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On the way to open a new chapter in the EU-Ukraine relationship

José Manuel Durăo Barroso
President of the European Commission
On the way to open a new chapter in the EU-Ukraine relationship
Kyiv University
Kyiv, 18 April 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen

Let me start by thanking the Rector of the University of Kyiv, Leonid Hubersky. I am deeply grateful to receive this honour from such a prestigious university and following in the footsteps of so many leading figures of your country as well as many distinguished personalities from outside Ukraine.

I am also very pleased to be honoured by an university named after such a great Ukrainian figure, Taras Shevchenko whose legacy goes well beyond Ukraine. And I think of his artistic legacy as well as his strong commitment to freedom and respect of human dignity. As another Ukrainian poet, Ivan Franko wrote about Shevchenko:

"He was a peasant's son and has become a prince in the realm of spirits. He was a serf, and has become a Great Power in the common-wealth of human culture. He was an unschooled layman, and has shown to professors and scholars newer and freer paths."

It is indeed a privilege to be distinguished by the Taras Shevchenko University.

Ladies and gentlemen

My visit to Kiev comes at a time of commemoration and reflection as this year marks the 25th anniversary of the tragic Chernobyl accident.

I want to pay tribute to the victims of this catastrophe and to the heroism and sacrifices of many citizens at the time.

I want to pay tribute to all those people who will never forget what happened on that 26 April 1986 and who are still struggling to overcome the consequences and the trauma of that disaster. They can count on the European Commission's continued support as they go on rebuilding their life.

The European Union is firmly committed to complete the Chernobyl projects not only as the largest donor to the Chernobyl Funds (60% of the overall aid; European Commission responsible for 24%) but also as a leader in mobilizing the international community for the Chernobyl cause and for Nuclear Safety.

I hope that tomorrow's Pledging Conference will successfully contribute to raise the necessary funds still needed to complete the permanent shelter.

Ladies and Gentlemen

This year also marks the 20th anniversary of Ukraine’s declaration of independence. And I am happy to say that this celebration coincides with a clear shared determination of the European Union and Ukraine to complete our negotiations on an Association Agreement before the end of this year.

So my message to you is: now is the time to open a new chapter in our relationship.

Our relations are based on strong historical links, on shared values and on common interests. We are close neighbours and we are key partners as well. Let me just mention a few examples covering different areas to illustrate our ever closer and wider cooperation.

The European Union is Ukraine's first trading partner. In 2010 EU exports to Ukraine amounted to more than €17 billion and Ukraine exports to the EU to more than €11 billion. The EU is also the biggest investor in Ukraine with 75% of overall foreign direct investment.

But our relations are not only about commercial exchanges but also about human exchanges. I know that one of the most important issues for Ukrainians is improved mobility. I was delighted that at our last year’s bilateral Summit we were able to announce a concrete Action Plan towards visa liberalization, and I think the prospects for this to happen are very positive even if key reforms still need to be accomplished by the Ukrainian authorities.

And since I am in a University let me also mention the importance of the contacts between students, teachers and researchers in the context of our overall relation.

Your University takes part in the Erasmus Mundus Partnership Project on mobility and has been actively involved in a total of 14 Tempus projects aiming at modernising higher education.

This means that you are very well placed to know the importance and the richness of our cultural and intellectual links. And let me stress that only last week the European Parliament gave its approval to the opening up of a number of EU programmes to Ukraine which will bring important new opportunities for those involved in education and research.

We also shoulder each other when needed and I would like here to express my sincere thanks to your country for the recent evacuation of European Union citizens from Libya by a Ukrainian ship. Europe is also leading a naval operation to fight piracy in the coast of Somalia which provides security for the maritime traffic and protects the lives of the crews of the ships crossing this region, some of them Ukrainians.

In a word our links are old, deep and strong and we are working on fostering them further.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am happy to see that Ukraine has taken the strategic decision to link its reform agenda to a process of European integration, and we have tried to find the right set of tools and incentives to encourage and support this process.

The Association Agreement currently being negotiated, with a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area at its heart and an impressive degree of alignment with EU laws, norms and standards reflects an unprecedented level of ambition in the European Union's relations with its Eastern European partners.

But this is more than just an agreement. This is a transformational agenda which impacts throughout the whole system.

The values of the European Union – namely liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law – are at the heart of this process. These are the same values which, in accordance with Article 49 of the European Union Treaty, must be respected by all those European countries which have the strategic goal of European integration.

This Agreement will also create economic opportunities in Ukraine and will promote real integration with EU. Ukraine will approximate with EU legislation across the board from environment policy to public health to transport. This will mean higher standards, better service to citizens, and above all a Ukraine ready to compete effectively in international markets.

This agreement also includes the extension of the Trans-European Transport Network into Ukraine, and we foresee with this a dramatic impact on growth and competitiveness as markets and consumers are brought closer.

Moreover for the European Union, the establishment of deeper relations with Ukraine will set a pattern to be followed further afield by other countries which are part of the Eastern partnership and which are also already negotiating similar Association agreements.

If countries are successful in the Association process - and success depends upon sustained commitment and hard work - then this will contribute to building as much of the European Union as possible within these countries, ensuring a positive impact and concrete benefits to their citizens.

I am therefore fully committed in driving our shared agenda forward.

Ladies and gentleman,

Over these last twenty years, Ukraine has already changed a lot. Ukraine’s journey has indeed been remarkable. We all know how demanding it is to properly develop deep and wide-ranging reforms going from the constitutional and judicial fields to the public administration and economic ones.

I know that for Ukraine it has not been an easy period to launch its reforms. But now is the time for Ukraine to tackle the remaining challenges. Bringing Ukraine closer to the European Union will also be an anchor and driver for its political and economic reform agenda.

I recognize reforms deserve support from key partners. Of course, direct EU financial aid is an important resource to support reform.

That is why the EU has put forward a package of €610 million, of macro-financial aid to complement the assistance provided by the IMF as a way to support needed reforms and to cushion the social impact amongst the poorest. I want to see this assistance launched as soon as possible.

We are also encouraging stronger participation from International Financial Institutions in support to Ukraine's reform process, especially in energy, infrastructure and in boosting the availability of credit to entrepreneurs.

The will to support reform from all Ukraine’s partners and friends is there.

But long-term recovery and the sustained growth which is needed to boost public revenue depends on action which only Ukraine can take itself – to reform the taxation system, to improve budgetary planning, to strengthen financial supervision and above all to improve the business climate which is so often shown by independent reports to be a major constraint to growth.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In every human endeavour, sustainable success depends upon lasting commitment and hard work. In political endeavours success also depends upon a national consensus. For major national reforms to work they need to be conducted by government in an open way, and in return opposition forces owe the nation a constructive and positive engagement. This requires also a critical, free and pluralistic media landscape.

I hope this will be the pattern of development in Ukraine, because it is the only route to achieving changes supported by citizens, which stand the test of time.

As we are coming closer to open a new chapter in our relationship I would like to make a plea, if I may: let us put aside narrow short-term interests and let us act together in the long-term interests of our future generations.

I am pleased to see there is a broad consensus across the political spectrum in Ukraine favourable to EU integration and I am confident that we can build on this in pursuing our common course of reform.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Future belongs to those who prepare for it today. The future is now. Modernization and reforms leading to a more democratic and open society and to an open economy is what the EU proposes to you. This is the path to a more prosperous future. Let's start building it today.

I thank you for your attention.

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