Member of the Commission
Seminar on EU Enlargement
Madam Secretary of State,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I have come here as a newly arrived European Commissioner and as a long time friend of this country. It is a great pleasure to meet Tunisian friends again and to take part in this seminar about the enlarged European Union and Tunisia.
We are witnessing the dawn of a new era in and around Europe. The European Union is now 25 countries and 453 million people strong. Its members have just adopted a new Constitution and half of them have a single currency, with many more to join in the not too distant future. A new European Parliament of 732 members has just been elected and a new President of the Commission has just been designated.
No doubt, while the enlargement of the Union is a source of great opportunities to its neighbours, it also poses some important challenges. This is why this seminar here in Tunis is very timely.
This Seminar is part of a series of efforts towards better information about the new realities of Europe and towards better mutual perceptions. It has been organised by the Commission’s Delegation together with Member States embassies in Tunis: I am especially grateful to the embassies of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Malta and Poland for their support.
I would like today to discuss in particular four points: the general significance of enlargement, its Mediterranean aspect, the challenges for Tunisia, and the broader subject of the European Neighbourhood Policy.
The significance of enlargement
The enlargement of the European Union just completed on 1st May was in part the logical consequence of the pacific revolution which occurred in Central Europe during the last 15 years. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the subsequent dismantling of the Soviet bloc constituted momentous developments which have brought to a final close the post Second World War era.
This period has brought about a complete political, economic and social transformation in the countries of Central Europe, a transformation largely driven by the will of the people.
In so doing, the countries of Central Europe have come back to their natural “European home” which was always theirs. In that sense, the European Union enlargement should be seen first and foremost as a “return to normal” for these countries.
In foreign policy terms, I would highlight two particular elements with regard to the the enlargement of 2004:
Firstly, this enlargement can be characterised as by far the most successful external operation ever conducted by the EU, both by virtue of its sheer size and in terms of its political significance. Naturally, as of 1st May 2004, we are not anymore in the realm of external relations, but in the field of internal EU policies;
Secondly, the EU has acquired considerable expertise in working with third countries to create joint rules, markets, interests and values, and the experience has been an extremely positive one for all parties.
Enlargement and the Mediterranean
What of the Mediterranean aspect of enlargement? You shall not be surprised if, as the Maltese member of the European Commission, I tell you emphatically that enlargement is not only about Central Europe, but has major implications for the Mediterranean, not least because two long-standing players in regional fora, Malta and Cyprus, were also an integral part of the 1st of May accession.
As two countries deeply anchored in Mediterranean history, culture and politics they will indeed represent a small proportion of the total EU population, but they will make their voice heard and their influence felt.
If I may be permitted a word about ‘the country I know best’ as we say in the Commission, Malta in herself is a powerful symbol in the Euro-Mediterranean relationship: deeply rooted in the European civilisation, she has been a vital link between Europe and North Africa. Her language has Arabic roots, with city names like Gzira, Mdina or Rabat, I am sure, sounding familiar to many of you. Her commercial, human and cultural exchanges indeed reflect a long standing and deep relationship with the Southern shore of the Mediterranean.
Malta takes this important heritage with her into the EU. Since independence, her Foreign Policy has been guided by the keen appreciation that Malta’s well-being is dependent on peace, stability and prosperity in the Mediterranean region, and she has thus worked continuously to promote Mediterranean interests in all available settings. I am sure that within European Union fora Malta will continue to play this role with an energy and a commitment out of all proportion to her size.
The challenges of enlargement for Tunisia
But what does enlargement mean for Tunisia? Like any other change, it offers both challenges, but also considerable opportunities. Under the Barcelona Process and the Association Agreement, Tunisia has done extremely well: she started off first, she has followed the logic of free trade with enthusiasm, and she has accordingly made excellent use of MEDA and EIB financing programmes. This bodes extremely well for future EU-Tunisia relations.
I would single out three main challenges for Tunisia stemming from enlargement:
First challenge: to be able to develop a substantial stream of exports towards Central Europe and to attract tourists from there. For historical reasons, the Tunisian economy is less connected to Central European markets. These markets are now going to be growing faster than before because of their integration in the European Union. Tunisia should therefore make sure that she positions herself to reap maximum benefits from these markets.
This will take a serious and deliberate effort for two reasons: firstly, current levels of mutual knowledge are low, since at the moment Polish consumers may use little olive oil, while the Hungarian tourist may not be aware of the great attractions that Tunisia has to offer; secondly, Tunisia will not be alone in recognising the importance of the Central European markets, so competition will be fierce.
Second challenge: to continue to attract European private investment, the key to long term economic development. In this respect, the lesson from economic transition in Central Europe is pretty clear.
We have often heard the view that Central European development was supported mostly by public EU funds.
This is not true: most capital inflows to Central Europe during the last 10 years were of a private nature. For Tunisia, the determination and depth of economic liberalisation will be key to her development over the coming 10 years.
Third challenge: in such a context, there is a need to further improve competitiveness and good governance. The European Commission is already very active in this field with a wide array of programmes in support of the Tunisian “mise à niveau”: from privatisation to telecom policy, from port management to vocational training, from industrial modernisation to administrative preparedness. And we have now jointly decided to move on to new fields of co-operation such as media development and justice modernisation. These new fields of co-operation are important to investors because their judgement nowadays is a global one, their eye fixed on profitability, the investment environment and good governance. We should therefore aim at building a strong co-operation in these fields also.
The challenges stemming from the European Union’s enlargement are substantial. But we should also remember that most of the challenge would be there if there had been no enlargement: globalisation and world wide competition would still be there, demand for good governance would still be there, from inside and from outside.
The EU and its Neighbours
Enlargement poses challenges to Europe as well. Foreign policy is often as much about perceptions as hard facts, and I know that many persons in countries neighbouring the Union have perceived enlargement as a process of erection of new frontiers. Europe must show concretely that this is a false impression.
Let me say emphatically that for the European Union enlargement is not a closing down, but an opportunity – a clear need, rather – to open up to its new, or nearer, neighbours.
This is why, as early as March 2003, the European Commission proposed the European Neighbourhood Policy. In so doing, the Commission wanted to create a consistent policy framework based on the joint pursuit of peace, stability and prosperity, shared values and common interests. The vision is of Europe and its neighbours to the South and East sharing all the benefits of integration bar those arising directly out of the fact of membership of the Union. This includes the creation an area of shared prosperity and values based on deeper economic integration, progressive participation in the Single Market, intensified political and cultural relations and enhanced cross-border co-operation.
This policy has been conceived as being based on existing contractual relations (for example the Association Agreements currently in operation), and as representing a substantial deepening of the relationship in terms of joint objectives and programmed achievements. This will allow us to go deeper and further than we have so far managed in the context of the Barcelona Process. The Neighbourhood Policy is not a substitute for the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, but a way of taking it further and closer to the objectives it set out to achieve. We also need to provide the necessary means to make this vision a reality, and as you know the Commission is currently working on the EU financial framework for the period 2007 and beyond.
We have already moved forward and held intense consultations with a first group of 7 partner countries. I am very pleased that Tunisia and the European Commission have made substantial headway towards an Action Plan in the framework of the Neighbourhood Policy.
We now need to complete this process so that the Action Plan becomes a fully agreed element of our respective foreign policies.
I want to stress the joint ownership of the process: this is an essential feature of the whole operation. In facing up to this challenge both the EU and its partner countries will need to show strong political commitment. Tunisia needs to implement this Action Plan with determination in order to remain at the forefront of the EU neighbours. This in turn will influence the European public’s, and the European investors’, perceptions of Tunisia, and allow Tunisia to reap maximum benefits from the process.
On the EU side, I think that Europe has faced up admirably to the challenge of enlargement; it now must show the same political will to face the challenge of building the strongest possible partnership with its neighbours.
In concluding, let me go back to my opening statement: we are witnessing the dawn of the new era in and around Europe, a new political reality.
The European Union and Tunisia have already made substantial efforts to build a strong and close relationship within the Barcelona Process and through the Association Agreement. While these will continue, the new relationship which is now before us will call for even greater efforts and stronger determination.
I want to conclude by thanking you, Madam Secretary of State, and our distinguished guests from Tunisia and from the new Member States who have come here today. I hope you will find, as I have, that the visit has been well worth the effort.
Thank you for your attention.