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European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy
Address at the EU Sub-Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Development Policy
House of Lords
London, 13 January 2011
Mr. Chairman, Honourable Members,
It is a pleasure to be with you in London for this exchange of views.
In my speech today, I would like to share with you some ideas on what the European Union can do to strengthen its relations with its neighbours.
Make no mistake: if the EU wants to become a credible global player, it must start within its neighbourhood. Our capacity to act convincingly in our neighbourhood will be a measure of our ability to implement the Foreign Policy provisions of the Lisbon Treaty.
Last July, the EU launched a Strategic Review of European Neighbourhood Policy. This review is very timely. As the EU embarks into a major strategic effort to overcome the effects of the economic and financial crisis - and to emerge even stronger by the year 2020 - we must ensure that our neighbours are not left behind.
Our consultations so far have been extensive. We have listened to experts and academics. We have consulted partner countries and Member States. We have spoken with Civil Society organisations and with the European Parliament.
In these consultations, we systematically asked three questions.
• What should our vision for the ENP be within a 10-15 year horizon?
• What medium-term objectives should the current Commission pursue?
• What can we improve in terms of our instruments and resources to meet these objectives?
Let me begin by outlining the emerging vision for ENP in the medium-term. All of our partners want stronger relations with the EU, based on high-level political dialogue. They all look forward to deeper economic integration, based on the approximation of legislation and regulatory convergence. They hope for easier mobility and increased financial co-operation.
Expectations are high and the EU needs to be unambiguous about what it can offer and what it expects in return. In the past, we have not always been so clear.
The EU has often shied away from expressing its expectations on shared values. We should be more forceful in underlining that good governance and political reform are not “optional” elements of our policy. In fact, they are necessary requirements for deepened political and economic relations and for new contractual relations or “advanced status” with some of our partners.
When it comes to economic integration, the vision that has emerged from the consultation is one of integration into the EU internal market and of the extension of the four freedoms, in exchange for the adoption and effective implementation of a large part of the EU acquis. Here, there are some important gaps between partners’ expectations and what the EU may be prepared to offer, notably in the areas of freedom of movement and of financial support.
Possibly, the key to bridging these gaps lies in a clearer and more rigorous differentiation. A Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement or a visa-free regime requires not only clear commitments from partner countries but also the administrative capacity to credibly implement these commitments.
But we should also be ready to reward real progress and give ourselves the requisite means to do so. Financial allocations should be much higher for those countries that really undertake reform. This underlies the 'more for more' approach.
Let me also stress that differentiation should be based on partner countries’ ambition in their relations with the EU, on their readiness to accept shared values, on which the EU is based, and on their performance in governance and reform — rather than on their geographical position.
Of course, some of the neighbouring countries are European and see themselves as potential EU members. But this is not a reason to offer less to others, or to be less demanding. If European neighbours are more ambitious, it will be up to them to set the bar higher.
In the medium term, I see seven issues deserving further reflection.
First, several of our partners request for more political steering in our relationships. Our partners wish to have more frequent ministerial meetings to address our numerous areas of cooperation. I see this as a legitimate request. Continuous and substantial dialogue can help us address difficult issues in a spirit of confidence and partnership.
Second, the prospect of participating in the Internal Market is a powerful agent of change. Our neighbours highlight the importance for them of having easier market access, in particular for agricultural and agro-industrial products. We offer our most advanced partners Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements. For partner countries to fully reap the fruits of such an agreement, we should stress that serious reforms are needed - to ensure the independence and fairness of the judiciary and to curb corruption.
The third issue concerns facilitating the mobility of people. It would be hard to ignore the insistence of all our partners on this point. We may need to think outside the box here. We need to work towards a broader, win-win, approach to mobility and migration. We need to improve security at the same time as mobility. We can do this by setting the right security conditions for our partners to achieve greater mobility. And we can use our financial and technical resources to help our partners achieve these conditions.
The fourth issue is protracted conflicts. What the EU can do to help advance a resolution? Partners have asked us to be more active. There are clear expectations among our neighbours that, with the Lisbon Treaty, the EU will be able to deploy all its instruments in a more coherent way.
The fifth issue involves deeper co-operation in areas such as energy, environment, climate change, education and industry. Such cooperation is also in our interest. Indeed, partners are also very keen to have more access to EU programmes and to participate in EU agencies.
A sixth issue concerns the involvement of civil society. Civil Society Organisations in partner countries are our best allies when it comes to promoting values and good governance. We need to help link them up with their counterparts in the EU, while strengthening their capacities and involving them more in policy formulation and monitoring.
Finally, there is the question of the regional specificities within our neighbourhood. I believe that the EU should not ignore regional differences. The ENP should promote co-operation not only between the EU and each partner but also among ENP partners in a regional context, particularly in the framework of the Eastern Partnership and of the Union for the Mediterranean. In turn, this regional approach should contribute to our overall policy objectives.
Finally, let me address the thorny issue of resources.
I hesitate to speak about this in the difficult economic and financial situation faced by the EU. However, I believe that we can increase efficiency by better targeting and delivering assistance. We can gain mileage by developing innovative financial instruments. Assistance from EU and Member States can be better coordinated.
But let’s be frank, we need to give ourselves the financial means to support an ambitious policy. We cannot ask for far-reaching reforms and decline much-needed support. The ENP will need to be treated as a priority in the next EU financial framework.
Mr. Chairman, Honourable Members, before I conclude I would like to say a few words about the European Union's enlargement policy.
In many respects, the benefits of our enlargement policy are similar to the benefits of neighbourhood policy, but magnified considerably. This is a consequence of the very specific nature of enlargement. The ultimate goal of membership of the European Union often requires the most profound domestic reforms.
It is in the European Union's strategic interest to take the enlargement process forward on the basis of the agreed principles and conditions.
Our enlargement policy shows how we can turn serious challenges on our doorstep into opportunities: opportunities for a more secure and prosperous Europe and a stable world.
Consider the Western Balkans. Fifteen years ago, the region appeared in everyone's mind as a place of destruction and despair. Now, it is consolidating peace and stability through a clear European Union membership perspective. This perspective prompts regional cooperation and the diplomatic resolution of bilateral issues.
Consider Turkey, a growing regional power, taking steps to bring its secular democracy closer to European Union standards.
Or consider Iceland, a country hard hit by the financial crisis which opted for the European Union's model of stability and solidarity and is now negotiating membership.
All these countries made a sovereign choice in favour of the European Union values-based model.
Because the European Union remains attractive - even in the current climate. The history of enlargement has been a success. We have cemented democracy in countries which were dictatorships, reinforced the rule of law and respect for fundamental rights and promoted market economies.
Realising this potential is far from automatic. For the aspiring countries, the tough preparations for membership require a process of profound reform and reorientation.
That countries undertake these efforts is in large measure due to the unique nature of the enlargement process. Enlargement goes far beyond foreign policy. It requires real political and economic reform and will only happen when the political, economic, legal and administrative criteria are fully met.
I will be happy to go into more detail in our discussion.
Mr Chairman, honourable members let me say a few words to conclude.
Thus far, I have outlined our thoughts on issues that are emerging from this Strategic Review of the European neighbourhood policy.
In February, Baroness Ashton and I will discuss these issues with the Foreign Ministers of EU Member States and ENP Partners in a Ministerial conference. We expect this conference to provide us with guidance for proposals, which we will put forward in April in a Communication to the Council and the European Parliament.
Today, I wanted to share these initial thoughts with you. I would be very interested in your reactions and suggestions.
If we want the ENP to become an anchor for our neighbours we need to act decisively. Let me stress that this is also in our interest. After all, building an area of stronger political co-operation and deeper economic integration will improve security and boost trade and investment, which is in the direct interest of the EU and the UK.