, good jobs, good governance, or institutions that they can trust and rely on.
This is also the case in the Republic of Moldova, where we have supported structural reforms to fight corruption, improve the electoral framework, and to ensure an independent and accountable justice system.
Moldova has now a new government, and the need for genuine reforms remains.
As always, the European Union is ready to support reforms in all possible ways, and as always, our support remains conditional. Our support is and I believe will continue to be focussed in particular on reforms to fight corruption and vested interests, and in ensuring that state institutions preserve or build their autonomy and are not politicised.
Moving to Armenia, the government has committed to substantial democratic reforms, in line with our [Comprehensive and Enhanced] Partnership Agreement. In fact, Armenia considers the Agreement with the EU as a true blueprint for reforms, and we are proud of that. Our support to the reform process has increased after last year's political revolution, including to the ongoing justice reform. And I am confident that this partnership will become even closer in the years ahead.
With Azerbaijan, the work continues in order to finalise a new agreement. We want an ambitious agreement in line with international standards, one that ranges from human rights to support of the diversification their economy.
We will also continue to work for the peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, encouraging and supporting dialogue at the highest level between Armenia and Azerbaijan. We fully support the mediation efforts and the proposals of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs, including through the work of our Special Representative.
The European Union is born as a peace project. Building peace is our DNA, is our "raison d'etre"; it goes to the core of who we are. We need, I believe, to continue investing enormously on this, as conflict has not yet disappeared from our continent.
On the contrary, the security situation along the administrative boundary line with the Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia has worsened in recent months.
This is why we are increasing our EU Monitoring Mission's presence on the ground. Because our support to Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity is not just a statement or a declaration of principal. It is the foundation of our daily concrete work on the ground.
Georgia is a close and reliable ally in the neighbourhood, and this is precisely why we don’t shy away when we see risks, as today we see the risk in the country of a backsliding on some important reforms in the rule of law area.
Finally, on Belarus. The recent parliamentary elections were a "lost opportunity" to deliver on international standards, and we have called on the authorities to implement electoral reforms before next year's presidential elections. You all know that we have divergences with Belarus, particularly on human rights. Yet I am convinced that the only way forward is to continue engaging, and to finalise our Partnership Priorities. This would be the best way not only to work on our mutual interests, such as the economy and nuclear safety, but also to better address the human rights situation, which is so important for us.
Putting people first was our approach throughout these five years, with all six partners, as diverse as they are, with a differentiated approach respectfully.
We have always focused on people and not on geopolitics. I want to close on this, to stress once again something that I have discussed not only with our partners in the east of Europe but also with our interlocutors a little bit further east: explaining clearly that our Eastern Partnership is not and I believe will never be "against" anyone. It is “for”. It’s for our people, it’s for improving living standards, including democratic standards, for a more peaceful European continent based on partnership and cooperation.
I want to close by thanking you and this Parliament for all the support you have given to our work with our Eastern partners because, in particular in this field, the work of the parliament has been key in liaising with the national parliaments through your many delegations, through your many visits. This has been a fundamental pillar in accompanying our work with not only the institutions but also the societies of our six eastern partners.