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Benita Ferrero-Waldner

European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy

The Middle East in the EU’s External Relations

“Madrid: Fifteen Years Later” conference
Madrid, 11 January 2007

Señor Vice Presidente,

Señor Secretario de Estado,

Your Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Quisiera en primer lugar agradecer al Vice Presidente Lamata su hospitalidad y su invitación a esta velada y al Secretario de Estado Bernardino su amable presentación. Es para mí un honor dirigirme a ustedes al final de este día de trabajo para todos.

I am certain you have had very fruitful working sessions today, with plenty of intellectual nourishment. And tonight’s physical nourishment promises to be equally enjoyable and enriching!

We have spent today discussing how we can create the conditions for a comprehensive regional settlement in the Middle East and I trust you have had very useful working sessions this afternoon.

The real question we need to ask is what do we think the Middle East will look like in ten years times? Either we will have made progress in solving the root causes of the region’s conflicts, in Lebanon, Israel and Palestine; or we will have failed, and the situation will look more hopeless than ever before.

If we fail, there will be more and more needless death on both sides and both communities will still be living with fear. The conflict will still be used as a beacon and excuse for extremism and terrorism across the globe.

But if we succeed – and we have to succeed- and are able to facilitate sustainable peace and stability in the region there could be two independent states of Israel and Palestine living side by side I would like to renew the commitment of the EU to a Middle East where the Palestinians are masters of their own destiny finally able to realise their own potential, and there is a lasting solution to Israel's legitimate security fears.

There’s no question which is the preferable scenario. The question of course is how we ensure it’s the scenario we see 10 years from now.

Although many events over the past years can easily lead to deeper pessimism, I am an optimist by nature and continue to believe that progress is possible.

As I said this morning, I firmly believe that the only way this could be achieved is through consensus and dialogue rather than violence. I described this morning the main elements that I consider necessary to be part of a global solution. I do not want to repeat myself and would not elaborate further now. Just allow me again to thank the Spanish authorities and civil society for their efforts to pull together this key international conference as part of reviving this process.

The EU is more of a global player than many Europeans imagine. Despite the setback of the constitutional treaty’s rejection in 2005 we have been gradually strengthening our foreign, security and defence policy to enable us to play a stronger role in dealing with crises and conflicts around the world. As a result we now have around 60,000 European peacekeepers serving across the globe. We are working actively to promote sustainable development and secure peace in Aceh, Afghanistan, Lebanon and around the world.

Clearly there is still room for improvement in our foreign policy-making. We have to find ways of improving our performance, in particular to address three cross-cutting issues which all relate to our discussions today.

1) The first is human security which encompasses both freedom from fear and freedom from want. Nowhere is the need to create freedom from fear and freedom from want more poignant than in the Palestinian Territories. The vicious cycle of poverty and violence has to be broken and we all have a contribution to make.

2) The second issue is the dialogue of cultures and civilizatons It is clear that one of the most important issues we are facing at the dawn of the 21st century is defeating the myth of a clash of civilisations. The plight of the Palestinian people is sadly often instrumentalised in support of political agendas. But the fact remains; it is one of the most emotive conflicts on earth. We would be doing humanity a great service in bringing it to a good end.

3) The third issue is climate change and energy security. An unstable climate will bring a huge additional strain on areas like the Middle East. In a region where five per cent of the world’s population already has to share only one per cent of the world’s water, climate change will mean there is even less water to go round.

And of course there will be huge ramifications for the region from global energy policy and oil prices.

Ladies and Gentlemen, although the EU is a global power with interests around the globe we pay particular attention to those countries closer to us. We believe that we need to create the conditions for peace also by working in promoting a favourable environment that integrates economic, social and political issues and shows the EU’s commitment to the people in the region.

Since 1995, the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership has provided a wide framework for political, economic and social relations between EU Member States and partner countries in the Southern Mediterranean, based on democracy and human rights.

Despite the lack of progress in the political chapter, work done in the economic and social chapters should not be underestimated. The Euromed Partnership is still today the only regional grouping which brings together Israel with its neighbours. It stands as a testimony to the region’s desire to engage in dialogue and work together.

Last year we celebrated the tenth anniversary of the Barcelona Process I believe that Barcelona has made a difference to people’s lives in the region already. And it has permitted the EU to reinforce its strong links and solid relations with our Mediterranean Partners. At the time of the Tenth Anniversary, we set out an agenda for the next five years: a work programme with target dates for action and measures focusing in few critical areas: human rights and democracy, sustainable economic growth and reform, and education.

UNDP Arab Human Development reports have underlined the importance of education and of gender equality to the development of the region. I believe that Education is crucial to the future prosperity and well-being of these countries

In our economic relationship, the Euro-Med partnership has been very successful laying the foundations for free trade in industrial goods. The Barcelona declaration set the objective of a Free Trade Area accross the Mediterranean by 2010.

We have over the last year started negotiations on liberalisation of these key areas in the second half of this year. In services and establishment, the aim is to start with those partners willing to enter into such a regional agreement, and expand the group as others become ready to come on board. In agriculture we agree on a road map towards a high degree of liberalisation in all products, with only a few exceptions

To reap the full benefit of these proposals, the countries of the Mediterranean need to do more to expand South-South trade between themselves. Without this, our 2010 objective will remain unfulfilled.

Finally, the third core element of Barcelona is a reform agenda that brings your countries closer to the EU. The EU doesn’t believe in imposing reform, but we do want to do all we can to support the region’s own reforms quite simply because we believe that democracy, good governance, rule of law, and gender equality are essential for stability and prosperity. This has always been an objective of the Barcelona process and it is the cornerstone of the Neighbourhood Policy.

The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) complements and builds upon the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. ENP is our policy for bringing the EU’s neighbours to its east and south closer to us, and so extending our prosperity, stability and security to others. Our Neighbourhood Policy can facilitate the countries coming much closer to the EU, participating freely in our internal market and building a free trade area. If the conditions are right there will be more freedom of movement for legal migrants, and more exchanges between our scholars, our businessmen, our young people and our tourists. Our peoples will have greater links with one another and the region will enter an era of prosperity unknown for long time.

Politically the region will open up, allowing people to take advantage of the new opportunities on offer and to express their views without fear of reprisals. There will be a greater acceptance of diverse opinions and religious practices as inter-religious tensions diminish.

I take advantage of the presence of the Vice President to stress the important role that European regions are meant to play in a successful ENP. The regions of both sides of the Mediterranean are the motors of the ENP; they need to work in partnership and from here I can only call on all of you to ensure that this channel is maximised as a means to promote closer ties from the citizens of both region.

I would also like to mention those Arab countries a little bit further away geographically but nevertheless very close also to our hearts and minds: the countries East of Jordan. The EU’s Strategic Partnership with the Mediterranean and the Middle East aims at promoting a common zone of peace, prosperity and progress in the Mediterranean and the Middle East, including countries east of Jordan. We will not forget them and as I have said before and on many occasions I believe they are also called to play an important role in supporting peace efforts in the region.

There is an important player I would not wish to forget, I would like to make a call on civil society, so well represented here tonight and stress my believe on the important role that they can play in forging ties among people inside the region, between the region and Europe. I have always found their ideas refreshing and in a process like this new and creative solutions are always welcome. Please continue to work.

Ladies and gentlemen, to conclude I would like to return to the main issue under discussion at this conference: a long tern sustainable peace in the Middle East.

There have been some positive signs. We fully support the efforts in Palestine and Lebanon to find a compromise solution which includes all parties and very much hope both efforts will succeed. I hope the meeting on 23 December between PM Olmert and President Abbas can pave the way for renewed dialogue between the two sides.

Yet, I would like to call your attention to an interest coincidences, as today’s conference preparations were finalised and even today, the same day of the conference; we are hearing more and more voices in the region and in the International Community calling for the need to advance in the Roadmap and moving straight forward to the last stages of its implantation. There are indications that during her forthcoming visit to the region Sec Rice might be discussing the idea of a provisional Palestine state. I am not going to comment on what are for the time being just unofficial sources but I believe that the series of initiative that have been put on the table recently: the Spanish initiative (that I have supported from first moment), the Livni ideas, Peretz plan, US proposals...are a sign of realisation by all players that there is a need for action. And this is already welcome.

This region has tremendous potential, and with sustainable peace and a sufficient injection of resources from the international community, that potential could finally be realised.

As Kofi Annan put it, “We might like to think of the Arab-Israeli conflict as just one regional conflict among many. But it is not. No other conflict carries such a powerful symbolic and emotional charge among people far removed from the battlefield. As long as the Palestinians live under occupation, exposed to daily frustration and humiliation; and as long as Israelis are blown up in buses or in dance-halls: so long will passions everywhere be inflamed.”

Thank you.

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