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President of the Republic at the 4th Eastern Partnership Business Forum

26.10.2017

We a so proud to have you here on the first winterday!

The Eastern Partnership is an extremely important instrument in relations between the European Union and the partner countries.

All the Baltic states, formerly occupied by Soviet Union, have kept our Eastern partners close to our hearts and always in our minds. We have not and will not let the fate of Eastern Partnership countries fall off the European Union table.

We feel responsible. Vilnius and Riga organised Eastern Partnership Summits, Tallinn has decided to hold one in Brussels. It is symbolic – Eastern Partnership is an European Union issue, not an issue for Eastern Europe. It is a central element of European Union neighbourhood policy.

Yes, we feel responsible. Responsible not to shut the door of the bus and drive off to the better future. Responsible to keep the discussion about unifying Europe alive. Responsible for seeking alternatives if enlargement is not an option.

But – there are several issues for which we cannot take responsibility. Eastern Partnership countries themselves and only themselves are responsible for the development of their societies. Responsible for the rule of law in their countries. Responsible for the economic environment in their countries, including level playing feel for home and foreign capital, lack of corruption, comprehensible and stable tax regimes. Responsible for developing democratic values.

Sometimes I have heard claims that developing rule of law, personal freedom and fight against corruption can only be successful if European Union offers enlargement perspective. Such an attitude is not helpful at all. These developments are simply and strictly necessary for every country themselves, as foreign investment cannot thrive without the guarantees of fair treatment. Not preferential treatment – assurance that once you have invested, you can develop your business and reap the rewards. That if a dispute rises, be it with other businesses or the state itself, fair resolution mechanism exists, in arbitrage or in the court. That no one will be able to expropriate your capital investment or its returns.

The European Union has adopted a concrete and results-oriented approach to the Eastern Partnership, which has been summarized in the 20 Deliverables for 2020 document issued by the European Commission and European External Action Service and incorporating the views of Estonia and other member states; it will serve as the basis for the discussions that will take place at the Eastern Partnership Summit in Brussels in a month's time.

Although two and a half years have passed since the previous Eastern Partnership Summit in Riga, the four key areas of further cooperation agreed there have remained priorities to this day. These areas are:

• Economic development and market opportunities;

• Strengthening institutions and good governance;

• Connectivity, energy efficiency, environment and climate change;

• Mobility and people-to-people contacts.

I am glad to note that all four of these areas are directly related to economic issues; moreover, all of them are interrelated. Economic development is not possible without reforms. Transport and energy interconnections and environmental issues are of considerable importance to modern economies and must be taken into account. And certainly, it is precisely through people-to-people contacts what makes it possible to negotiate and carry out substantial commercial transactions.

Accordingly, today's Business Forum is not only a landmark on the way towards the Summit, but also will serve as a roadmap for all of us over the next few years by guiding and facilitating business relationships between the Eastern Partnership and the European Union.

I am also very pleased to note that three Eastern Partnership countries have reached Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements with the European Union, and that there are now visa liberalization agreements in force with Georgia and Ukraine as well as Moldova, agreements that spur contacts among people and countries – and thus among businesses as well.

We want to see the results, so conditionality is also important. Estonia knows very well what this means, as we remember how much we had to do during the European Union accession process. We would like to continue to share our experience with the Eastern Partnership countries as well on how to better manange conditions.

In Estonia, a unique hub for better coordination with partner countries has been created: the Estonian Center of Eastern Partnership. Due to its several years of experience in advising the Eastern Partnership countries, we are more aware of your needs and better able to meet them; we have taken into account your own objectives while at the same time sharing the recommendations and best practices we have identified as we ourselves travelled the path on which we now encourage our good partners and colleagues to continue moving forward.

The main topics of this year's Business Forum have been carefully selected, taking into account the main current economic trends as well as the interests of the European Union and Eastern Partnership countries. The Forum's focus is on developing innovation and the digital economy, fostering cross-border trade, and in promoting the greater use of innovative technologies in industry and finance.

I have no doubt that in all of these areas you will find ideas and solutions that will be of great use as you return home.

I am very glad to see that there are so many people sitting in this room today, not just representatives of government agencies and large businesses but also of small- and medium-sized enterprises as well. The Estonian experience shows that SMEs are often the most successful firms, as they often develop innovative solutions that can change the world, while providing flexibility to the business world as well. In the 21st century, it is precisely this flexibility – to adapt to new situations and new solutions – that will ensure lasting success.

Sometimes you're asked in this world why do we need to keep helping countries outside our borders. Then I always say that look, 26 years ago when you helped our country, you could not have known that in 26 years here will be an innovative democratic sandbox which can provide help by itself for long years already.

That is a really good cause for that kind of effort.

Thank you!