European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood
EPP “Paneuropa” Group
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for inviting me. It is a pleasure to be here, among distinguished legislators and policy-makers and under the auspices of one of the intellectual fathers of European integration, Richard Coudenhove-Calergi.
Today’s fundamental question “Quo vadis Europa?” is no exaggeration. The European Union stands at a critical junction. The current challenges are more profound than a mere “constitutional crisis” implies.
The referenda in France and the Netherlands, the debate about Europe’s future course, and the difficult talks on the Financial Perspectives show that the Union is in a crisis of confidence and in a crisis over its substance, all this as we must manage ever-faster globalisation.
But, as Count Coudenhove-Calergi famously said: “To be a pioneer, you have to be an optimist.”
In this vein, let me share a few optimistic thoughts with you, on two major points: First, briefly on the “State of the Union”, the EU’s state of play; and second, on what we are doing to make the EU stronger as a foreign policy actor – especially in our neighbourhood.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The draft Constitutional Treaty is an important stepping stone for a more transparent and more effective Europe. Needless to say that the European Commission has always strongly supported it! We did in fact contribute some of its most innovative features.
However, even though a large number of Member States have ratified the Treaty, there is no denying the fact that it will as such not enter into force in the foreseeable future. I deplore this. But it is important to face political reality as we consider the best way forward.
This does, not mean that we should give up strengthening our Union. On the contrary, this is not the time for navel-gazing. The present “period of reflection” is an opportunity to have a frank discussion on the future of Europe. Recent months have already seen a fruitful debate. There is a great variety of ideas, including particularly those of the European Parliament.
The Commission took immediate action to boost this debate: Through our “Plan D” for debate, democracy and dialogue. The Commission stimulates the discussion and strengthens citizens’ input into EU policy-making. Plan D is about outreach, transparency and participation in every policy area.
Secondly, the Commission is also at the forefront of substantial reforms. At the recent Hampton Court Summit on the opportunities and challenges of globalisation, our analytical paper helped to steer the debate. We are in the lead on the follow-up in several fields: From research and education to energy, from migration to – not least - security and external relations in the broadest sense. In all of these areas, EU instruments already provide added value, and we will now sharpen them further.
So we are actively responding to our citizens’ concerns, both on democratic process and on substance. The European Parliament is our natural partner in this regard. But clearly, for a true partnership for renewal we also need a strong commitment of our Member States.
Our collective efforts, conducted in the spirit of the new draft Treaty, will lay the groundwork for a stronger Union. The current “period of reflection” is not a “period of inaction”. Our clients – the citizens - expect us to act, with or without a new Treaty. And there is a lot we can do to build Europe’s effectiveness and legitimacy, even without introducing institutional changes through the backdoor.
So let us not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Europe is not paralysed. Europe is working, in particular in the field of foreign policy.
This brings me to my core area as Europe’s External Relations Commissioner.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The EU can do a lot of things. But it can’t change geography. In an era in which borders matter less, “Fortress Europe” is not the answer. On the very contrary, only by opening ourselves up to the world will we protect our long term interests.
Our citizens support this view. There is strong public demand for a more effective EU foreign policy, to meet global challenges like terrorism, poverty, and political instability. External action gives Europe democratic legitimacy. It combines the imperative of reconnecting the EU with its citizens with the imperative of framing globalisation. Because that is essentially what European foreign policy is about: The management of globalisation.
Therefore, the present challenge is not reinventing the wheel of diplomacy, but fine-tuning our policies. It is not creating an EU foreign policy from scratch, but making our existing tools more effective, more coherent and more visible.
An active EU foreign policy is particularly relevant in the Union’s vicinity. If the Union does not spread stability and prosperity around its rims, it will, in the long run, import instability. It is in our enlightened self-interest to engage with our neighbours.
EU-enlargement has been a key tool to project stability. It culminated in the historical success of last year’s accession of 10 new Member States – nothing less than the reunification of Europe.
But it is also logical that we cannot enlarge ad infinitum. Every political Union has borders. We must honour our present basic commitments in the enlargement process, while insisting strictly on all criteria. Enlargement is not a one-way street. To use our gravitational pull efficiently as a lever for reforms, we must be crystal-clear about EU conditionality. Our shared values are the fundament of our common European home.
One of these critical criteria is the EU’s absorption capacity. We must consolidate the Union. Overstretching it would be highly detrimental, for us and our partners.
Thirdly, we must of course stress the great advantages that enlargement brings to our citizens. But we must communicate these positive points more actively and take the pessimism that prevails in some quarters more seriously. Politics is about leading people, not about running out of sight. We cannot allow ourselves to get ahead of our public opinion.
This political reality – the inherent limits of enlargement - makes our European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) even more important. It is our way of ensuring that Europe’s borders connect people rather than separate them.
The ENP is a key priority for EU external relations. It is a virtuous circle, based on the premise that by helping our neighbours we help ourselves. By investing in our neighbours and by helping to create prosperous, stable and secure conditions around us, we extend the prosperity, stability and security of our citizens. The ENP is, in short, a win-win policy, based on shared interest and values. Ranging from Eastern Europe through the Caucasus and the Middle East to the Maghreb, it is a certainly a “Pan-European” policy.
First, the ENP is a security policy. With its various instruments, it helps us to tackle new threats such as terrorism, international crime and human trafficking. It helps to resolve frozen conflicts and, at the same time, to control our borders.
But better border management is not enough. We must tackle the causes of desperation and give people a perspective in their countries – with the help of Europe, but not necessarily within Europe.
Therefore, the ENP is also a stability policy: By promoting democratic institutions, the rule of law and fundamental reforms, it addresses the roots of instability. We offer closer relations to those partners who make progress towards good governance, and we fund major activities to build open societies, not least in the field of education. Of course, Europe cannot simply “export” democracy and human rights. But through the ENP, we can ensure that their seeds grow.
In the same vein, the ENP is a prosperity policy. Economic decline is one of the main reasons for political unrest, migration and radicalisation. Just think about the fact that the 22 Arab nations combined only muster the GDP of Spain. Clearly, the lack of perspectives breeds resentment. By deepening trade links, by helping to create stable macro-economic frameworks and building a climate conducive to investment we lay the foundations for wealth, growth and improved social services. A long-term goal of the ENP is even to give partners a stake in our internal market. Vice versa, economic support and liberalisation is equally beneficial to the Union itself. Boosting Europe's growth requires us to seek out new markets.
The ENP is also a modern, smart policy. It is much more than traditional diplomacy, using the broad, sophisticated array of all EU levers. That is were Europe’s particular strength lies. From political dialogue and crisis management to institution-building, from election support to human rights rules, from liberalized trade to economic aid, from energy and transport links to environmental projects, from reforming the judiciary to funding universities, the EU has the power to transform the governments and societies around us. This is the foreign policy of the 21st century.
The task for us foreign policy makers is therefore to harness these tools and improve their coherence. It is not to go back to the diplomacy of the 19th century, with its reduced scope.
The so-called ENP Action Plans therefore cover a lot of ground. They are the organizational backbone of the ENP, with detailed reform priorities coupled to financial support. They are gradually becoming the reform programs of our partners and other international organizations. The Action Plans are tailor-made for each country’s needs, as the ENP is certainly not a “one-size-fits-all” policy. For example, Ukraine clearly has an “avant-garde status” within the ENP, with much deeper cooperation. Also, the bilateral ENP relations are complementary to our multilateral Barcelona-Process for the Mediterranean, where we have a specific focus on urgent challenges such as migration.
We also conduct an increasing number of high-profile political operations in the ENP regions. Just think about the EU-funded border assistance mission between Moldova and Ukraine, which just started work. It helps to prevent trafficking in people, smuggling of goods, the proliferation of weapons and customs fraud. It will also give new impetus to resolving the frozen conflict in Transnistria.
Also, the EU has started to monitor a border crossing between Gaza and Egypt, in addition to our large support to the Palestinian Authority. Ensuring the free and legal flow of goods and people will not just revitalize the Palestinian economy – it will also build confidence as a step towards a viable Palestinian state.
All these examples show how the ENP action ties in with our broader political objectives. The ENP is thus not a catalogue of technical measures. It is a deeply political project.
The ENP is thus not just a “second-best” option for our partners, but a very substantial policy with immediate palpable incentives, a policy that works and delivers to our partners abroad and to Europe’s citizens. It responds to our neighbours’ desire for closer relations with the EU, without offering a perspective of membership. Of course, some of the ENP countries have European aspirations. But the question of accession is not on the agenda. First things first! In a way, the “journey to Brussels” is more important than its final destination.
Ladies and Gentlemen!
The ENP is a bridge-building policy. It applies Europe’s soft power. Europe does not do „regime change“. It does system change. The ENP thus makes the united Europe a pole of stability and a beacon of prosperity, just as Richard Coudenhove-Calergi envisaged it with such grand strategic foresight.
Europe has achieved enormous accomplishments in the pursuit of Coudenhove-Calergi’s Pan-European ideals. To quote him again: “Ideas are weapons, and they are the raw material of politics”. This “strategic idealism” should guide us as we continue to extend our sphere of liberty and prosperity.
In this vein, I am sure that together we will give Europe new momentum and continue to mould this “raw material” into political action – which the European Union so urgently needs.