Keynote speech by Jerzy Buzek at the Community of Democracies Parliamentary Forum: "Democratisation in Europe and Europe's Neighbourhood"
Dear Chairman Bakradze,
Dear Mr. Zingeris,
It is a great honour for me to be here today at the meeting of the Community of Democracies. I have been personally involved with the Community since the Warsaw Declaration in 2000, when it was co-drafted by my government. I firmly believe that our work can help make the world more peaceful, and more democratic.
I have been travelling in the South Caucasus this week. My main message has been for greater cooperation in the Eastern Partnership. For greater work in resolving frozen conflicts in the region. And for the advancement of human rights and the rule of law. Last but not least it is important to highlight the message of future prosperity. It is so important that I am mentioning it at the beginning of my speech.
Stability, prosperity and democracy are a firm triangle.
I believe that as a Community of Democracies we have a role to play in this region. Not by imposing anything, but by showing the way. Many of us have gone through deep transformations and can therefore act as guides to other countries. I will come back to this theme later in my speech.
Sitting in Tbilisi I am also reminded of the road that Georgia has taken to become the democracy it is today. Democracy is not just a destination, it is the road travelled - with its ups and downs. This is a lesson for us all.
We in the European Parliament do not leave on some island. The EU exists in a dynamic neighbourhood and we therefore need a dynamic neighbourhood policy.
These past months we have seen how unstable our neighbourhood can be. The developments following the elections in Belarus. The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. The changes in Libya and in other parts of the Middle East - are clear examples that EU needs to be more pro-active and prepare itself for unpredictable situations.
The voice of the people demanding democratic change is loud and clear. We can not remain indifferent to those calls. We are ready to accompany and support the changes in every possible way. Let me be very clear, for the EU, stability is essential. But a democratic neighbourhood is as important as a stable neighbourhood.
Recently, I have spent five days in Egypt and Tunisia. The fundamental problem in North Africa has always been one of unemployment, lack of development, vibrant economy and lack of prosperity. On the other hand lack of democracy as well. Some countries are rich but this does not mean that the people have prosperity. This is a challenge that we can not ignore.
The frustration of the Arab street boiled over these past weeks. Those of us who lived in totalitarian regimes remember that strikes about living conditions and the economy were strikes about fundamental rights and freedoms - because one is impossible without the other. As was the case here in Georgia.
It is clear that we need better compatibility between the European Union and the countries in our neighbourhood. If we want to cooperate better. This is in all our own self-interests. By sharing our laws and our standards, we become better trading partners and better neighbours. More trade and more European projects, investments in our neighbourhood, mean more jobs, more development, and more prosperity, for all of us. We as the EU do not want to impose anything; we have extensive experience on our continent.
Without tackling the socio-economic problems of the men and women on the streets, we may not succeed. There has to be a democratic dividend. This is why the European Parliament has called for opening up the EU market to our neighbours. We need to create jobs in these countries which have been mismanaged for so long. Because real stability also comes from prosperity.
Ladies and Gentlemen.
To build successful democracies we need institutions and procedures. Here both the European Union and countries in this region have the "know how" which can be used. As I said earlier, among us are countries which have gone through both economic and political transformations. Some of these experiences can be useful to some of the countries in this region. But also for our Southern neighbours.
Both in the South and in the East the European Union has a number of bi-lateral relations, but we have very few multilateral ones. This is not good for the region, nor for the EU.
Nearly two years ago when we launched the Eastern Partnership the outlook for the region was positive.
There was a similar sense of optimism as we see now in North Africa. The rose and orange revolutions brought hope, but today I am sorry to say that the general result is that we have achieved less than we have expected. Maybe we have expected too much.
This is especially the case in the field of the rule of law, in corruption, in the independence of the judiciary, in freedom of the media, and in cooperation between the government and opposition. All of these problems are acute in the region. As a Community of Democracies, we must also use peer review to point out our concerns.
The worst situation is in Belarus. The EU has shown willingness to dialogue with Minsk. However, the response to our openness was police and prisons for the opposition.
I mention Belarus because I am concerned that what is attempted there will be copied by other countries in some other regions of the world. Belarus is becoming a social and political laboratory for non democratic forces. This is why we can not be indifferent.
But as we treat this regime and others like it as it should be treated, we need to redouble our support for civil society. The lessons of the 1980s when the West supported democratic forces in Central and Eastern Europe should be revisited.
Change happens organically and is bottom up and not top down. It is civil society which drives change, and it is civil society which consolidates democracy.
We therefore need policies which are people driven. For example, easier visa access for civil society. Greater support for NGO's, SME's and the independent media.
We need to invest in the future by funding scholarships for students. But we should impose that they go back home so that their countries can benefit from their education and experience. These are small, but significant steps.
I am reminded of Poland's road to the EU. One factor which helped consolidate, but also drive change, was regional cooperation. In the Visegrad meetings, and in the Baltic and Nordic Councils, we all shared best practices and know how. This helped us all.
I am convinced that regional cooperation needs to be strengthened. Such regional cooperation also helps to consolidate democracy and lessen tensions in areas where there are frozen conflicts - such as in South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Transdnistria and in Nagorno-Karabakh.
In the European Parliament, in our Euronest Assembly, Parliamentarians from Armenia and Azerbaijan sit together and debate together. I hope that this will build trust and mutual understanding and help resolve this conflict.
Democracy support can only make a difference on the ground if we manage to translate our ideas into concrete and effective instruments and procedures. Our support has to be about making democracy deliver in practice, because it is practice that makes democracy stronger.
I was reminded today that the motto of Georgia is "Strength is in Unity". The motto of the European Union is "United in Diversity" - perhaps the motto of our neighborhood policy should be "strength in our united diversity"?
TV footage of the visit will be available for download in broadcast and web quality following the broadcast by Europe by Satellite (EbS 4 - 19.00 CET) at the following link :
Photos of the visit will be available for download at the following link (tick photo icon and type search word: Jerzy Buzek)
Robert A. Golański
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