European Council President Spokesperson
Good afternoon. Before anything else, let me first express my sincere gratitude to honestly host, to you Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma, and to the Latvian Presidency, for all the work undertaken in preparing the Summit. I am glad to see such a high level of participation from all. It sends a very strong message about our commitment to the Eastern Partnership.
This message of our continued, consistent and strong commitment to the Eastern Partnership and each of our partner countries is the main message of this summit. And it is a necessary message in light of the last years' turmoil, aggression, intimidation and even war in this part of Europe. The Eastern Partnership is our framework of engagement that offers closer political association and economic cooperation with the European Union. It is based on mutual interests and commitments as well as the free will, sovereignty and independence of all parties.
Today, we all reaffirmed our common interest to continue developing strengthened, closer, differentiated relations with each of our partners to help them become more resilient in the face of increasing challenges to stability and security in the region and to make sovereign choices. Strengthened and more transparent institutions, free from corruption, will make our partners stronger and help us keep the Eastern Partnership relevant for all. This is the second main message of the summit.
During the summit we took stock of achievements we have witnessed since Vilnius and set out a positive agenda for the future.
Since the Vilnius Summit, we have signed Association Agreements and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas (AA/DCFTAs) with Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. This has brought our cooperation to a new level. The AA/DCFTAs are already provisionally applied, except for the DCFTA part for Ukraine which will enter into force as of 1 January 2016.
We reviewed the early stages of the implementation of AA/DCFTAs and demonstrated our strong commitment to deepen our cooperation.
We reiterated our support to others who are seeking more tailor-made relations. We have reached an understanding with Armenia on the scope of our future relationship. We should also be able to take some steps forward in deepening our critical engagement with Belarus. And we have received Azerbaijan's suggestions regarding the renewal of the contractual basis for its relations with the EU.
Let me stress that the Eastern Partnership is more than just the sum of our bilateral relations. Our multilateral framework will continue to be critical to keeping our partnership together.
Over the past six years the multilateral dimension of the EaP has established a dense network of contacts, e.g. through Informal Partnership Dialogues. We have taken the Eastern Partnership beyond governments, to parliaments, local authorities, civil society and businesses. And today we confirmed our intention to make energy and transport cooperation distinct priorities for the coming years.
Overall, we agreed to advance our cooperation in those areas which bring tangible benefits to our partners' societies and economies, in particular in state building, mobility and people-to-people contacts, market opportunities and interconnections.
With regard to mobility issues, we welcome the positive impact the visa-free regime with Moldova has had on travel and people-to-people contacts, with around 500,000 people having benefited from this opportunity during its first year. Progress is also being made with Armenia and Belarus. With regard to Georgia and Ukraine, which are the closest in line to achieve the objective of visa-free travel, President Juncker and myself are determined to be as ambitious as possible in terms of seeing this process to a successful finalisation. But it is of course also up to Georgia and Ukraine to set the pace when it comes to fulfilling the necessary steps.
We also agreed to continue to improve our communication efforts to better explain the benefits of the Partnership to the general public.
In addition I praise the fruitful meetings of side events in the margins of the Riga Summit: The Business Forum, Civil Society Conference and Media Conference.
To conclude - and repeat. The European Union is a partner for the long-haul. Our partnership, as well as the Riga Summit itself, are not about dramatic decisions or taking giant steps forward. No, our relationship is built on free will, respect and equality. And our partnership will go forward step-by-step, just as the European Union has been built. Through concrete progress on matters such as trade, energy, transport, mobility and reforms our partnership will grow increasingly closer and offer by far the best prospects for Europe as a whole.