European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood
Egyptian Foreign Relations Council and Egyptian European Council
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me thank Ibrahim Kamal, President of the Egyptian-European Council and Ambassador Abdel Raouf El Reedy, Chairman of the Egyptian Council for Foreign affairs for this opportunity to talk to you today. I am delighted to be back in Egypt and to be here to discuss with you the evolution of relations between Egypt and the European Union over the last year or so.
Egypt is an important partner for the EU, as a strategic player in this region and one of the leaders of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership, whose 10th anniversary we celebrated last year.
The challenges we both face, reconciling old and new values, coping with demographic and economic changes and finding jobs and opportunities for the young, can only be dealt with effectively by increased international cooperation. Globalisation is making our world smaller by the day and our interests ever more closely intertwined.
We are both confronted with the necessity of economic and political reform to adapt to this new context. That is why identifying our common interests – of which there are many – and openly stating the common values we share – respect for human rights and democracy – is so vitally important.
This background explains why we have been particularly keen to elevate our bilateral partnership to a new level. Indeed we are now on the brink of doing just that. How? Through a European Neighbourhood Action Plan between Egypt and the EU, which we are in the final stages of agreeing.
The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) is a new initiative for the EU. The Action Plan, which we need to conclude, has the potential to create a relationship that we only offer our very closest partners. We want to draw Egypt as close to Europe as we possibly can and as close as Egypt wants.
Through ENP Egypt can deepen its political cooperation and economic integration with us, based on the recognition of our common values such as democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
The idea behind ENP is to promote an area of stability, prosperity, and security for the EU and its neighbours to the south and east. This is a significant development for us and goes far beyond anything we have ever previously offered to partners, except those en route to becoming EU members.
It is a win-win policy, designed to benefit both Egypt and Europe and build on past achievements.
The ENP Action plan is essentially a commonly agreed "work programme" allowing us to reap the benefits of the current Association Agreement. It sets out concretely what Egypt and the EU will be working on over the next years. It is the most comprehensive and in-depth joint agenda we have ever agreed on, including specific targets we should meet. It’s a major step to move Egypt-EU relations definitively beyond trade and aid to a full-fledged partnership on all issues of common interest.
As the Action Plan is jointly agreed between Egypt and the EU it reflects the particular specificities of our relationship. It focuses on supporting Egypt’s national priorities and reforms in three key areas: the judicial and political reform process (including human rights); economic and social programmes and cultural and interpersonal dialogue and actions.
On the economic front it will contain detailed measures to help Egypt participate in the EU’s Single Market. Once our economic legislation is in harmony and we have agreed on the same standards, Egyptian manufacturers, farmers, service-providers and others will be able to compete with their EU counterparts in areas previously inaccessible to them. We will also work towards a free trade area in agricultural goods and services, putting into concrete effect a key commitment of the Association Agreement.
The Action Plan will also cover matters as varied as transport, environment, technology, and research. We can build tighter links in these fields, and pursue Egypt’s participation in the GALILEO initiative for producing a satellite navigation system, or in the EU’s research and development programmes.
But economic reforms can’t be meaningful without accompanying political and social reforms. So judicial and political reform is another important component. Greater cooperation on human rights, democratisation, and good governance, should be based on the international commitments both Egypt and the EU have undertaken at the United Nations. The EU is committed to providing Egypt with its full support in ensuring compliance with the provisions, particularly in the fight against all kinds of discrimination, including gender issues.
We appreciate that political reform is a particularly complex and sensitive matter, but the EU is a loyal partner, and we will do everything we can to support Egypt’s progress. Your President announced important steps forward in last year’s elections, and we must now build on this and go further. Only a truly democratic state is an effective bulwark against extremism and violence. Let’s not forget, “The cure for the ills of democracy is more democracy”.
The EU is deeply committed to Egypt and to supporting your reform process. Together we will also promote greater links between our peoples; more freedom of movement; and open up the EU’s internal programmes in fields like culture and education.
The Action Plan also provides us with a mechanism for more constructive cooperation on counter-terrorism. Both the EU and Egypt have suffered much from terrorism. We were deeply saddened by the loss of life and injuries from the suicide bombings in Sinai two weeks ago. Let me take this opportunity to express my heartfelt sympathy and condolences to all those affected and their families.
We must combine forces to put an end to this terrible scourge. Through the steps outlined in the Action Plan we can work together to support your initiatives on counter-terrorism.
Of course another important element to our relationship is our cooperation on regional affairs. Egypt is an important partner for the EU in the wider region, particularly in the Middle East Peace Process, where Egypt has always played a leading role in bringing the parties together.
Tomorrow I will go to New York for the meeting of the international Quartet. We are acutely aware of the Palestinians’ humanitarian needs, just as we are aware of Israel’s real and ongoing security concerns. But there can be no business as usual until the new government complies with the Quartet’s conditions, namely, renouncing violence, recognising the right of Israel to exist and accepting existing agreements.
EU has called on Israel to take measures to improve the humanitarian and economic situation of the Palestinians, including resuming tax and customs transfers. Meanwhile we will continue to support the Palestinian people, and to urge other partners in the international community, especially the Arab states, to take their share of the burden.
I am confident we can rely on Egypt to continue its moderating role in its contacts with the Palestinian and Israeli authorities and the wider Arab world. The EU supports the Palestinian people, through humanitarian aid and other concrete measures like the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza will continue. We are the largest international donor to the Palestinians and we remain the largest donor to date in 2006.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I spoke yesterday in Alexandria about the importance of intercultural dialogue, and the important role Egypt can play in promoting a new spirit of mutual respect and understanding between Europe and the Islamic world. I firmly believe this is one of the most pressing challenges of our times.
We have passed through a difficult period and it is crucial that we learn the lesson – dialogue. We must prevent such misunderstandings and incomprehension poisoning our relationship again in the future, and dialogue is the way to do that.
I have every confidence in Egypt matching the EU in our determination to put the past behind us and build closer relations than ever before. We are at a turning point in EU-Egypt relations and I lam convinced our relationship will flourish through the European Neighbourhood Policy and our Action Plan, which I hope very much we can finalise soon. I am looking forward to working more closely with my Egyptian counterparts in the future and demonstrating to the world our regional links and shared values are drawing us closer together than ever.