Tuesday

19th Mar 2019

Opinion

The case for better cooperation with Eastern partners

  • Mikser with EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini (Photo: consilum.europa.eu)

Today, Europeans are again concerned about stability on their borders. Regrettably, they are right to be.

The situation in our neighbouring countries has a direct impact on the security of our citizens.

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Whether it comes to organised crime, people smuggling/trafficking or terrorism, the key for the European Union in dealing with these challenges lies in supporting and closely cooperating and exchanging information with our closest neighbours. This is as true across the Mediterranean Sea as it is beyond our land borders to the east.

The Eastern Partnership can, if properly used, act as a means for political stability and positive impetus in our eastern neighbourhood.

On Friday (8 September), following Gymnich, the informal meeting of EU foreign ministers, the Estonian presidency of the Council of the EU will host a meeting of the 28 EU ministers of foreign affairs with their counterparts from the six Eastern Partnership countries - Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

We will discuss how the EU and Eastern Partners can work together to strengthen resilience, security and stability in Europe's eastern neighbourhood.

Societal resilience

The Eastern Partnership aims at consolidating state structures and societal resilience in the region. We want to help reinforce our partners' ability to take their own decisions in response to internal and external pressures.

The reforms in the rule of law area are a prerequisite for the viability of the economic reforms that the EU is promoting.

The economic reforms are, in turn, essential for societal change in these countries.

Strengthening institutions and the fight against corruption remain key, as it could make institutions much more vulnerable to external influence - it is therefore a matter of preservation of the state.

Institutional and economic reforms, as well as enhanced cooperation in the security field, bolster our partners' resilience.

On Friday, we will also look into ways how to be 'stronger together' and find ways to work on countering hybrid threats, strengthening cyber security, support capacity building and security sector reform, and step up cooperation under the EU's Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP).

There are things the EU can learn from our Partners when it comes to dealing with different kind of threats.

The participation of some of Eastern Partners in CSDP missions and operations has contributed directly to the security of the EU. This should be promoted further.

The security of the EU is indivisible - the external aspects are interlinked with the internal.

Such cooperation and reforms are in Europe's interest. By creating more equal, fair and open societies, responsible institutions and closer collaboration, we increase the stability and predictability in our neighbourhood.

This will result in decreased risks and spill-over effects for the EU member states and at the same time increase business and trade opportunities for all of us. It is undoubtedly a win-win scenario.

Central pillar

The Eastern Partnership serves to uphold a central pillar in the European security order - the sovereign right of each country to choose its own path. We must not forget that this principle continues to be challenged.

The partnership has been at the heart of the implications of a new European security landscape, marked by the crisis in Ukraine and followed by Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine and the illegal annexation of Crimea. For the EU, this fundamental principle is non-negotiable.

Moreover, when we support these countries' sovereignty and EU-related reforms, we need to be clear that it does not mean unequivocal support for certain political practices or individual politicians.

The reforms envisioned in the Eastern Partnership agenda are not always easy and can prove to be costly for politicians and citizens alike. The benefits may not arrive in the short term.

Nevertheless, they are much needed and instrumental for change. We must maintain the enthusiasm for reform in the region and the values that are at heart of our cooperation - democracy, the rule of law and transparency.

During the Estonian presidency, we want to ensure that the Eastern Partnership remains high on the EU's political agenda, that it involves the whole Community and that it will be further strengthened.

We will demonstrate our commitment to the Eastern Partnership initiative through several events, including an e-Partnership conference and a digital ministerial meeting (4-5 October), a civil society conference (25-26 October) and a business forum (26-28 October).

These events held in Tallinn, leading up to the Eastern Partnership summit in Brussels on 24 November, will not only bring together politicians, officials, but also high-level experts, entrepreneurs, and civil society representatives.

By doing so, we can show that the Eastern Partnership is not only an issue for politicians, but also has an important role to play in nurturing people-to-people contacts.

Because, in the end, this is what counts: people interacting and learning from each other.

Importantly, citizens of Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine are now able to travel to the EU and Schengen countries without a visa.

I myself remember, as a young person, the endless, constant queues at the Finnish consulate in Tallinn - only so that you could cross the little over 80km-wide Gulf of Finland. This ended 20 years ago.

Many people across Europe know and still remember that the beginning of visa-free travel is much more than that - it gives a chance to get to know one another better and opens new societal, cultural or economic opportunities.

If we want to bring our Eastern Partners closer to us, this is the best way.

Sven Mikser is the minister of Foreign Affairs of Estonia

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