Speech by the President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, at the ninth session of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly on 20 April 2021
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Ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues,
It is a great honour for me to open today the ninth session of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly.
I feel particularly attached to this Assembly. It represents the parliamentary dimension of the Eastern Partnership, whose ambition is to bring the European Union and your countries closer together. Our cooperation as parliamentarians, as representatives of the voice of the people, is essential in order to further strengthen the link between our societies, our institutions, our economies.
It has been 10 years since the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly met for the first time. Since then, while the world was undergoing profound evolutions and changes, this Assembly has developed and become strong, strengthening the ties between our citizens.
At the heart of your work are shared values - respect for human rights, the rule of law, democracy. These values are not only EU values, but common European values, paving the way for political, social and economic development.
This autumn, at the next Eastern Partnership Summit, a revised vision for our cooperation will be agreed.
In a resolution adopted last year, the European Parliament was very clear: this vision should be strategic and aimed at the future. Its aim should be to improve the lives of citizens, bring them prosperity and promote sustainable development. We must be ambitious in setting our goals.
I can assure you that the European Parliament will continue to participate fully in the reflection on the future of our partnership and will make its voice heard by all available means. In this respect, I am also looking forward to the opinion of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly on the evolution of the Eastern Partnership.
As we look to the future, we must also analyse the challenges we face. For our partnership to be successful, a great deal of mutual commitment is needed, particularly when it comes to the rule of law, the fight against corruption, administrative and judicial reforms. And this has not always been the case. Let me underline that we are ready to intensify cooperation with all interested partners, as demonstrated by the current and upcoming national agreements. But a credible and sustained commitment from each of the Eastern Partnership countries is needed to achieve the true potential of our cooperation.
Maximising the positive effects of our cooperation is even more important today, as the health crisis triggered by the COVID pandemic has been heightened by an economic and social crisis. Neither the European Union nor the Eastern Partnership countries have been spared.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the European Parliament has been a great advocate of solidarity with our partners and neighbours, including the Eastern Partnership countries, who have a special role for us. It must be very clear that we will not get out of this health crisis until those around us are also out of it. With different variants of the virus spreading all over the world, it would be an illusion to think otherwise.
In this context, the EU has reallocated a significant amount of funds for the Eastern Partnership countries in record time. The support focuses on the health sector, as well as on mitigating the social consequences of the crisis and ensuring economic recovery.
As the world embarks on the most ambitious vaccination campaign in our history, with all the challenges this entails, we will also need to strengthen our cooperation on vaccines. Some of our Member States have shared their doses of vaccines with countries in the region. The first shipments of vaccines through the international COVAX initiative, which the EU supports, have arrived in the Eastern Partnership countries. I am confident that we will be inspired by these fine examples in the coming months, because the only way out of the pandemic is through solidarity.
Likewise, we will have to work hand-in-hand to mitigate the social and economic consequences of the pandemic. Just as in our Member States, in the Eastern Partnership the social cost of the economic crisis is simply too great. We must fight it. Continuing the implementation of the Association Agreements in order to give your economies some dynamism may be one way forward.
But we must also realise that we are at a turning point. The world of yesterday will no longer be the world of tomorrow. That is why we must turn challenges into opportunities, such as the recovery to build a more sustainable development model, with environmental and social justice at its heart.
Ladies and gentlemen,
This past year has been a difficult one for the Eastern Partnership countries. A military conflict has pitted two of our partner countries against each other. It caused the loss of many lives and much suffering among the population. It reminded us that no conflict is frozen. We need to redouble our efforts to support peace and think about a comprehensive and sustainable solution for the conflicts in the region. You can count on the support of the European Parliament in this regard.
In recent days, there has been a worrying presence of Russian troops on Ukraine's borders and in the illegally annexed Crimea. The Russian Federation should take a step back, cease provocations and respect international principles and commitments. Like all of you, I am concerned about Alexeï Navalny's deteriorating health.
In December last year, I had the honour of awarding the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to the democratic opposition in Belarus. The strength and courage of the citizens of Belarus was impressive. In this context, I warmly greet Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who is participating in the opening session.
The European Parliament stood by the Belarusian people. We have expressed our unequivocal support for their legitimate demands for a rapid end to authoritarian repression and free and fair elections. A month ago, we launched a platform for the fight against impunity in Belarus. It is essential to ensure that the crimes and human rights violations committed by the current regime do not go unpunished.
We must ensure that the determination of the citizens of Belarus to live in a free and democratic country inspires us to further consolidate democratic principles and fundamental freedoms. This lesson should be of particular importance for those countries in the Eastern Partnership where polarisation and antagonism have replaced compromise and openness to dialogue. As parliamentarians, as politicians, we have a duty to put the interest of our citizens and our country above everything else
I would like to conclude by saying that this year, due to the COVID pandemic, Euronest meets for the first time at a distance. In these difficult times, our parliaments, which are essential for the democratic functioning of our societies, have learned to adapt and be resilient. We must not let these exceptional circumstances affect our democracies, nor our close cooperation. We must continue to work together, in the framework of Euronest, for the benefit of our citizens.
Let me wish you fruitful exchanges for this ninth session of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly, and I hope that we will be able to meet in person very soon.
Thank you very much.