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European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood
“Giving the Neighbours a stake in the EU internal market”,
10th Euro-Mediterranean Economic Transition
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me add my own welcome to you. Thank you all for coming here today.
As Rutger explained, although this conference is within the framework of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership, we wanted to include all our neighbours in the discussion about the benefits of closer association with the EU’s internal market. So let me say how glad I am that all our neighbours, from both south and east, are here.
The core principle of the European Neighbourhood Policy is very simple – we want to extend the prosperity, stability, and security enjoyed by the EU’s members to our neighbours. Why? Because our neighbours are important to us. You are our closest partners and friends. We share practical interests, ideals, and aspirations, and we face common challenges like security, the environment, jobs and migration. We want a relationship which better reflects that.
The difference to the Barcelona Process is the help that’s on offer: we go much further than the Association Agreements in the kind of relationship we propose. Barcelona is an important multilateral forum for the Euro-mediterranean area, and will continue to be so. ENP complements this by strengthening our bilateral relations. It offers individual countries the opportunity to build a qualitatively better relationship with the EU.
ENP takes a pragmatic approach: we jointly identify specific areas for increased cooperation. These are included in jointly agreed Action Plans signed with each country. These Action Plans cover a wide range of elements, from judicial and administrative capacity building to cooperation on energy issues; from discussions on human rights to transfer of know-how on regulatory issues; and from involvement in EU internal programmes to detailed information about our standards and norms.
But the distinguishing feature of ENP is that each Action Plan is different. Each one is drawn up through detailed discussions with the country concerned and reflects the specificity of the relationship between that country and the EU. The areas listed in the Action Plan are of mutual interest to both sides. So Action Plans are usually based on a county’s national development strategy and reflect the specific areas where countries see an advantage in closer cooperation with the EU.
It’s true that there’s an element of conditionality involved. But it is positive conditionality, meaning that we will offer more (financial assistance, technical dialogue, or transfer of best practice) as progress is made.
The Action Plans cover areas where the country wants to make progress, and where the EU will offer help to achieve that progress. But our role is to support changes, not impose them. Moldovans know best what needs to be done in Moldova, just as Moroccans know best what needs to be done in Morocco. ENP is a signal that we view those who participate in it differently. We view our neighbours as our closest partners. And it is designed to help those partners who want an even closer relationship with the EU to achieve it.
In a nutshell, it is a true partnership for reform and modernisation.
But of course the hard work of reform is done at home. No matter how much the EU may want to help, or to soften the sometimes painful consequences of reform, there is a limit to what we can do. The really courageous decisions and the detailed steps towards reform must be home-grown.
So what kind of enhanced relationship are we offering? The Action Plans spell out the details for each country. But broadly speaking we are offering deeper political and economic integration into the EU.
On the political side, that means more frequent and higher level political dialogue - better reflecting the importance of our relations - and assisting our partners to further strengthen the institutions protecting democracy and the rule of law. We also want to cooperate more closely in promoting our common foreign policy priorities, like making multilateral institutions more effective, and in addressing our common security threats, like the fight against terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
On the economic side we offer enhanced trade and investment relations, increased financial and technical assistance, gradual participation in a number of EU policies and programmes and, the most novel and far-reaching feature of ENP, a “stake” in the EU’s internal market.
That brings me to the focus of this conference and your discussions over the next two days. The next speaker, Anne Houtman, will discuss in more detail the nature of the EU’s internal market, and what a “stake” in it may mean. The internal market is the foundation of the EU, and we guard its integrity fiercely. So offering closer integration is not done lightly, not least because it is work in progress. The internal market is a moving target and every year we add to the body of law governing it.
What we are offering is a move from ‘shallow’ integration to deeper economic and regulatory integration. We can take our relationship beyond trade, beyond mere cross-border exchanges, to include common technical norms and standards, intellectual propriety rights, competition rules, consumer protection and so on. Tackling these non-tariff barriers puts us en route to a truly unique relationship.
And it will increase trade for our partners: I understand Ukraine is adopting EU standards for its petroleum products so as to be able to export to EU markets; and Tunisia has adopted EU food and hygiene standards so as to export shell fish and oysters to the EU. Both hard-headed economic decisions based on an objective assessment of the opportunities on offer.
Not only will the opportunities for economic exchange with us and other markets increase, there will be other benefits, like more investment, and greater administrative capacity. That in turn will have positive economic consequences, like stimulating the growth of small and medium sized enterprises, the bedrock of any economy.
That doesn’t make it easier for our neighbours of course. But the beauty of ENP is that our partners can choose the areas of the internal market in which they would like to participate. And we can help them reach that goal.
We must be clear that we’re talking about a long process. Deeper integration means approximating legislation, building regulatory frameworks, and strengthening administrative capacities. To take full advantage of integration in the Single Market partners will need to link up to EU transport, energy and telecommunication networks. And that takes significant time and effort.
Indeed, there’s no guarantee the goal will ever be reached. But every step along the way to closer integration in the internal market will bring medium and long term advantages.
The necessary legislative and institutional changes bring their own benefits by facilitating greater economic development. ENP is an anchor for reforms by providing a ready-made set of standards in virtually any field. And since we set the global standards in many areas, they bring access not only to the EU’s market but to markets around the globe.
Though there may be high political costs to pay in the short term for these reforms, the long term opportunity costs of not doing it will be greater. The world is moving fast and both the EU and our neighbours must work hard to ensure we’re not left behind.
That said, it is not our business to tell our neighbours what to achieve or how to achieve it. You must set the pace of reform and decide how far you want to go.
There’s no denying we want you to go as far as possible. The closer relations we have with you, the better. And that is why we have put in place incentives to make reform more palatable and are providing assistance like our TAIEX and twinning programmes.
That’s also why we say the more you do, the more we will offer. But the decision is entirely yours.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In the coming two days you will discuss in great detail the nuts and bolts of the EU’s internal market, and how we can use the ENP Action Plans to help you come closer to us.
I encourage you to use this opportunity to ask as many questions as you want and challenge us to help you as much as we can. And I ask you to spread the word back home about what is on offer and how the EU is willing and able to support you.
After all, this is about mutual benefit, about using this policy to achieve greater economic prosperity and so stability and security for all our citizens. And while the bulk of the hard work is waiting for you at home, the EU as a whole and the European Commission in particular will do all it can to help you achieve the results you want.
I wish you productive discussions and good luck in your reform endeavours!