Welcome remarks from the opening plenary session

ALDE President
Guy Verhofstadt

Good afternoon, dear colleagues, dear friends,

It is a pleasure to welcome you to the Brussels meeting of the Boris Nemtsov Forum.

This forum, established by Open Russia, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation and the Boris Nemtsov Foundation earlier this year is a much-needed platform, to engage civil society representatives, businessmen and academics from both the EU and Russia. It is a platform with a simple but vital goal: to facilitate mutual understanding and to ensure a European future for Russia.

Boris Nemtsov fought tirelessly for this goal. He worked for a Russia, which respects the human rights of everyone. A Russia whose government is accountable to the people. And a Russia, which is at peace with its neighbours.

Sadly, today’s Russia is not developing along Boris Nemtsov’s vision.

Sadly, it is a Russia where human rights are violated, where opposition leaders and journalists risk getting killed. And it is also a Russia, which uses hybrid means to occupy a neighbouring country and to undermine democratic authorities in Europe.

Let me be clear. It would be wrong to abandon or isolate Russia. What we must do is to differentiate between the Russian leadership and Russian citizens, academics, businessmen.

We must be firm with the Kremlin and make clear that violations of international law, and of borders, comes with costs. At the same time, however, we must engage Russian civil society in a continuous dialogue and open up the EU to ordinary Russians

This is why I accepted with pleasure when Mikhail Khodorkovsky approached me with the proposal to host the Forum in the European Parliament premises. And I am very pleased to welcome Mikhail Borisovitch here today!

The importance of this EU-Russia Civil Society Forum for the European Parliament is underscored by the fact that Martin Schulz, President of this House, has accepted our invitation to open the Forum – I will give you the floor in short, Martin.

I also welcome Zhanna Nemtsova, the daughter of Boris, who carries on his work and with whom we are honoured to cooperate.

Furthermore, let me welcome also Luc Devigne, a Deputy Managing Director of the EEAS who is here on behalf of High Representative / Vice President of the Commission Federica Mogherini.

And I welcome all the other speakers and participants, including 60 friends from Russia who will participate in the working groups which start later today.

The working groups will look at perspectives for EU-Russia cooperation in:

  • Trade, economy and energy
  • Governance and politics
  • Values and people
  • EU and Russia in the world

These are all areas in which we need to prepare constructive cooperation with our Russian neighbours.

But first of all, Martin, the floor is yours.

Then I will give the floor to Mikhail (Borisovitch) Khodorkovsky, founder of Open Russia, for opening remarks.

Luc Devigne, Deputy Managing Director for Europe and Central Asia, will read a message from Federica Mogherini.

In closing the panel, I would like to thank all speakers for their opening remarks and wish the Forum fruitful discussions – and hand over the moderation to Petras Austrevicius.

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