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EU and Eastern Partners: towards a common space of Justice and Home Affairs

Friday, October 7
While the European Union seeks to reinforce its relations with its neighbouring countries, Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) issues grow ever more important in the dialogue and cooperation between the Union and the Eastern Partners.

Successive EU enlargements have brought Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova, Ukraine and Belarus closer to the EU. Given the new geopolitical situation, EU leaders saw a need to promote prosperity, stability and security in the region in order to avoid the development of new dividing lines between the enlarged EU and its neighbours. With this in mind, the EU has been developing an ambitious Eastern Partnership, since December 2009, which forms part of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP).

Promoting people-to-people contacts, fundamental rights and the rule of law in our contacts with the Eastern Partners has proved to be an important prerequisite for maintaining peace and stability in the region and has beneficial effects on the economic, cultural and social development of all the countries involved, including on individuals and businesses. This has been the guiding principle of the Eastern Partnership.

The European Union offers its neighbours a privileged relationship to help foster greater political association and further economic integration, building upon common values (democracy and human rights, rule of law, good governance, market economy principles and sustainable development). Ambitions for that relationship depend on the extent to which these values are shared. We call it "more for more" - our engagement is entirely dependent on measurable progress made by the countries concerned on carefully defined criteria.

Cooperation on visa policy, asylum, border management, fighting organised crime or reform of the judiciary has already greatly contributed to improving security and stability both for citizens and for businesses in those countries and in the EU.

The European Commission would like to build on this progress and further enhance and strengthen political and operational cooperation with our Eastern partners. In our latest communication adopted on 26 September we have set out a plan to streamline and consolidate the existing framework for cooperation.

How will we achieve this?

First, a number of bilateral and multilateral forums exist that allow for an open and frank exchange of views, including on issues that are sometimes very sensitive. We need to make sure that Justice and Home Affairs issues are properly addressed both at the political and expert levels. They should have a more prominent place on the agenda. In this respect, holding regular ministerial meetings would provide for better overall guidance.

Secondly, we should push for further progress on a large number of Justice and Home Affairs issues, through the adoption and implementation of legislation and by carrying out joint operations. Whether it is on justice and fundamental rights, migration, mobility and asylum, integrated border management, or indeed public order and security issues, there is a broad scope for strengthening our cooperation. Enhancing mobility of citizens is one of the core objectives of the Eastern Partnerships and, depending on the progress made and the migration situation in the country, the possibility of signing a Mobility Partnership should be open to all Eastern Partnership countries. Mobility Partnerships are very important instruments for increasing mobility and improve migration management and we particularly encourage the facilitation of legal migration and intra-EU mobility of students, academics, and researchers. The facilitation of people to people contacts also entails cooperation on visa, starting with visa facilitation and readmission agreements as a first step. Provided that conditions for well-managed and secure mobility are in place, the EU will take gradual steps with the individual partner countries towards visa free-regimes

Thirdly, our relations should be based on four main principles: differentiation, conditionality, policy coherence and regional cooperation. This means using an individual "more for more" approach, based on the progress made by each of the partner countries.

In particular, promoting regional cooperation between the Eastern Partners is crucial for successfully addressing cross-border challenges. The Commission would also like to promote the stronger involvement of civil society, especially with regard to increasing contacts between people.

We hope that the Eastern Partnership Summit on 29-30 September in Warsaw will take these ideas on board and give a new impetus to the cooperation between the EU and the Eastern Partners in the area of Justice and Home Affairs to the benefit of us all. Continuous cooperation, based on trust and respect within the Eastern Partnership, is crucial if we are to increase mobility whilst at the same time addressing the challenges and threats that do not respect borders.

Cecilia Malmstrom, European Commissioner for Home Affairs and Stefan Fule, European Commissioner for Enlargement an European Neighbourhood Policy