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European Commissioner for Development
The future of EU-Pakistan relations
Keynote speech at Quaid-i-Azam University
Islamabad, 16 June 2011
Mr. Vice Chancellor, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for your kind invitation to address you today. As a politician with responsibility for the European Union’s development programmes, I always welcome the opportunity to speak to university students. After all, you are the people we Europeans will be working with, trading with and possibly, negotiating with in just a few years. And for me, education is a particularly important area. In fact, we have placed it at the very centre of our cooperation with Pakistan.
It is above all about our future relations that I would like to speak. It is perhaps a good moment to do so; I am well aware that in Pakistan today, cooperation with the “West” has become a controversial topic. And in Europe, Pakistan’s role in South Asia and in the world is at the top of the political agenda. Indeed, I expect to participate when our Council of Ministers discusses developments in the region next month.
To begin at the beginning, I know that for many of you, the European Union is a novel concept which is not always well understood. But it has already offered a model for regional partnership to many parts of the world and it may, I hope, also catch the imagination of many young people in South Asia.
The European Union is a project which, while born of the traumatic experiences of World War II and the Cold War, is based on institutions which have stood the test of time.
They agreed to pool their sovereignty in these key areas and to appoint a European Commission to act on their behalf - with a Council of Member States’ Ministers, a Parliament, a European Audit body and a Court of Justice as oversight bodies.
The project has been an unprecedented success. Over the last 60 years, the EU has continually expanded its activities. We are now responsible, or co-responsible with our Member States, for a wide range of policies, from environment to transport and from energy to development cooperation. The single market has vastly increased employment and has helped our companies to be competitive on world markets. Many of our Member States already have a common currency, the euro, and have signed an agreement to remove border controls. We have also begun the process of forging a common foreign and security policy.
Meanwhile, the original six members are now 27. The United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark joined in 1973; Greece, Spain and Portugal, all countries which had recently emerged from dictatorships, as well as neutral Austria, Sweden and Finland followed. And after the collapse of the Soviet bloc, 10 new Member States joined together in 2004, including my own home country of Latvia. Two Balkan countries, Romania and Bulgaria, have since acceded and more are preparing to follow.
Many of our Member States, including my own, are small countries. But I am here representing not 2 million Latvians, but more than 500 million Europeans. The EU is the biggest single market in the world; probably the largest source of investment capital, worldwide; and, to mention my own prime responsibilities as Development Commissioner, one of the most significant providers of aid and assistance in the world.
Until quite recently, that is mainly how we were seen in much of the world – as a trading and a development partner. We certainly are that – the EU is Pakistan’s most important export market. And over the last five years the EU has funded, through their governments and through the Commission, projects here worth, on average, more than € 300 mn a year. There is also the humanitarian aid we deployed after the recent earthquakes and floods. Last year we responded immediately to the flooding, with € 430 million in humanitarian support. In addition, hundreds of millions more were raised by NGOs and private European citizens.
But my message is that now, Europe is much more than simply a free trade organization or a home for charitable activities. Our relationship with Pakistan should be much broader than that. There are perhaps three key reasons why.
Firstly, if you ask why nations like my own have been queuing up to join the EU, it is not because it is “values-neutral” like the UN. By its nature, the UN includes democracies; dictatorships; and some governments whose legitimacy is rooted in religious or political beliefs. But the EU is built around the common values of its Members. Dictatorships - and as I know well, we have had a good number in Europe - need not apply. We are 27 pluralistic democracies, with independent parliaments, independent judiciaries, a free press and a vibrant civil society, all of which act as checks and balances on executive power.
All European citizens, irrespective of nationality, race, or religion, have equal rights before the law. If we are proud of that, and are ready to promote those values abroad, what is so wrong with that?
There are some who see our promotion of democratic values as “post-colonialist”. What arrogant nonsense. We cannot force people to want the same freedoms we want. But events have shown – first in Eastern Europe, including my own country, and now in our Arabic speaking neighbours and even in Iran – that there is a natural wish for just and inclusive systems of government.
People in Pakistan, who flocked to the polls in 2008, will recognize that. Pakistan’s constitution, which was drawn up in the spirit of Pakistan’s founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah, reflects the same values.
We monitored and supported the 2008 elections, and offered our full political backing to the new government. Now we are ready to continue assisting Pakistan in all the areas which are vital for its democratic development. That includes our work with the educational establishments, with police and prosecution services, and with the elected representatives at national and, since the recent constitutional changes, provincial levels. And it includes the assistance we have offered to create better systems for transparent and effective management of public finances.
Secondly, we have a common enemy in extremism. Pakistan has suffered more than almost any country and the European Union stands by you in your struggle with violent extremists and terrorism.
We, too, have not been immune. Of all the threats to the free and open societies we are trying to preserve, that posed by bigotry and religious hatred is among the most insidious. The massacres and false accusations against Christians and other religious groups in this country, and the recent murders of liberal politicians, have done more than anything to drive Pakistan and Europe apart. It is a sad fact that people who believe they have a monopoly of truth allow themselves to carry out almost unimaginable cruelties. (If there is a logic to it, it is the logic of bigotry).
We need to work together to combat this menace. The EU is anxious to reach out to all those who believe, as Jinnah believed, that it should be possible – even in a state where one religion dominates – to give space and respect to those with different cultural traditions. We already have the beginnings of an interfaith dialogue. Why should we not do more to build on that, on the basis of mutual respect? For example, through our cooperation in the education sector? That is, after all, what we try to do in an increasingly multicultural EU.
That brings me to the accusations which are sometimes made against us of “Islamaphobia”. You will recall the Danish cartoon crisis, which incidentally also resulted in a deadly attack against the Danish Embassy here in Islamabad. I would like to assure you that in Europe we very much underline the importance of respect for religious belief. Offensive statements, acts of racism and incitement to hatred should be dealt with in the competent courts and bodies which oversee ethical issues in the media. But they should never be addressed through violence. Moreover, freedom of expression and freedom of the media are among the founding principles of the EU, and they must be protected.
In this context, I consider it as very positive that Pakistan has seen dramatic progress in developing a competitive and free media over the last couple of years. Of course, media can also be used by those wishing to induce prejudice and hatred. And journalists need to act responsibly and uphold high ethical standards themselves. Please allow me to take this occasion to express my regrets for the recent killing of Mr. Shahzad and others who sacrificed their lives in pursuit of free media.
I am also aware that there has been concern here about our immigration policy. In fact we are trying to create a balance between harnessing the benefits of legal migration while acting against illegal migration. The EU is gradually adopting measures in the field of legal migration, and the Blue Card is one example. Another is the EU long-term residents directive which offers Pakistani nationals who have resided legally in the EU for more than 5 years protection against expulsion and benefits, including social security benefits, similar to that of EU citizens.
Thirdly, we may be a global trading power, but we also aspire to being a political partner.
Europeans do, collectively, have interests in this part of the world. We would like to see reconciliation between Pakistan and India and I very much welcome the renewed dialogue between Pakistan and India. Linked to that – we want peace in Afghanistan.
In short, Pakistan and Europe have many common values; we have many common concerns; and I would argue, we also have many common interests.
We want to offer your country a commitment of support for the long term. We would like to build a strong and reliable relationship based on mutual interests. We have already come a long way in advancing our relations since the EU-Pakistan Cooperation Agreement entered into force in 2004. We have reinforced our political dialogue and our Joint Commission now meets on a regular basis. We cooperate in the “Friends of Democratic Pakistan” group which is helping to focus international attention on Pakistan’s challenges.
Last year, PM Gilani and our leaders, the President of the Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso and the President of the Council, Herman Van Rompuy, met in Brussels. They agreed to work on an “engagement plan” which will provide a framework for closer cooperation over the coming five years in all the areas I have mentioned, and many more.
We fully appreciate that Pakistan would like to guard its sovereignty, but this should not stop you from embracing essential reforms. For my own country, that regained independence after decades of Soviet rule, sovereignty is not less important than for you, but the painful reforms my and other countries of Central and Eastern Europe have under gone during last 20 years actually strengthened our sovereignty. They allowed us to advance in social and economic development, and in human development. Of course, your deep sensitivity about sovereignty is rooted in historical and current events. But you should not allow the past to determine the choices that will decide your future.
In conclusion, Mr. Vice Chancellor, ladies and gentlemen, the population of Southern Asia has tripled in our lifetimes, as it did in Europe a hundred years ago. Such huge growth drives massive social change and as we have seen on our continent, that can have positive, but also catastrophic political consequences. Only Pakistanis can shape Pakistan’s future, but its friends – and the European Union is one of them – can help. I hope you will allow us to do so.
Thank you for your attention.