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European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy
European Neighbourhood Policy
European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee
President, Honourable Members,
I was last here on 28 February. Already then we mentioned that the events unfolding in North Africa and other parts of the Arab world were of historic proportions.
We had discussed how the EU should welcome these changes whole-heartedly. They carry the hope of a better life for the people of the region and greater respect for human rights, pluralism, social justice and the fundamental freedoms which are at the core of our values.
I said last time that recent events have disproven the offensive statement that the Arab world is not “ready for democracy”. Another argument we were often confronted with was that “democracy takes time”. This is true of course. The kind of profound democratic change people are now calling for in the region does not come overnight. And we know even more importantly that it is a continuous struggle. But this can be no excuse for delaying or slowing down reforms. The message from the region is clear: there is no time like the present. The work must start now and, where it has started, it must accelerate.
It is in this context that the Commission and the High Representative last week adopted a joint Communication setting out plans to review our cooperation with the Southern Mediterranean – to build a new partnership to support change.
The Communication sets out the steps taken so far and the instruments available to respond immediately to ongoing events, be it supporting the transition in Tunisia or helping to prevent a humanitarian crisis in and around Libya.
Beyond this, the Communication sets out how we could move towards a new Partnership built on an incentive-based approach to assist political, economic and social reforms in the countries of the region.
We will now take forward work in three directions:
• We will support democratic transformation and institution-building.
• We will foster civil society and encourage people-to-people contacts including through increased mobility.
• We will promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth.
The Communication expresses our belief that now is the time for a qualitative step forward in the relations between the European Union and its Southern neighbours that engage in a genuine transition towards democratisation. This new approach will be rooted unambiguously in a joint commitment to the values of democracy, human rights, good governance, rule of law and social justice. The EU’s offer of a Partnership for democracy and shared prosperity can only be based on such a joint commitment.
We plan in particular to do more to support a thriving civil society that can help uphold human rights and contribute to democracy building and good governance. This is an area where we should seek to maximise the assistance that Member States can offer at short notice to develop a platform for civil society, political parties, trade unions and associations.
We are also considering three important policy directions:
Improving mobility. This is a long-standing request of our partners and this lies at the heart of demonstrating that we want to start a new era in our relations with them. We need appropriate mobility mechanisms in place for everything we intend to do: student exchanges, free trade in services, academic and think-tank co-operation, civil society contacts, training.
Improving market access. Put together, our North African partners constitute a market of around two hundred million young consumers, with immense potential for investment, exports and job creation. This potential will only materialise if we let them export what they produce. This is not covered explicitly in the Communication, but has been mentioned by the extraordinary European Council of 11 March. Clearly, we will need to come back to this at the right time.
Re-focusing funding. The Communication advocates a staged approach: re-focusing our aid within ENPI, then inside Chapter IV as a whole, then looking at the reserves and the flexibility instrument. Parliament and Council are already working on ensuring that the EIB can quickly increase its lending to the Southern Mediterranean. We know it will take us a while to get a full picture of the needs of our partners.
But I want to underline that the Communication reaches far beyond these three directions only. As I indicated last time when we discussed this initiative, President Barroso asked each Commissioner to reflect on what could be done is his or her area of responsibility and I am proud to say that the Communication is a result of this team effort. It puts forward twenty-five concrete measures or initiatives that we intend to pursue in our work with the region, covering areas as diverse as social dialogue, rural development, macro-financial assistance, maritime policy, an Euro-Mediterranean Aviation Area, or creating an EU-Southern Mediterranean Energy Community.
We have also called on the Council to take bold moves on two proposals that have now been on the table for a while: one to reform the ENPI Regulation in order to be able to re-use funding from previous years, the so-called “reflows”, in our Facility for Euro-Mediterranean Investment and Partnership (FEMIP), which delivers much-needed support for investment and innovation; the second, in order to put in place new pan-Euro-Mediterranean rules of origin that will facilitate economic integration in the region.
Among these twenty-five measures are also initiatives linked to our foreign policy and assistance instruments, particularly the re-focusing of our 2011-13 programming for the region and the establishment of a Civil Society Neighbourhood Facility.
In short, as I had told you a few weeks ago, we have left no stone unturned. And there, allow me to insist: we will need your support to deliver many of the planned concrete measures. This Parliament and its members, individually and collectively, are not only essential in helping to support the creation of political parties that can contribute to genuine pluralism in our partner countries. We also need your support to explain to public opinions and governments in your home countries why these measures are needed and how they will make a difference in our new relationship with the region.
Having said all this, it is of course obvious to all of us that the transformations at play in Tunisia, Egypt and throughout the region are proceeding in their own way and at their own pace. Ready-made solutions would not work and no-one should seek to impose them: these are people-driven processes.
Each country is different and therefore each country will receive specific, differentiated attention. We should therefore be ready to commit important resources, both technical and financial, and be ready to draw on our own extensive experience on transition in a way which reflects this differentiated approach.
We will carry this approach forward as we work towards our forthcoming Communication on the European Neighbourhood Policy reflecting the results of the review we have conducted over the past year. Of course our proposals in the Communication will be directed towards all our neighbours, both East and South.
We will continue to give balanced attention to each and every ENP partner country and to ensure the EU’s relations with our partners are pursued in a differentiated and tailor-made way: not on the basis of geography but on the basis of each partner’s commitment and level of ambition in conducting reforms.
I should take the chance to mention that we have allowed ourselves a bit more time to finalise the ENP Communication. We intend to be more explicit on how we see differentiation work in practice in the whole of our neighbourhood, how the EU is ready to offer “more for more” and how the commitments taken in last week’s Communication will be implemented in practice. There are also several important lessons to be drawn from recent events for our relationship with our Eastern neighbours.
We are now planning to issue it in May. This may also allow more time for Parliament’s own reflection on recent events and how they should be reflected in our relations with each and every of our neighbours.
Before I conclude, let me return for some minutes to the Mediterranean and say a few words on individual countries.
In Tunisia, the transition government has taken positive steps. Political parties have been liberalised, freedom of association and expression have been extended and elections called for a new constitutional assembly.
The EU has welcomed these steps and has offered its support. We have provided early support for democratic transition including preparations for elections. We have launched actions to support civil society and the rule of law. And we will be looking for ways to support the Tunisian economy.
In Egypt, we have been in permanent contact with the transitional authorities. HRVP Ashton will be able to report to you later on her visit this week to Cairo where she had among others the opportunity to meet the new Prime Minister and Foreign Minister. We hope these changes will bring a further move towards an inclusive and broad-based government and we have repeatedly expressed our readiness to mobilise resources in support of democratic reform in Egypt.
We have no intention to dictate outcomes or impose solutions but we are ready to help as soon as Egypt is ready. Meanwhile we are already intensifying our support to Egyptian civil society.
Other countries in the region have seen encouraging developments. The King of Morocco has announced a constitutional reform he intends to put to a referendum. Intensified reforms have also been announced by the King of Jordan. The EU looks forward to the implementation of these steps leading to the acceleration of democratic reform in both countries.
Then comes Libya.
Despite several obvious differences, I think we all agree that the Libyan people deserve the same opportunity to shape their own future that their neighbours in Tunisia and Egypt have grasped. On 11 March, the European Council took a clear position with regard to Libya and its current leadership.
We will remain coherent with this political line and we are also seeking close coordination with key interlocutors in the UN framework as well as with the Arab League and the African Union. Contacts have already been undertaken in order to follow up on the European Council suggestion of holding a joint Summit about Libya bringing together the European Union, the Arab League and the African Union.
The EU is also fully engaged on the humanitarian aid front at the Libyan borders and in the country. So far, the EU and the Member States have mobilised around € 71 million and more aid is being considered.
We are also doing our utmost to ensure the swift repatriation of third-country nationals that are stranded at the Egyptian and Tunisian borders. Despite the remarkable efforts made already, the capacity to evacuate remains below the influx of migrants, and this might worsen in coming days.
We are all watching with great concern as the military situation is clearly evolving in favour of the Gaddafi regime. While the focus of discussion will now rightly take place in the UN Security Council, this does not mean the EU is inactive.
The European Council has clearly indicated that Colonel Gaddafi has to leave power. For the EU, this has important consequences in terms of our policies vis-à-vis Libya. While it is important to maintain channels of communication open, we also have to look at ways to ensure that more pressure is put on the current regime and consider the possible scenarios for the months ahead.
The Council is discussing further restrictive measures against the Gaddafi regime. This may imply listing more entities with a view to reducing resources that are made available to the regime. These options would have negative consequences for some EU companies, but we have to be fully consistent with the position taken by the European Council.
We should also consider how we can engage in a more intense dialogue with the Libyan opposition and, finally, the EU is reviewing options as regards possible CSDP operations - but I will not go into this in further detail.
President, Honourable Members,
We are confronted with a historic challenge. The European institutions have a great responsibility to live up to that challenge. I am sure I can count on Parliament’s cooperation to ensure that the EU adopts the necessary policies and strengthens existing instruments so as to meet this challenge.