In a time of economic uncertainty and as we face the challenges and opportunities of globalisation, it is right that we focus on Europe’s future. The European Union’s two greatest achievements are the establishment of the Single Market and the enlargement of the EU. Together, they have played a fundamental role in promoting security and prosperity across Europe. So we must expand and deepen the Single Market as well as welcome new members to the EU.
The UK is determined to work on this closely with Poland. The UK and Poland agree that any European nation that meets the eligibility criteria must be welcome to join the EU. The accession process is tough, requiring real and irreversible reform. But the EU has the tools needed to assist candidates - such as the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). And the ‘Eastern Partnership’, a regional element of the ENP, offers Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine a path to much closer integration with the EU in the form of contractual agreements.
Poland, along with Sweden, was instrumental in creating the Eastern Partnership. Yesterday, my Polish and Swedish colleagues, Radek Sikorski and Carl Bildt and I visited one of those six, the Republic of Moldova. We underscored our shared support for the country’s EU membership. I applaud the great personal energy both Ministers have put into promoting the EU’s core values of freedom, democracy and the rule of law throughout the region.
Moldova has made good progress in negotiating an Association Agreement including a Free Trade Area with the EU. Following their conclusion, Moldova’s focus must shift to the practical work to be done to put them in place. The EU will provide support on a ‘more for more’ basis: the more progress that is made, the more assistance will be given.
Our shared commitment does not stop with Moldova. We are united in our support of the EU aspirations of other countries such as Ukraine. Ukraine has spoken often of its commitment to reform and closer European integration. We welcome this. But concrete action is now urgent to address EU concerns about selective justice, democracy and the wider reform agenda. The EU-Ukraine Summit on 25 February provides an opportunity for Ukraine to show it understands this and commit to measurable steps with clear timelines. Delivery of these steps can pave the way for the signature of the Association Agreement that we all want.
The situation in Belarus, however, remains dire, with nine political prisoners still in jail. So, we should continue to hold firm in our concerns. In parallel, we must look to support the constituency for democratic reform in Belarus. The European Dialogue for Modernisation and the European Endowment for Democracy are important mechanisms, and we are grateful for Poland’s significant contribution to them.
We must not forget our partners in the Western Balkans, Turkey and beyond. We should continue in parallel to engage actively with these countries, working together to support their progress towards the EU. Poland is already playing an important role in the Western Balkans, sharing expertise both bilaterally and through frameworks such as the Visegrad 4 as well as contributing to NATO and EU-led operations. We saw progress in the Western Balkans in 2012: Montenegro opening accession negotiations shows that the region can and should continue to move towards the EU. We want to see more across the region this year, but without action by her political leaders, Bosnia and Herzegovina risks falling yet further behind her neighbours. Active Polish support to help re-energise momentum in the country would be very welcome.
Turkey too is an integral part of Europe’s future. We want it to remain on track for EU membership and that must mean reinvigorating the accession process this year. The Irish presidency of the EU has an important role to play here and I look forward to Poland’s support in helping the Irish facilitate progress.
As we consider the EU’s future we must not turn inward. The crisis in the Sahel shows how developments beyond Europe affect our common security. I welcome Poland’s practical support for the planned EU mission to train Mali’s forces. The UK has equally made a substantial commitment to train both Malian and African forces. Together, along with a number of other allies, the UK and Poland have also played a vital role in stabilising and reconstructing Afghanistan. We can be proud of our achievements. From 2014 the character of our engagement will change but our commitment to Afghanistan’s future will remain. The current crisis in Syria and Iran’s nuclear programme are other challenges that continue to demand our combined attention and active engagement.
In all of these areas the UK has demonstrated its resolve to upholding Europe’s security, working either nationally or through NATO, or when NATO cannot act, an outward facing EU.
Poland’s experience of EU membership has shown the benefits for Europe’s further EU enlargement. I look forward to working with my Polish and Swedish friends to create an economically strong, open, larger European vision.
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