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José Manuel Durão Barroso President of the European Commission Partners in Freedom: the EU response to the Arab Spring Opera House Cairo, Egypt, 14 July 2011

Commission Européenne - SPEECH/11/523   14/07/2011

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SPEECH/11/523

José Manuel Durão Barroso

President of the European Commission

Partners in Freedom: the EU response to the Arab Spring

Opera House

Cairo, Egypt, 14 July 2011

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great honour to be here today, in the great country of Egypt, during such an historic time. Egyptians have shown their courage and their determination to forge a better life. A life of dignity today, and a better future for the next generations. So it is a heart-felt pleasure for me to be in Cairo and to speak to you – Egypt's young people, civil society and future leaders.

Throughout the ages, Egypt has been a cradle of civilization and remains the intellectual centre of Arab cultures and countries. From the ancient library of Alexandria to modern showcases like the Aswan Dam and this opera house, it is with good reason that your history gives rise to the expression "Egypt - Misr Umm ad-dúnnia", or Egypt, mother of the world.

For many centuries Europeans and Egyptians have connected through art, literature and trade. Egypt's ports, and later the Suez Canal, have further linked us together and to the wider world.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is in this tradition of exchange that I come here today. But I come to look at the future, not the past. To listen, not to lecture. To understand from you the new reality of Egypt. I come to understand your struggle to secure the Revolution’s ideals.

As someone who has once fought for freedom in his country, I come here to pay tribute to those who have made the revolution. I come here also to pay my respect to the innocent blood that has been shed.

As your neighbour, I come here to offer a vote of confidence in the people and the future of Egypt.

And as President of the European Commission, I come here today to gain a better sense of your expectations of the European Union, and to say that Europe, is your partner for the long term.

Let me now expand on those statements.

To listen, not to lecture.

The whole world has watched with great hope as you and your compatriots risked your safety to demonstrate for a better future; a future of freedom and dignity. The Egyptians have shown they know what they want and that they are ready to take their destiny in their own hands. European Union has no wish to interfere in Egypt's internal decisions. We will cooperate with Egyptian society in all its diversity in support of your own aspirations.

In the past too many have traded democracy for stability. But recent events have only proven that lasting stability can only be achieved through democratic and accountable governments.

As Egypt embarks upon this journey, democracy, freedom and openness are the fundamental values that will bind Europe and Egypt together in the future. The wish to live a dignified life, free from corrupt leaders, in a community that respects us, is something that all human beings have in common.

The courage you have demonstrated fundamentally changes our relationship, and affirms as universal, the values you have pursued.

We recognise there are many risks still to be faced. We recognise that the revolution is not finished. The expectations are high and the potential for frustration is considerable. Deep change takes time. The road to democracy is not a peaceful stream of water but rather an unpredictable river very much like the Nile used to be before the Aswan Dam. But we fundamentally affirm the spirit that has ignited the revolution thus far. And throughout we remain acutely aware that democracy must come from within. While external assistance may help the flowers of democracy bloom, it is only you who have planted the seeds that can ensure democracy takes root.

As you take this journey, be assured that there is no single template for transition to democracy, and no such thing as a perfect or complete democracy. Each transition is unique.

Democracy is about more than freely electing one's government, and just as there are many ways to practice faith, there are many ways to practice democracy. So the European Union does not ask its neighbours to copy our models. We simply offer our experience and our assistance, should you think it can help in your search for new institutions, new opportunities and a new social contract.

We recognize that there is no single Arab world, any more than there is a single Muslim world, or a single Christian world for that matter. No two countries are the same. In the end, a one-size-fits-all approach fits no-one. So the European Union is committed to responding to the individual needs of each country. We will treat each transition as unique. This comes not only out of respect but also out of a genuine concern for achieving results.

A fellow democracy activist

I pay tribute to those who have made Egypt’s 25 January Revolution, and I express my deep sorrow for those whose lives were taken. To witness the determination in Tahrir Square earlier this year took me back to my youth. I too grew up in a country long deprived of democracy. As a young law student in Lisbon I knew that only democracy could fulfill my rights and those of my countrymen. And with others I rejected the idea that democracy was suited only to a certain type of culture. We fought for freedom in our country and later to become members of a peaceful and democratic Union of nations, today the European Union. It was a similar story in post-Franco Spain and Greece after the colonels' regime.

At the time many negative voices were saying that Southern Europe because of its level of development or cultural reasons would not be able to establish stable democracies. And just look at how strong democracy has consolidated and the inspiration that this was for other regions of the world such as Latin America. I also remember that some people said that post-communist countries would never be able to embrace a new democratic culture and just look at the thriving democracies and open societies of these countries who also joined the European Union in 2004.

So I firmly reject the idea that because of cultural differences Muslim majority countries cannot be at one with democracy. Such prejudices reveal deep ignorance, and a deeper disregard for human aspiration. All countries and peoples are fit for democracy and to think otherwise is an unacceptable moral prejudice. Men and women choose freedom time and again when given the choice.

To all those who refuse to believe that Arab streets and squares can be filled with the peaceful call for freedom and dignity: I point to the people of Cairo and to the people of Egypt. Your moral fortitude can continue to defeat the forces of hatred and fear.

As neighbours, securing the future

As a good neighbour we wish to show solidarity with a just cause and a great people.

Solidarity is a basic value of the European Union, enshrined in our Lisbon Treaty. It is a value we practice not only inside our Union but towards all countries and regions. So I come here to show my confidence in the people of Egypt and their commitment to a better present and a better future.

With over 80 million talented people – especially an educated and ambitious youth - tremendous natural resources and a world-class tourism industry, there is everything to hope for.

But democracy alone will not eradicate poverty, nor will it create the jobs that Egypt needs. Indeed, democracy cannot fulfill its promise if delivered without economic growth and employment.

To ensure a majority remains happy with the progress of the revolution – to truly secure the revolution, fair economic opportunities must go hand in hand with democratic ones. The gap between raised political expectations and shrinking economic capacity must be closed.

But as a friend and partner, the European Union knows from experience that hard economic decisions do not go away by ignoring them.

The people of Egypt have shown themselves to be the nation’s greatest resource. That is why you must be invested in, education and health, for example. And that it is why it is also urgent to stamp out corruption.

A serious debate seems to be in order about how a stronger private sector could lift millions from poverty. A debate about which subsidies really help the vulnerable and which fail to do so. Such debates will feed answers to the challenge of creating satisfying jobs for the young people so crucial to the revolution. Not to mention linking into the opportunity to make use of the millions of members of the Egyptian Diaspora.

Partners in peace, prosperity and democracy.

As President of the European Commission, I am proud that the European Union was the first to react with details of concrete support for Egypt’s transition to democracy. This is part of our wider Neighbourhood Policy – a policy predicated on the idea that human rights and democracy are the best basis for inclusive growth and shared prosperity.

With new thinking and new money in hand, it is time to take action focused around money, mobility and market access.

Our financial commitments will rise to €7 billion in the coming three years for our neighbourhood, with another €6 billion in loans available. Much of this will come from the European Investment Bank, whose President Philippe Maystadt is joining me on this trip. The bank is the biggest development lender in North Africa. Already there are nine Egyptian projects in the pipeline for the coming 12 month, worth well over €1 billion.

This sits within the overall package of €20bn agreed at the G8 in May. Egypt is in a good position to access these amounts, as it is a leading country in the path to democracy.

Like any sound partnership, this support is based on shared accountability. In addition to increasing assistance, we are increasing the flexibility of our commitment. A stronger commitment to the principles of the Arab Spring will mean more support from the European Union.

There are three priority areas, which naturally coincide with the demands put forward by Egyptians:

1. Democratic transformation and institution building, with a particular focus on fundamental freedoms, constitutional reforms, reform of the judiciary and the fight against corruption

2. A specific emphasis on support to civil society. We want this to be a broad partnership. That means a partnership not just with governments but with the grassroots directly, with a particular focus on the younger generation.

3. Sustainable and inclusive growth and economic development especially to support to Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), vocational and educational training, improving health and education systems and development of the poorer regions.

These priorities are embodied in three examples I want to share today.

The first one is a programme that the European Commission is preparing entitled "SPRING" (Support for Partnership, Reform, and Inclusive Growth). This programme will be launched in September with an initial amount of 350 million euros in grants and will have a specific focus on democratization and economic growth and thus address core issues of the transition. It is our intention to extend this to 500 million euros for the period 2011-2013.

Next is the European Endowment for Democracy. The details are still to be finalized, but this endowment will be a beacon of hope; a new independent body dedicated to helping people find their authentic democratic voices.

Finally, the European Union will massively increase support for the participation of Egypt and other partner countries in our Erasmus and Marie Curie education programmes. Overall there will be a 40% increase in funds starting from September 2011. 750 additional students will win life-changing scholarships that further enrich the links between us.

The EU is also proposing to establish Partnerships with a few selected Southern Mediterranean countries. One of those countries is Egypt. We want to allow for Egypt’s young people to have the chance to travel and study in Europe, for businessman to trade, for artists to interact. The Mediterranean must be a sea that unites us and not separates us. But we have to manage these flows in an organized and safe way. And all must be done to offer opportunities at home.

As I have touched upon, we recognize that transitions to democracy also depend on new jobs and economic growth. Increasing trade and foreign investment important can be crucial in this regard. Egypt is already our biggest trading partner in the region. Bilateral trade has almost doubled since the entry into force of the Association Agreement in 2004. The entry into force of an ambitious agreement on agricultural trade will further boost exchanges. But we want to go even further: In the short to medium term, we want to intensify on-going negotiations on the liberalisation of trade in services and investment. And in the long term, we should work on a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) that firmly ties Egypt into the world's largest market – the EU, with its half-billion investors, businesses and consumers. And we should not loose sight of our long-term vision of a full free trade zone between the European Union and the Southern Mediterranean.

Let me also say that inclusion is a critical aspect of the revolution. It makes good sense to use the talents of all your people to complete the revolution. To give a practical example: women have helped make your new freedoms possible. Surely they must now have every chance to make further contributions. In a democracy this is self-evident. Respect for difference and freedom from harassment is part of the foundation of any successful democracy.

Around the region

The Arab Spring has been a momentous chain of events. However, the steady progress of Tunisia and Egypt to a democratic path has not been mirrored in other countries in the region. These neighbours, with the same aspirations but a harder journey, deserve our joint support.

Let me salute from here the people of Libya and their determination to build a democratic future. Europe strongly supports the United Nations Security Council resolutions which aim at protecting civilians through the imposition of a no-fly zone. We have also stepped up sanctions, to stop money and arms reaching the regime.

Defending the Libyan revolution in this way was a matter of courage and human necessity. The alternative would have been forgetting everything from our recent past and allowing a massacre. So the European Union and its member states have acted. We have acted on the basis that regimes that shoot at their own people have not place in the community of nations.

As the turmoil continues, the European Union flag flies proudly in Freedom Square, Benghazi. This flag and the office beneath it is a tangible and symbolic sign that the European Union is ready to support the people of this region. Just yesterday I met with members of the Transitional National Council in Brussels and I have supported their quest for a politically inclusive Libya.

We have worked to increase the flows of humanitarian assistance. We continue to cooperate closely with international organizations to prepare for life after Gaddafi. We will seek the return of stolen billions, not just in Libya but around the region. I have faith in the people of Libya, and they can have faith in the support of the European Union.

We have grave concerns for the people of Syria. Nearly 2,000 dead and 10,000 detained – this is an intolerable toll. We condemn without reservation these acts of violence and repression. We have increased our sanctions twice, but President Assad's promises of reform and dialogue are weak and have yet to be fulfilled. Our EU Delegation remains on the ground in Damascus – meeting every day with individuals and groups. I welcome the recent presence of the French and American ambassadors in Hama, and offer solidarity to the citizens of that city. We will continue to push for urgent change.

I want also to acknowledge the progress and reform that Morocco and Jordan are undertaking. The leadership in Algeria has also made commitments to reform. This is important but we look to our Algerian partners to ensure that words now turn into action. In Bahrain too promises of reform must translate into real reforms steps. In Yemen it is clear that President Saleh must begin the transfer of power now.

Finally a word on a conflict that has fuelled so much resentment throughout the years. As the Arab Spring advances, we must seize the opportunity for a permanent resolution of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Democratic Arab States – and Egypt foremost among them – will have a strong role to play in making peace, and securing the aspirations of all people in the region, including the inalienable right of Palestinians to have their own State. Egypt was already at the forefront of the Palestinian reconciliation and can give an important contribution to Israeli and Palestinian peace.

The Arab Peace Initiative is one of the references on which peace must be achieved, along with United Nations Security Council Resolutions. Underlying these efforts is the knowledge that peace can only be achieved through negotiation. As we have learnt from the Arab Spring, peaceful action has a force more powerful and more lasting than violence.

Conclusion

Ladies and gentlemen, as a European, and as your partner I wish to congratulate you on your success so far in securing the freedom and dignity you deserve.

I say again that Europe rejects the idea that democracy is only for some. You are doing the right thing, and it matters. If you can continue to succeed, the Egyptian example will give others new momentum to secure their own freedom. Soon you may inhabit a region of democratic states.

And I affirm the view that freedom, security and jobs must go hand in hand. There is no real freedom without security. And there is no real security without an economy that provides job opportunities.

Europe is united with you throughout this journey. We have a common destiny, that of a Euro-Mediterranean Community based on Democracy and Shared Prosperity. Because Europe's place is at the side of those who aspire to dignity, democracy and freedom.


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