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Štefan Füle

European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy

'Revolutionising the European Neighbourhood Policy in response to tougher Mediterranean revolutions'

Round table discussion organised by Members of the European Parliament

Brussels, 14 June 2011

I am glad to be here today to discuss with you how we can enshrine human rights and democracy at the heart of the European Neighbourhood Policy. The European Union is founded on the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law. The renewed European Neighbourhood Policy must reaffirm and strengthen the commitment to these values.

The political reality in the Neighbourhood region has changed. North Africa and the Middle East are witnessing a historic call for reforms. The peoples of this region have taken a courageous stand to defend their rights and to introduce democracy and social reforms. The EU must rise to the challenge and help these peoples achieve their legitimate goals.

The EU has always been active in promoting human rights and democracy in our neighbourhood. But it has often focused too much on stability at the expense of other objectives and, more problematic, at the expense of our values. Now is the time to bring our interests in line with our values. Recent events in the South have proved that there can be no real stability without real democracy.

Providing greater support to partners engaged in building deep and sustainable democracy is one of the cornerstones of the new approach outlined in the ENP Communication adopted on 25 May.

While there is not one set model or one single definition of democracy, the Communication identifies some elements that are common to building a democracy that is both deep and sustainable. These are:

  • free and fair elections;

  • freedom of association, expression and assembly and a free press and media;

  • the rule of law administered by an independent judiciary and right to a fair trial;

  • fight against corruption;

  • security and law enforcement sector reform and the establishment of democratic control over armed and security forces.

These elements are the central benchmarks against which the EU will assess progress and adapt levels of support to its partners. However, the EU will look very carefully also at another crucial and closely related element: equality and non-discrimination. The EU holds that everyone is entitled to the enjoyment of human rights, without any discrimination as to race, colour, sex, language and religion, or to social or other status. I fully intend to fight discrimination in our neighbourhood.

Commitment to human rights and fundamental freedoms through multilateral treaties and bilateral agreements is a further, important element. Ratification of all the relevant international and regional instruments and full compliance with their provisions, should underpin our partnership. However, commitments are unfortunately not always matched by action. The effective implementation of the obligations contained in these treaties is thus even more important than their formal endorsement. This one of the reasons why we have developed a partnership with the Council of Europe, which has a large experience and can support some of the countries in the South, starting from Morocco and Tunisia.

Commitments to promote gender equality, in line with the major role once again played by women in recent events in the South; to respect freedom of religion; to respect the rights of refugees and beneficiaries of international protection, and commitments in yet other areas are all important and need to be put in practice. We need to measure as accurately as possible the real progress on the ground.

In the next generation of Action Plans, we will suggest to partners that we focus our joint work on a limited number of short and medium-term priorities, incorporating more precise benchmarks and a clearer sequencing of actions. And it will be very important to develop appropriate benchmarks that are tailored to each country’s specificities.

The new approach to the ENP is based on mutual accountability and conditionality. Mutual accountability means that partners will be accountable to the EU for the fulfilment of their reform commitments, and the EU will be accountable to partners for delivering on its promises of support, in particular on mobility partnership and market access. The EU's seriousness will be judged on its capacity to deliver.

Conditionality means that if a partner country wishes to obtain greater support from the EU, to obtain closer political support from the EU, to participate in the EU internal market, to ensure greater mobility for its citizens, then it will have make progress towards a number of very significant political reforms, such as greater freedoms of expression and association; judicial reform; or fight against corruption.

We will monitor the progress made towards meeting the benchmarks through progress reports and through dialogue with partners. Based on the progress achieved and on the needs and goals of each partner, we will discuss with them priorities for action. In fact, as Commissioner in charge of both enlargement and neighbourhood policy, I am convinced that instruments that work in the enlargement context should also be used in our neighbourhood, where we need to have more focused and more precise progress reports.

The annual ENP progress reports will need to be even sharper and to assess carefully the progress made towards meeting the benchmarks. In line with the conditionality principle, a clear and systematic link must be made between the outcome of the benchmarks assessment and EU support.

Reinforced human rights dialogues will be one tool to monitor commitments in this area, including addressing cases of human rights violations. Enhanced cooperation with the Council of Europe could also help in promoting compliance. And increased dialogue between the EU and civil society will also be very important.

To ensure a more effective setting of priorities and a close monitoring of benchmarks, we are looking to engage in more intensive political steering of our relationships with our partners. We will maintain the closest possible dialogue with the leaderships of our partner countries.

If a partner country engages in unacceptable violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms, as we are witnessing in Syria, then our cooperation and funding will stop. This is what we have done in Syria, having suspended all the bilateral financial cooperation under the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument and also stopped signature of the Association Agreement.

Much focus has been on our Southern Neighbourhood lately. But make no mistake: the promotion of democracy and human rights is equally relevant in our Eastern Neighbourhood.

In Belarus, our work towards democratic reforms and respect of human rights continues and is more essential than ever. In Ukraine, Azerbaijan and other eastern neighbours, strengthening democracy and human rights also remains a key challenge and a common interest.

If we want to promote democracy and human rights, we need to support civil society organisations more effectively both in the South and in the East of our neighbourhood. Civil society organisations are key players for democratisation processes. One of the main proposals of the ENP Communication is to develop a real partnership not only with governments but with societies.

The Communication proposes two new instruments to channel EU support to civil society: a Civil Society Facility and a European Endowment for Democracy.

The Civil Society Facility will help civil society organisations in our neighbourhood develop their advocacy capacity, their ability to monitor reform and their role in implementing and evaluating EU programmes.

The European Endowment for Democracy would help support political actors striving for democratic change, including political parties and non-registered NGOs or trade unions and other social partners that have not been able to benefit from EU support so far. I hope that the European Parliament will be closely involved in the development and implementation of this initiative.

Let me reiterate that in order to promote democracy and human rights in our Neighbourhood, we will seek to refine the benchmarks in these areas, assure that Action Plans are more focussed, and monitor the implementation of Action Plans closely through progress reports, through dialogue with our partners, including human rights dialogues, and through increased political steering. EU support will be conditional on progress made towards meeting these benchmarks.

Finally, let me stress that I am committed to reinforce ownership of the policy by our partner countries. During the preparation of the communication on the new approach to the ENP, we have taken care to consult widely with our partners so that they feel involved in the process and do not consider the ENP as imposed on them. I have been encouraged that, as a result of this approach, a country like Algeria, which had reservations regarding the ENP, has participated constructively to the ENP review process. I am convinced that a strong feeling of ownership is crucial to ensure delivery.

Through its dedication to democracy and human rights, I know the European Parliament will be an important partner in working towards a more democratic Neighbourhood where people enjoy the universal human rights that we Europeans often take for granted.

I look forward to a constructive discussion with you on how we can ensure the strengthening of democracy and human rights in the framework of the renewed Neighbourhood Policy.

Thank you.

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