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José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
Statement by President Barroso on the situation in North Africa
Brussels, 2 March 2011
Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen,
We just had a very useful and important debate on the situation in the Southern Mediterranean in the meeting of the Commission College.
The events unfolding in our southern neighbourhood are a rendezvous with history. Europe will rise to this challenge and support the current transformation processes. The Commission has a crucial set of political and economic tools that we are already deploying and that we will strengthen further in the run-up to next week's extraordinary European Council.
I would like to share four main points with you, after today's discussion:
First, on Libya itself:
The completely unacceptable actions of the Libyan regime over the last weeks have made it painfully clear that Colonel Khadhafi is part of the problem, not part of the solution.
It is time for him to go and give the country back to the people of Libya, allowing democratic forces to chart out a future course. The situation we are seeing in Libya is simply outrageous. We cannot accept this.
Secondly, on humanitarian aid:
The UN has just declared an emergency situation. We are currently facing at least 140.000 refugees. I support the appeal made by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees asking for a response of the international community to this humanitarian crisis. I hope the European Union Member States will respond. The Commission is ready to do it. In fact, this morning I spoke on the phone with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres on this very tragic situation.
As you know we have swiftly allocated an initial sum of € 3 million, but in the light of the humanitarian needs we will increase this immediately to ten million. At this stage, we are providing medical and food aid, shelter and other necessities to refugees at the Egyptian and Tunisian borders.
I have asked Commissioner Georgieva to visit the region tonight to oversee the operation. I want to thank her for her dedication to this task and the very important work she is doing.
The EU's Civil Protection Mechanism (MIC) was also activated to help coordinate the evacuation of people fleeing Libya.
Thirdly, on refugees and migration:
The EU border control agency FRONTEX and Italy are already conducting a Joint Operation called Hermes 2011 in the central Mediterranean area.
This operation helps Italy to cope with the current and potential migratory flows from Northern Africa. It can also help other Member States that may need it. A large number of Member States provided technical assets and specialised personnel. This is a tangible case of "Europe in action". I would like to thank all those that are showing this strong willingness for solidarity.
To provide further help on this, the Commission is ready to mobilise extraordinary financial assistance from funds such as the External Borders Fund and European Refugee Fund (which amount to € 25 million in total). Commissioner Malmström is very much engaged on these actions and I also want to praise her work.
Finally, on political and economic reforms in the region:
Today we have listened to HR/VP Cathy Ashton, she briefed us on the situation. Commissioner Füle also added his input. It is quite clear that we have to reformulate the response to this area which is so close to Europe. This is precisely the South Mediterranean.
It is clear that we must not just deal with the fall-out of these crises - we must help address the roots of this process.
We need a new political paradigm in the relations with our Southern Neighbourhood. We need a “Pact for Democracy and Shared Prosperity”.
The ongoing events bring tremendous hopes and promises for the future of the peoples in the Arab world. I believe they have embarked on a bold, transformational journey towards freedom, democracy and a better life. I think it is our duty to say to the Arab peoples that we are on their side! From Brussels, I want to specifically say this to the young Arabs that are now fighting for freedom and democracy. We are on your side! We remember our own experiences in Europe, when we were fighting for democracy – in Southern Europe, in Central and Eastern Europe, where some were saying that the fight for democracy will not be successful. Now some are saying the same about the Arab world - that Arabs are not "fit" for democracy. I believe Arabs are "fit" for democracy, and we are on their side.
Of course, we all know the risks in these transition processes very well. But Europe would rather be accused of holding illusions of democracy than be guilty of cynicism or of missing this rendezvous with history.
In order to bolster these positive changes, the Commission will target its substantial aid along three pillars: i) democracy, the rule of law and respect for fundamental rights; ii) inclusive social development; and iii) a strengthened and thriving civil society.
We have around € 4 billion up to 2013 for Neighbourhood assistance that we will use in an even more targeted way.
I already see a number of specific priority actions: i) democratic and constitutional reform, ii) judicial reform, iii) support to non-state actors such as NGOs, trade unions, women organizations and media.
We will apply stronger conditionality to reward those who live up to democratic values and the rule of law.
Furthermore, it is clear that the current uprisings were also due to the dire social situation in these countries with high levels of unemployment, an uneven distribution of wealth and a lack of opportunities. This is why I want a stronger focus on inclusive development. The wealth that exists in the region must make a contribution for the future. On our side, we will in particular use our assistance to boost trade and investment and foster the business climate.
We will also use the leverage of the funds of the European Investment Bank and prepare a stimulus package for the region, with a particular focus on SMEs to help create jobs.
I also believe the EBRD can do more, and be more active in the South. All this is the intention of the EBRD if the Member States that are members of this bank are ready to change the statutes. Yesterday I already spoke to the President of the EBRD who would support this change in the statutes of the EBRD so that thay can use their great expertise of transition and in financial matters to support the Southern Mediterranean.
Finally, we can only contribute to open societies if we further encourage mobility. We should be ready to offer mobility partnerships to countries that meet certain conditions, and also look into targeted visa facilitation for students, researchers and bona fide business people, so that mobility can be increased among those countries themselves and with Europe..
Ladies and gentlemen,
The European Union itself is a community of democratic Member States which have overcome tremendous historical hurdles.
This European success story was possible when fear gave way to hope, when repression had to surrender to the tremendous forces of freedom.
We therefore totally understand where the nascent democracies in the Southern Mediterranean are coming from. Many people of these countries are showing that they don't want dictatorships. Now we need to support them in building real democracies. They will of course follow their own road and make their own choices. It is not up to us to tell them what to do. But I want to make one thing very clear here: The EU and the Commission are totally determined to support them on their journey to democracy and a better future.