What happens in the countries in Eastern Europe and the Southern Caucasus has consequences for the EU. As the EU has expanded, these countries have become closer neighbours, and their security, stability and prosperity increasingly affect those of the EU. Closer cooperation between the EU and its eastern European partners – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova, and Ukraine – is of primary importance for EU external relations.
The Committee has produced opinions on Eastern Partnership issues but has never considered the problems of rural areas, agriculture and sustainable development in these countries. For the six Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries, economic development remains a key priority through flows in capital, goods, people and know-how. This can only be achieved in a secure environment, which is a prerequisite for sustainable development, overcoming the all too prevalent corruption. Therefore, this opinion focuses on the possibilities of better development of rural areas and achieving sustainability in the Eastern Partnership countries.
The EESC supports the EC and its efforts to set up a stable dialogue on agriculture and rural development with all partner countries and is prepared to assist in implementing policies and related reforms for all those committed to making agriculture and rural development a key sector in their cooperation with the EU. Most EU investments should be focused on the countries which make agriculture and rural development their priority.
The EESC places great value on the European Neighbourhood Programme for Agriculture & Rural Development (ENPARD) which was launched to support the sector, and hopes that ENPARD, together with the ongoing or planned programmes, will lead to sustainable progress in agriculture and improved living conditions in rural areas in the whole of the EaP region. In this regard, the Committee expresses its wish for a strong monitoring system to be strictly applied following the implementation of the EU allocated resources to the EaP countries.
The EESC calls for strategic modernisation of the agricultural sector in the EaP countries that increases domestic production of safe food in a sustainable manner. The EESC believes that the EU should continue to be of great help to the EaP countries in improving the SPS standards of their products and developing their rural development programmes. The Committee expresses its hope that the DCFTA will be properly implemented and will also be efficient in this aspect.
The EESC insists that the EU's experience in reforming agriculture and rural areas in pre-accession countries be taken into consideration, together with the diversity of experiences and efforts in partner countries. The EESC calls for a strong focus on the participation of civil society and the involvement of stakeholders in the sector.
With this opinion, the EESC also clearly states its wish for civil society to be much more widely represented in Platform 2 - "Economic Integration and Convergence with EU Policies"; in its Panel on Agriculture and Rural Development, the Panel on Environment and Climate Change with regard to the promotion of green technologies, eco-innovation and biodiversity, the Trade Panel on SPS matters and in the SME Panel where the Committee's expertise and skills provide a useful contribution.