"A Common Vision for a Common Neighbourhood"

Article by Javier Solana

EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy

The European Union (EU) has a vision for building a common neighbourhood across the European  continent. This vision is based on our shared attachment to democracy, the foundation upon which the  European Union itself is built, and on the shared commitments that this entails.

The EU is a model of what societies can achieve for their citizens and has inspired governments to  change the way their countries work. Through the process of enlargement the EU has taken the lead in  creating an ever-widening area of freedom, democracy and stability.

The EU is deeply committed to the new democracies. They have chosen rapprochement with the EU –  even a quest for membership – as their main strategic goal. Together we should face the challenge of  transforming societies to equip them to tackle the uncertainties of the modern world and meet the  aspirations of our citizens.

There has been much talk about democracy in recent years but it must be developed in practice.  Democracy is not about theory or speeches. It is about action and practical reforms.

Lithuania has already undergone the transformation to democracy. It is now a member of the European  Union where it plays an important role. This is a major achievement. At the same time, Lithuanians know  that building democracy and transforming a society is an on-going process rather than a single event.

In the past few years, we have seen crucial developments in the region. Populations have assumed  ownership of their political futures. Georgia and Ukraine are the most dramatic examples. Their  immediate demand was for free and fair elections. In the longer term - and more fundamentally - they  want to live in a better, more transparent society. These ideals are shared by populations across the  region. 

The events in Georgia and Ukraine were also inspiring for all the peoples in the region who are seeking  democratisation. In Belarus, we have seen the emergence of civil society and the consolidation of a  genuine opposition. Before and after the fundamentally flawed presidential elections of 19 March, the  people showed great bravery in asserting their fundamental democratic rights. They deserve our respect  and full support. Sadly, the regime in Belarus cracked down on peaceful demonstrators, arresting and  assaulting hundreds. The EU has taken tough measures against those individuals responsible for abuse  and misconduct. But the EU has also sent a clear message of engagement and support to the Belarusian  people. I am certain that, one day, they too will see a democratic breakthrough in their country.

The way forward in establishing democracy is to concentrate on building institutions. We need to work,  for example on establishing the independence and quality of the judiciary, producing clear and  understandable legislation, creating a properly functioning market economy and ensuring open  government and acting effectively against corruption, in full accordance with the rule of law.

Another key challenge facing our region is the so-called frozen conflicts. The European Union wants to  help the parties to find viable solutions. It is and will remain actively involved in both the South Caucasus  and Moldova. It is up to the parties to settle these conflicts but we are willing to help, together with our  international partners, including Russia, whose role is crucial. 

Moreover, democracy and conflict resolution are linked. The consolidation of democracy and the  establishment of well-functioning institutions can help conflict resolution. True democracy involves the  protection of the rights of all individuals and groups.

In the case of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, we have the elements of a possible breakthrough in the  negotiations. The EU has said it is willing to help underpin an eventual agreement. This offer remains  valid. But it is up to both sides to take responsibility and bring about a settlement.

Progress towards democracy has given new impetus to the relationship between the European Union and  the new democracies. We have put important new tools in place to deepen this relationship further.

Last year, we launched far-reaching Action Plans with Ukraine and Moldova. Their implementation has got off to a good start. But much remains to be done, especially in implementing new legislation and consolidating the rule of law. We are now negotiating Action Plans with Armenia, Azerbaijan and  Georgia. Their implementation will bring the quality of the EU's engagement with the Southern Caucasus  to an entirely new level.

The reform agendas and political goals of the new democracies are ambitious. There is an understandable  feeling of impatience to reach these goals quickly but patience and careful implementation are essential in  realising them.

The task today is to use the full potential of the tools at our disposal. To step up the reform process and  build well-functioning institutions. Twenty good, honest and independent judges are much more  impressive than declarations of intent by leaders. They are proof of results. And it is results which will  take us forward. The quality of relations between the EU and the new democracies depends on the quality  of the reforms and democracy within these countries. The current framework of our relations does not  pre-judge or limit future developments.

The conclusion is simple: when it comes to the future of the new democracies, the need to address 'frozen  conflicts' or the efforts to build a meaningful partnership with the EU, success starts at home. The lead  must come from the new democracies but we will give all them help and support we can. Together we  can succeed in maintaining the momentum towards democracy and in achieving our vision for our  common neighbourhood.

Brussels, May 2006