From the very outset, allow me to sincerely welcome you in Minsk at the inaugural meeting of the CEI Committee of National Coordinators, which marks the launch of the Belarusian Presidency in the Central European Initiative.
I hope that, despite the cold weather outside, our today’s event will proceed in a warm and constructive atmosphere.
The Presidency in the CEI is very special for Belarus. As you know, our country has been a frontrunner in integration on the post-Soviet arena, standing at the roots of the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Union State of Russia and Belarus, as well as the Eurasian Economic Union. While not all our expectations turned into accomplishments, we remain strong promoters of closer economic and social integration in the region for the common benefit.
However, it is the first time when Belarus finds itself in the driving seat of one of the oldest European integration organisations beyond our Western border. Notably, it unites both EU Member States and the nearest neighbours of the European Union.
We see this as a unique and timely opportunity for a more active involvement of Belarus in European integration processes.
At the same time, this Presidency is also very special in terms of the turbulent regional setting and dire challenges that we jointly face today.
The ongoing migration crisis, new security threats, social tensions and economic difficulties undermine peace and stability. They clearly demonstrate the tremendous level of our interdependence. Frankly, it is time to admit that Europe now is still far from reaching the ambitious goals, which were on the table a mere decade ago. Moreover, its achievements in terms of free trade, mobility and cross-border cooperation remain strikingly fragile.
We have to constantly remind ourselves that some 25 years ago Europe was torn apart by the Iron Curtain, with many of these achievements seen as hardly ever possible. Downshifting to old notorious block policies is a road to nowhere in terms of overcoming the complex challenges to the future of Europe, which requires concerted actions and involvement of all European countries.
The present setting makes the Central European Initiative increasingly relevant as a forum created to work for cohesion of a united Europe, without dividing lines, with shared values, embracing all countries, regions, peoples and citizens of the continent.
Against this background, Belarus places promotion of connectivity in a Wider Europe at the very core of its CEI Presidency priorities. This broad topic covers various aspects of connectivity, which are important and complementary for cohesion not only among CEI Member States, but also between different integration formats across our continent.
We would like to apply additional efforts in developing key infrastructural interconnections within the CEI Region that serve as arteries for our national economies. In doing so, we have to align with relevant policy frameworks, such as the Trans-European Transport Network and China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
Concurrently, fueling these efforts requires broader interaction of the CEI with European and international financial institutions for joint medium- and long-term investment planning. Our traditional partnership with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has to be augmented by cooperation with other relevant entities, such as the European Investment Bank (EIB) and Asian infrastructural funds.
We also need to address various horizontal aspects of connectivity to make better use of existing infrastructure. This includes harmonization of trade-related standards, digitalization of procedures and services, support of grassroot entrepreneurship and innovation along the main transit corridors.
Achieving these goals should be based on the CEI’s extensive experience in fostering economic and social development, including through support of relevant EU policies and programmes.
As a long-time partner of the European Union, the CEI has a broad potential to aid the implementation of both the European Neighbourhood and Enlargement policies. It is also highly relevant for such regional initiatives as the Berlin Process and the Eastern Partnership. Most importantly, our Organisation has a unique capacity to transpose vital transition experiences and know-how on to the Balkan States and the Eastern Neighbours of the EU, further assisting their approximation to European standards and practices.
In this context, we also call upon the CEI Member States to dwell on the possibilities of establishing closer cooperation with evolving integration formats in the East, such as the Eurasian Economic Union and the Commonwealth of Independent States. This appears justified in terms of our common economic interests and to ensure consistency between integration processes in Europe.
At the same time, in the course of its Presidency Belarus will continue and uphold the efforts to expand the CEI’s outreach to other international and European organisations, such as the United Nations, the OSCE, the International Organisation for Migration, the Council of Europe, UNESCO, the Visegrad Group, the Organisation of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation, the Council of Baltic Sea States and many others. Through a series of targeted joint events during the year, we will work on addressing together the emerging and existing challenges within and beyond our region.
Last but not least, we attach significant importance to continuing the process of the CEI reform, started last year under the aegis of the Bosnian Presidency. This undertaking is crucial to better tailor our Organisation to the changes in our region over the last decade, including in terms of updating the core areas of CEI’s activities, regular cooperation formats and mechanisms. It could also help in elaborating the new CEI Plan of Action for 2018-2020. We hope that, with due account of positions of all the CEI Member States, this process may give rise to concrete decisions for adoption at key CEI high-level events in 2017.
During today’s meeting you will have a chance to examine and discuss the Agenda and Tentative Programme of the Belarusian Presidency, which will be further presented by the CEI National Coordinator of Belarus, Ambassador Natalya Zhylevich.
We count on your energetic involvement in adjusting these documents to our common needs and expectations in order to make our cooperation in 2017 as vibrant and fruitful as possible.
We also count on active participation of all the CEI Member States in the events of the Belarusian Presidency and remain fully open to proposals for any additional events that may be deemed necessary.
Summing up on a friendly note, I would draw your attention to our Presidency logo devoted to connectivity. Personally, I also see it as a reminder that it takes hard work, joint concerted efforts and patience of the entire hive to make the honey of integration.
I wish you all a very productive discussion today and, without further due, pass the floor to Natalya Zhylevich.
Thank you for your attention!