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Structured Dialogue – Committee of the Regions
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very happy to be here today to discuss the European Neighbourhood Policy with Europe’s regions and regional associations.
The Committee of the Regions is not only an important institution in its own right, representing Europe’s rich and varied “landscape”. It also plays a crucial role in bringing EU policies closer to our citizens.
As representatives of the municipalities and regions you are at the centre of people’s preoccupations and aspirations. That is particularly relevant in my area of competence. A more effective EU foreign policy is very high on our citizens’ agenda. And vice versa, a strong European foreign policy can only work if it enjoys support at all levels of EU decision-making, not least the regional and local ones.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) is in many ways a response to our citizens’ aspirations and wishes. It is a strategic policy to support the reform agenda in our partner countries and bring more prosperity and stability to Europe’s neighbourhood.
Although it was initiated only a few years ago, is already well established as a key vehicle for EU cooperation with our neighbours. The high level of participation at the first ever ENP ministerial conference that was organized in September 2007 in Brussels confirmed this. It also demonstrated a growing sense of joint ownership. This structured dialogue today is a further indication of the interest this policy generates.
Why is the ENP so important? There are a number of reasons.
The historic enlargement of the EU in 2004 and 2007 built a large zone of democracy and prosperity in Europe. But the political, economic, social and environmental gaps between the Union and its new neighbours to the east, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, and the Southern Caucasus, and to the South, in the Mediterranean region, are still large - and in certain cases increasing.
Therefore, we want to prevent the emergence of new dividing lines between the enlarged EU and its neighbours. We want to reach out and tackle the common challenges of the 21st century together – challenges that do not halt at anybody’s borders, from climate change to uncontrolled migration, from organized crime to energy security, to name just a few. To accomplish that, it is in our interest to contribute to our partners’ modernisation efforts.
The ENP gives us a framework to achieve all this. It is a real partnership for reform, a jointly owned process leading to better mutual understanding in our “globalised” world.
The ENP thus represents a new, targeted approach in the EU’s relations with our neighbours. It goes beyond classical external cooperation by supporting domestic reforms. It gives added value both to partners and to the EU by bringing together the principal instruments at the disposal of the Union and its Member States.
And the first results are already visible: governance, trade, energy, environment, education, health, research - the list of areas where we support our friends and make a difference on the ground is long - and not exhaustive.
We are thus drawing our partners into a close relationship, using jointly agreed and differentiated Action Plans as the main tool. Up to now we have such Action Plans with 12 out of 16 ENP partners, from Ukraine to Azerbaijan, from Jordan to Morocco.
The implementation of these Action Plans is supported with significant EU assistance. Through the new European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI) we will provide almost EUR 12 billion in grant assistance in our neighbourhood until 2013. That is 32% more than in the previous financial framework to support reform priorities and build stronger Cross-Border Cooperation.
These new, intensified relations between the Union and the ENP partners are based on shared interests and values: democracy, the rule of law and human rights, and market-economic reforms.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
One key feature of the ENP is its human dimension: education, health and people–to-people contacts; greater mobility and exchanges of pupils, students and scientists are a high priority.
A new Erasmus Mundus Scholarship programme is now being launched. It provides € 33 million for grants for the ENP region in the academic year 2008/9 (including € 12 million for Russia). In parallel, a new phase of the Tempus programme, supporting higher education reform has begun with € 28 million support in 2007.
So as you can see, one of our key aims is to increase contacts between our societies. Borders do of course remain a political reality. But we must limit their unnecessary inconveniences for contacts and commerce.
The ENP, especially in its Cross-Border Cooperation (CBC) component, does exactly this: it fosters cooperation and real exchange between local authorities and people from the EU and Partner States’ border regions. We want to see our border regions as well-developed, secure and exemplary models of fruitful cooperation, local initiative and partnership.The collaboration between the regions and local communities has contributed much to the development of the EU. This concept now also guides us and our neighbours. That is why we want to continue tapping your expertise.
CBC focuses on four core objectives:
With the already mentioned ENPI, Cross Border Cooperation becomes simpler and endowed with more resources. The total budget of the CBC programmes until 2013 amounts to more than 1.1 billion €. It also puts regions from Member States and partner countries on an equal footing. They can now together define their priorities and jointly choose the actions to be funded.
The preparation of the CBC programmes is advancing well. It is good to see that its main beneficiaries – the local and regional entities and non-governmental organizations – are keenly participating. Looking at the level of ambition of the new programmes, I remain confident that they will directly reflect the real needs of the local populations.
I expect that in the next months all partners will submit their programmes for adoption by the Commission and then sign the relevant financing agreements. This will allow us to start the implementation of some programmes already at the beginning of the next year.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
All this proves that the ENP is a smart policy, with tailor-made instruments to deliver our shared goals. Moreover, we have societies full of ideas, and eager to cooperate. We should not disappoint their expectations. It is up to us, the representatives of the EU institutions, Member States and regions, and of ENP Partner countries, to write the next chapters of this success story.
I am committed to this task. The time to deliver is now. We are in the implementation phase of the Neighbourhood Policy.
That is why on the 5th of December, I presented a strategy paper on ENP to our Member States. It sets out where we need to see additional efforts from the EU. And it argues that the incentives for reform that we offer must be made even more concrete, credible and relevant. Next April, we will then in turn report on the reform progress in our individual partner countries.
Let me just highlight two areas in which we need to do more and which are also critical for our regions: Trade and mobility.
Firstly, the EU needs to show increased commitment to foster economic integration and improve access to our internal market – the world’s largest.
Trade liberalisation does of course require efforts from both sides. But we are specifically seeking the support of Member States for tangible and visible signals to our partners. That also means doing our best to limit the number of products excluded from full liberalisation.
Secondly, simpler, cheaper and faster visa procedures are essential for building real contacts between people. This is regarded by many neighbours as test of our commitment.
Increased mobility is especially important for Cross-Border Cooperation. People and businesses must be able to meet, trade and invest across the borders. That is why we urge the Council and the European Parliament to adopt the Commissions’ 2006 “package” on visa policy.
We also call upon Member States to make full use of the opportunities under existing visa rules, to facilitate travel such as the Local Border Traffic regulation. Here, we have room for flexibility that is not yet fully exploited.
Also, we look ahead towards the first Mobility Partnerships, which offer a package on mobility and security, including opportunities for legal migration, to some of our partners that cooperate effectively with the EU in the management of migration flows, including the fight against illegal migration, readmission and return of illegal migrants The Commission has now been invited by the Council to open dialogues on mobility pilot partnerships, with Moldova and Cape Verde. And I am now working with colleagues to ensure that Morocco will follow soon.
Another improvement that is already operational is the access of ENP partners to twinning and TAIEX activities. This is vital to organize the transfer of administrative know-how that has served so well in the enlargement context. Here too, regional authorities can play a role with their expertise.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
All this is crucial to make the ENP more effective and attractive. It may sometimes require difficult decisions, but I am convinced that our efforts will be far outweighed by long-term benefits both for EU citizens and for our neighbours.
The ENP will therefore remain a key priority. To make it fully successful, we need to further intensify the relations with our neighbours, including at the local and regional levels. Because this is where real partnership can be felt, and where the “true neighbourhood” lies.
You have therefore an important role to play. Let me applaud your positive contribution. And I am counting on all participants in this dialogue to continue working for our common strategic objective of shaping this common area of democracy, prosperity and stability.
I would now be grateful to hear your views.