BRUSSELS — British Prime Minister Theresa May has set out her commitment for Britain to continue to play a critical role in European security after the U.K. leaves the EU.
May was speaking on a trip to Brussels Friday for the Eastern Partnership Summit (EaP) which brings together the EU and six countries of its Eastern neighbourhood: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine.
The summit focused on ways to strengthen future cooperation for economic growth and stronger governance.
Taking a leading role at the one day gathering, the British PM reflected on the “significant” economic and social advances in the region.
As the U.K. prepares for its exit from the EU, May also welcomed the unified approach to tackle threats and “attempts of destabilization” from other foreign powers like Russia.
She also reaffirmed the U.K.’s support to the region, saying it was providing £50 million (U.S. $66.7 billion) this financial year to support reform and security in the region through projects like tax reform in Moldova and demining in Ukraine.
The U.K., she said, was also spending £100 million over five years in the Eastern Neighbourhood to “counter disinformation.” The Eastern Neighbourhood Policy seeks to tie countries to the east south of the European territory of the EU to the Union.
She said: “We must be open-eyed to the actions of hostile states like Russia which threaten this potential and attempt to tear our collective strength apart.
“This summit highlights the crucial importance of the European countries working together to protect our shared values and ideals. The U.K. may be leaving the EU but we are not leaving Europe, and we are unconditionally committed to maintaining Europe’s security.”
“The summit here today is all about taking stock and about looking ahead to see how we can tackle the shared challenges together both in security and development. We must be opened-eyed about the actions of hostile states like Russia who threatens the potential growth of the Eastern Neighbourhood and who try to tear our collective strength apart.”
She added: “And I am looking forward today to renewed commitments from European countries to working together to tackle these shared challenges in both security and development. I am here to say again that the U.K. is unconditionally committed to continuing to play our leading role in maintaining Europe’s security.”
From its conception, the EaP has been accused of not fully delivering on its goals of encouraging reform efforts in the six countries and “anchoring” their relationship to the EU. Friday’s summit is meant to breathe new life into the process.
Questions have been raised about the participation of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, who has been invited to the summit.
But MEP Laima Andrikienė, co-author of the European Parliament’s recommendations on the EaP, said the invitation should not be interpreted to mean that the EU will stop pointing to the human rights record of the Lukashenko regime.
Addressing the opening of the summit, Antonio Tajani, president of the European Parliament, said: “It is high time for us to set a clear political vision for the future of the Eastern Partnership, based on the core values of democratic pluralism, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, the rule of law and good governance, the fight against corruption and transparency, and the strengthening of civil society.
“Our recent achievements fuel new and legitimate expectations regarding the future of Eastern Partnership. It is of the utmost importance that we ensure that this policy generates concrete benefits for each citizen in the Eastern partner countries and in the EU.”
The summit is chaired by the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, who, together with the president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, represented the European Union.