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Benita Ferrero-Waldner

Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy

External Relations: latest developments

AFET, European Parliament
Brussels, 5 November 2008

Honourable Members of the National Parliaments,

Honourable Members of the European Parliament

Dear Friends

I’ll confine my remarks today to the four of the top foreign policy questions on my agenda: the Transatlantic Relationship, EU/Russia and our Eastern Neighbourhood, Energy Security and the Union for the Mediterranean.

First, the Transatlantic Relationship. As we meet, all eyes are on the US elections. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Senator Obama on becoming the 44th President of the United States of America. This is a time for a renewed commitment between Europe and the United States of America to face together the many challenges ahead of us. In seeking to establish relations with our most important partner, it will be essential:

To have swift engagement. I support the idea of an early meeting with the new President. One option would be a visit to Brussels in Spring;

To make our partnership more outward looking with more engagement of the emerging powers;

To overhaul our global financial architecture. Talks will already have started at a Global Financial Summit in Washington on 15 November hosted by President Bush;

Key priorities should be:

The MEPP, Afghanistan/Pakistan and Russia plus Climate .Change and Energy security.

The Middle East should be our top priority. We must seek US engagement right from the start of the next President’s mandate. In the past, US Presidents have all too often neglected the issue until the end of their first mandate or even postponed it until a second mandate. It would also be important to take things from where we left them (re Annapolis) and not start from scratch. In that regard, the forthcoming Quartet meeting should help to do some kind of "codification" of progress.

Turning to Pakistan, we all agree that it is the key to creating a stable regional environment for the success of our efforts in Afghanistan. Such an approach would position us better to develop a productive dialogue with the US, and also to tackle US concerns about “burden sharing” in this part of the world.

On Russia, we should build on the support the US has shown for EU leadership during the Georgia crisis and seek US support for our efforts to build an Eastern Partnership. We should demonstrate that we can offer effective support to these countries. By doing that, we will show the US that the EU is capable of making a difference in its own backyard.

Prospects for a strengthened transatlantic relationship are good. But we cannot assure that it will all be plain sailing with a new Administration. Above all, we need to show our capacity to become a more equal partner by acting more efficiently and rapidly on the challenges that we both face, with well-defined and coherent EU policies.

In this regard, the current international financial crisis has shown how the European Union can play a very constructive role, impressively demonstrating our capacity to contribute in a coordinated and coherent manner. Our top priority is now to minimise the impact of the financial crisis on jobs, purchasing power and prosperity of our citizens, in short the "real economy". Europe must confront the economic downturn with the same robust and coordinated approach we have taken on the financial crisis.

The framework for action agreed last week is only the first step, and the Commission will bring forward, on 26 November, a comprehensive EU recovery plan. But this financial crisis has once again shown the economic interdependencies of our markets worldwide and therefore we should take stock of this reality in our dealings with each other.

This brings me to my second point, EU/Russia relations, which the Parliament debated only last month in Plenary. The Russian and European economies are very interdependent, and we should not underestimate the strength this gives us. Certainly we buy a good deal of Russian energy – but for Russia we are the market for their exports, and this is a very major source of revenues that has fuelled Russian growth.

Russian violation of Georgian territorial integrity this summer and unilateral recognition of Abkhazia and S Ossetia cast a serious shadow over our relations.

This is the context in which we have carried out a full review of our relations with Russia, at the request of the European Council, a difficult and sensitive exercise. The Communication was approved only this morning, by the Commission and I am pleased to hand it over to you personally, dear Chairman, afterwards.

This review makes a clear-eyed assessment of Europe’s interest, but at the same time Russia's interest and mutual interest, in the very wide range of activities that we undertake with Russia. As you will see when you read it, we are frank about the shortcomings of our working relationship. But we also find that the interests of the EU, identified in the negotiating directives for the preparation of a new agreement with Russia, remain as important as ever. The pursuit of these negotiations is the best way to present a united front and arrive at our objectives with Russia. Therefore, we argue that the next rounds of negotiations with Russia should now be scheduled.

Pursuing negotiations does not mean that the European Union accepts the status quo in Georgia. The Geneva process should continue its important work addressing security and stability in the region as well as the return of Internally Displaced Persons and refugees, and the territorial integrity of Georgia should be restored.

The recent donor conference for Georgia outstripped all expectations, and we will also shortly be bringing our proposals for a new and ambitious Eastern Partnership to support all our neighbours to the east. I have welcomed the support of the EP in this work and I was pleased to welcome you, Mr Chairman, to the donor's conference. I can assure you that the democratic dimension of our relations with the East and a strong inter-Parliamentary dialogue will figure prominently in our proposals of the Eastern Partnership.

This summer’s conflict also pushed energy security up our collective agenda. I promise you that this will be a major topic in the Eastern Partnership that we propose at the end of November. Next week the college will consider the Second Strategic Energy Review which was requested by the March European Council. This will take important steps towards the development of a more concerted EU approach to the external aspects of our energy security and this is work that must continue next year under the Czech and Swedish presidencies.

The final issue I wanted to touch on in closing is the “Union for the Mediterranean”, as it is called since yesterday. When I was last in this committee, I reported on its launch. This time, I have just come from the first UPM Ministerial Meeting in Marseille. As you know, after the Paris Summit in July, official meetings stalled as a result of differences between the Arab group and Israel on the question of Arab League participation. A further reminder, were any needed, of the urgency of making progress on the MEPP.

Despite these early teething problems, I am pleased to report that in Marseille we made progress on the both the UPM’s institutional structure, the 2009 work programme and the political declaration. Foreign Ministers agreed on a number of conclusions that will now be submitted to the Heads of State of the co-presidencies. The most visible decision was the agreement on setting up the secretariat in Barcelona, a Secretariat that will be headed by a representative of a Southern Mediterranean country. In exchange and as a sign of willingness of different members to work together there will be several deputies, including one from Israel.

Another visible conclusion is the decision to change the title, the wording "Barcelona Process" has been dropped but the acquis remains. 

The Commission provided much of the substance in particular with regard to the proposals for the institutional set up of the process and, you will be pleased to hear, argued strongly for your idea of a strong parliamentary dimension for the UPM through the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly. Those like me who have followed every single Ministerial of EuroMed for the last 13 years are particularly satisfied with the language on MEPP, a real improvement compared to the one in the Paris declaration. I hope this is a good basis on which we will be able to build on at the forthcoming meeting of the Quartet in Sharm el Sheik that I am planning to attend. It will be a historic occasion, the first meeting with the parties, in the region, an occasion where I hope the EU can play an important political role.

President, Honourable Members, thank you for your attention, your valuable input and continued support on all these questions. I’d be happy to take any questions.

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