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SPEECH/12/33

Štefan Füle

European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy

One year after the Arab spring

European Parliament, Committee on Foreign Affairs

Bruxelles, 24 January 2012

Mr Chairman, Honourable Members of National Parliaments,

Thank you for inviting me on this special occasion and also thank you for inviting so many distinguished members of national parliaments.

It has been already more than a year since the first protests of the Arab spring set in motion a historic series of events which continue to this day.

We have seen the peoples of the region express their desire for a better future, for deep democracy, for the respect of fundamental rights and for a more prosperous life in dignity, for themselves and future generations.

In a few countries, genuine and impressive progress has been made: I think in particular of Tunisia, but also Morocco. In others, reforms have been initiated but much remains to be done to fulfil the aspirations of the people. I think in particular of Algeria where many reforms have been initiated and the EU has been called to support them in the context of a new Action Plan – demonstrating a clear signal of engagement and new found interest in the ENP from Algeria. But in other countries, change has not gone in the right direction.

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.

Eleven months ago, I came in front of this committee and offered my assessment of unfolding events. At that time, I recognised that our policy in the region had not always been right. Eleven months later, I must admit that I still think we can all benefit from a constant reality check as to whether our policies and instruments are fully able to respond to the historical challenges. I am aware that we are continuously struggling to keep our values and interests as close as possible in dealing with Southern neighbourhood. It is clear that we cannot return to the old days of complacency towards authoritarian regimes. I am confident that the EU now firmly stands behind the forces of change and modernisation. The EU should not stand idly as history moves forward.

In this context, let me recall our overall objectives, before updating you on the implementation and finally looking to the challenges of the future.

Our first objective is to support partners who undertake reform towards:

  • Deep democracy, rule of law and human rights.

  • Inclusive economic and social development

This is crucial to ensure lasting and genuine prosperity and stability. Not stability that protects autocrats; but stability that ensures the harmonious and dignified development of our partners and their peoples.

Our second objective is to develop a partnership with societies alongside our relations with governments.

Our approach is based on two key principles: “more for more” and mutual accountability. On the 'more for more', we will soon set out in more detail how we envisage to translate this principle into a concrete approach. What is clear is that we must maintain an approach based on positive conditionality and a flexible attitude that allows the EU to adapt its incentives to the evolving challenges. I look forward to discussing this with you and other stakeholders in more detail at the appropriate time.

Mr Chairman, Dear Colleagues

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

Let me first turn to money:

For the period 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 programme called SPRING. This has a budget of €350 million for 2011 and 2012 to provide support to partner countries that are consolidating reforms.

In addition to these grant funds EIB 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 year.

One major focus of our attention has been to strengthen civil society. We have launched the Civil Society Facility last September. Work continues on the establishment of the European Endowment for Democracy. The Commission has also renewed and increased its support to the Anna Lindh Foundation. And finally, we have strengthened our cooperation with the Council of Europe. Just last week, we have agreed 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.

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 could be signed under the current Danish Presidency. 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.

Also, over 740 additional Erasmus Mundus mobility grants for academic exchange 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.

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

Finally markets: mandates for negotiating Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements with Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and Jordan were approved by the Council on 14 December. 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 looking at trade measures that can be introduced rapidly and that can be beneficial for both sides. The agricultural liberalisation agreement with Morocco is one of such measures and I very much hope that the European Parliament will give its consent to it during the mid February Plenary. We also very much hope to conclude a similar agreement with Tunisia.

Finally, in addition to the three "Ms", we have been active on a number of important sector issues, in particular transport, energy or information technologies. In all these sectors, we are intensifying our cooperation with Southern neighbours.

Mr Chairman,

Let me also 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 in Egypt.

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 coherent and adequate support to transition.

This dialogue must include all partners: government, business, civil society, think tanks, etc. Only then we will be able to get the necessary feed back that will ensure that we can adjust our policies and actions to the evolving realities.

The political support of all the Union's institutions for change in our Southern neighbours is a given. We must now all work together to ensure that this commitment is matched by timely and targeted delivery on the ground. In that context, the Task Forces that have been set up by The High Representative and Vice-President of the Commission, Catherine Ashton have a key role to play to ensure notably the coordination of the response of the EU but also its member States and EU financial organisations.

We are in this for the long haul. When I was last in the region I was told that successful transition would not be measured by the first rounds of democratic elections but by the second third and fourth rounds. We must engage with the new leaderships and work together on building solid foundations for democracy and inclusive growth.

The EU can offer the experience of its own Member States which have gone through similar transformation process. It can also offer the experience of regional integration. We know that greater economic integration among the Maghreb countries would not only increase their gross domestic products by 2 percent, but it would also be a catalyst for the consolidation of the democratic and transformation process. In that context, I am encouraged by the increased recent contacts between Morocco and Algeria. I also hope that the Union for the Mediterranean can begin to effectively function and add value notably by successfully identifying and fostering support for concrete projects and initiatives that will strengthen solidarity in the Mediterranean.

And we should not be afraid of the outcome of democratic elections. We have to engage with our partners and judge them on the basis of facts and the respect of their international commitments. I was last week in Morocco where I met the new Prime Minister who confirmed his government's intention to improve fundamental freedoms and governance and also to strengthen the partnership with the EU. And I am glad that the Tunisian Prime Minister intends to travel next week to demonstrate his government's commitment to work with the EU.

Let me close by saying that the European Parliament has also a great responsibility to accompany the transformation process, not only by working hand in hand with other EU institutions and support the Commission's proposals to devote greater policy focus and financial resources on the neighbourhood, but also by cooperating with the parliaments of our partners, travelling to the region and acknowledging the role of the key agents of change.

I am certain that working together with you we can help support real, sustained, transition and democratisation.

I look forward to your comments and questions.

Many thanks.


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