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SPEECH/12/175

Štefan Füle

European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy

The EU and the Challenges of Arab Transitions

Working Breakfast at IEMed

Barcelona, 8 March 2012

The EU and the Challenges of Arab Transitions

Dear Secretary General Sijilmassi, Dear Director General Bassols, Ladies and Gentlemen, Distinguished guests.

It is a pleasure to be with you this morning. Before discussing this important issue, let me first thank IEMed for organising this event at such short notice. I would also like to congratulate the new Secretary General of the Union for the Mediterranean upon his recent nomination.

More than a year has passed since the first protests of the Arab spring set in motion a historic series of events, which are continuing to unfold.

We have seen the people of the region express their desire for a better future

for democracy

for accountability

for the respect of fundamental rights

and for a more prosperous, dignified life, for themselves and future generations.

Europe - more than any other international actor - must support and engage with these transitions to ensure their success. I say this not only because it is important and the right thing to do; but also because it is in our own self interest.

Indeed, what happens on the other side of the Mediterranean is not only a strategic issue for Europe; it is a matter that impacts on our societies and our destiny. We have a common fate centred around the Mediterranean Sea.

Ladies and Gentlemen

Our vision for the EU response to these historic changes was laid out last year in the two joint Communications of March and May 2011. Allow me update you on the implementation of the proposals made in these documents.

In particular, I would like to highlight first some of our achievements on the famous 3 'Ms': money, mobility and markets.

First, let me start with money:

For the period from 2011 to 2013 we plan to make available additional grant funds of up to €1 billion for the Neighbourhood as a whole. This is on top of the €5.7 billion already programmed. For the Southern Neighbourhood we have established a new additional programme called SPRING. This has a budget of €350 million for 2011 and 2012 and will provide support to partner countries that are consolidating reforms. Hopefully, we should be in a position to pledge a further € 150 million in 2013, provided that the budgetary authority agrees.

In addition to these grant funds, the European Investment Bank funding available for investment in the Southern Neighbourhood has been increased by €1 billion. The EBRD's lending mandate is also being extended to cover the region, allowing for €2.5 billion in additional lending per annum.

One major focus of our attention has been to strengthen civil society. We have launched the Civil Society Facility last September and have already committed € 26 million last year and € 22 million this year, using this funding to provide technical assistance for capacity building of civil society organisations. The Commission has also renewed and increased its support to the Anna Lindh Foundation. Finally, we have strengthened our cooperation with the Council of Europe. We have recently agreed on a new €4.8 million programme to promote political and economic reform in the Southern Neighbourhood starting in Tunisia and Morocco.

But more will be needed: we have to associate better civil society to our policy dialogue with the partner countries and in the preparation of our programmes and interventions. We also have to develop a more structured and regular dialogue with civil society on the ground to benefit in real time from their expertise and knowledge, and also to help raise awareness of our concrete activities and interventions.

Let me now turn to the second M – Mobility.

Increasing mobility and people to people contacts are crucial if Europe's claim to establish a true partnership with our Mediterranean neighbours is to be taken seriously. I am glad that “Mobility Partnerships” have been initiated with Tunisia and Morocco in October 2011 and I am hopeful that they can be signed in the coming months. These partnerships will help develop comprehensive and balanced cooperation in the management of regular migration, irregular migration, readmission, visa, international protection, borders and security matters. A few of these measures, such as visa facilitation or agreement on labour migration, would facilitate the legitimate travel of southern partners' citizens to the EU.

Also, 750 additional Erasmus Mundus mobility grants for academic exchanges with Southern Mediterranean countries were financed for the current academic year. A further €80 million will be allocated to ENP countries in 2012 and 2013 for that purpose, funding hundreds more of mobility grants, including 180 scholarships for joint programmes at master or doctorate level.

These measures will help foster mutual understanding as they will assist our neighbours in developing the skills and experience to make their transition a success.

Let me now turn to the final M – markets.

On 14 December, the Council approved mandates for negotiating Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements with Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and Jordan. These will facilitate progressive and deep economic integration with the EU internal market. But these agreements will take time to enter into force. In the meantime, we are exploring trade measures that can be introduced rapidly and that can be beneficial for both sides. The recent approval of the agricultural liberalisation agreement with Morocco by the European Parliament gives a clear signal that the EU is able to overcome specific interests and reinforce the credibility of our trade offers to Southern partners. We also very much hope to conclude rapidly a similar agreement with Tunisia.

In addition, let me stress that the EU has been recognised as a key partner for the organisation and monitoring of democratic elections in the region. Our assistance and observation mission in Tunisia was very much appreciated and I take pride that the Algerian authorities have invited us, among other international organisations, to observe the upcoming elections. We have also provided expert advice in Morocco and supported national observation missions in Egypt.

So we are acting on our offer. But this is not to say that major challenges do not lie ahead. Let me highlight three of them.

The first is political.

As we look to the future we see that for each country transition is different. It is therefore essential to develop a unique dialogue to ensure adequate support for transition.

Political dialogue entails mutual understanding, and is also based on the respect of universal values. The EU is engaging with the new leaderships and supports transition that proceeds on the basis of respect for democratic values, human rights, women’s rights, freedom of speech and religious tolerance. The EU position will be lucid as well as vigilant on these issues.

Overall, it is clear that the process of democratisation will be long; there will be setbacks and frustrations. But I am confident that strong democratic forces have been unleashed and citizens have been empowered. And, with a few exceptions (Syria comes to mind immediately), we already see improvements in the respect of fundamental freedoms.

And as new leaderships emerge, Europe must not be afraid of the electoral successes of political actors inspired by Islam. All actors, Europeans and Arabs, Northerners and Southerners need to address together the numerous challenges of the region. In fact, it would be an error to send signs of mistrust towards the democratically elected governments.

The second is economic.

Meeting economic challenges is key for the success of transition. New leadership needs to deliver growth and jobs in response to the economic frustrations of the youth that were a driving factor in the revolutions. Unfortunately, the international context and the uncertainties brought by the transitions in the region are putting negative pressures on trade, tourism, investment, adding to the region’s weaknesses.

While we have tried to mobilise our instruments as much as possible, the impact of our policy decisions such as the liberalisation of trade in agricultural trade with Morocco will take time. We will therefore face a difficult phase in the short term. Our financial assistance can help but only if other partners also contribute. The role of the Deauville partnership and the Task Forces set up by Cathy Ashton are crucial in that respect.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The third challenge is to rebuild the regional cooperation framework. In many instances, regional problems call for regional solutions. Whether they are political (ex: crisis in Syria), security related (for example the proliferation of weapons, terrorism in Sahel) or economic (the need for economic integration), many challenges can only be met through increased cooperation between key regional actors. This is why the EU is stepping up its engagement with regional organizations such as the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the 5+5 or the Arab Maghreb Union.

Among these organisations, the Union for the Mediterranean plays a special role. It is a unique forum where 43 partners can develop common strategies. As outlined in our communications, it is fully complementary to the renewed European Neighbourhood policy.

We are all aware of the difficulties that have plagued the process in the last three years. Yet I believe we are now finally at a turning point. The appointment of Fatlallah Sijilmassi as the new secretary general of the Union for the Mediterranean means that the Secretariat has a strong and experienced leader with all the skills to help transform the secretariat into a catalyst for developing concrete, bankable projects that can be supported by States, international financial institutions and the private sector and bring tangible benefits to the people of the region. This is the real value added of the Secretariat.

Furthermore, the Decision by EU foreign Ministers, endorsed by the last European Council to transfer the Northern Co-presidency to the EU demonstrates our commitment to support the Union for Mediterranean. This arrangement will ensure the full complementarity between the ENP and the work of the UfM. It will ensure that the Commission's technical and sectoral initiatives in areas such as transport or environment, prepared with the full backing of the 27 EU Member States, will be discussed in the wider UfM context and can be closely linked with the work of the Secretariat.

The EU will continue its financial support and increased its technical cooperation with the secretariat of the Union for Mediterranean. And we will actively support the development of projects that have both economic and political significance, such as the project on the completion of the central section of trans-Maghreb motorway axis, which could have important benefits for the entire Maghreb region and become a catalyst for increased cooperation, trade and exchanges between Morocco and Algeria.

Another structural ambition for the region is to define a Mediterranean Solar Plan and we support the work of the Union for Mediterranean towards the adoption of the Master Plan at a Ministerial Meeting in 2013. We also other areas covered by the UfM such as environment and water, higher education, the promotion of women’s rights, civil protection and business development.

Ladies and Gentlemen

The political support of all the Union's institutions for change in our Southern neighbours is a given and is a long term commitment. We know that the transition will be complex and take time. However, these are internal process that can only be driven by debates within local societies.

Let me close by saying that the role of think-thanks such as IEMed will continue to be very important in forging a better understanding between societies, and providing the 'reality check' that will help us to adjust our policies and instruments.

I am certain that by working together with you, we can help support real, sustained, transition and democratisation in our Southern Neighbourhood.

I look forward to your comments and questions.

Many thanks.


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