European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy
IEMED Mediterranean Yearbook Presentation
European Institute of the Mediterranean (IEMED), Brussels
6 June 2012
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to thank the European Institute of the Mediterranean and the European Parliament for the kind invitation.
As I had mentioned in our previous encounter in March in Barcelona, we need more than ever to exchange our assessments on the developments in the Mediterranean region.
Events are changing fast. A correct analysis of the realities in the region is crucial, if we wish to understand and adapt our attitudes and policies.
The situation in the Southern Mediterranean remains volatile. We know that transition will take time and will be difficult, with a few setbacks. However, there is a general trend in several countries towards more democracy, a more accountable form of governance and increased respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Unfortunately, we cannot say yet that all countries are firmly on a path of sustainable democratisation. There is a positive momentum in Tunisia, Jordan and Morocco. The situation in Algeria, Egypt and Libya remains uncertain. And Syria remains a cause of grave concern. But, there is no turning back for these countries. Peoples' expectations remain very high and governments know that they have to change.
From our side, with last year's two communications, we have redesigned our approach to the region. As shown by the ENP communication of 15 May, we have implemented our new principles which are matching our values: "more for more" (but also "less for less"); increased differentiation and engagement with civil society.
We have sent the right signals that the EU is willing to engage with the new leaderships in its Southern Neighbourhood and support transitions; of course, we do so based on a clear assumption that the new leaderships will respect democratic values, human rights, women's rights, freedom of speech and religious tolerance. It would be a mistake to refuse engagement with the new authorities rooted in political Islam, if they have been elected democratically.
On the positive side, I would also highlight, in particular, the mobilisation of extra financial resources (up to EUR 1 billion over 2011-2013) which the Commission is delivering through faster mechanisms to those countries committed to genuine political reforms (in particular SPRING programme worth EUR 500 million in 2011-2013). We are also developing our offer on trade (DCFTAs) and migration (mobility partnerships) with the most advanced partners. We have stepped up the engagement with the civil society organisations, notably through the creation of the Civil Society Facility (for which we plan to commit EUR 70 million over the period 2011-2013 with half of this amount allocated for the South) or increased support to the Anna Lindh Foundation.
I am also glad that we are seeing an increased mobilisation of the European institutions, notably the Economic and Social Committee, the Council of Europe (with which we have agreed on a special 4.8 million euro programme to support its new policy of engagement with our Mediterranean Neighbours) and the European Parliament. The European Parliament has played an immensely important role in conveying European Union messages in the region and supporting the calls for change emanating from the Arab societies.
While I am confident that we have indeed made some very positive steps since the last year, I remain uncertain that we are collectively rising up to the historical challenge of the Arab Spring.
Member States are for good reasons caught up in the economic crisis and they tend to put foreign policy on the back burner.
But our neighbourhood, and in particular, the evolution of the Arab world, is an issue for our immediate attention, be it for our own security (through terrorism, radicalisation of segments of European population, illicit traffics), or our own prosperity (through exports and investments). In fact, increased involvement in our neighbourhood is part of the solution to our own internal problems, not part of our problems.
In fact, there is even more justification for the European Union to remain fully committed to the region, and in particular to those countries that are the most engaged in the transition process. We need success stories. And we need to accelerate the pace of delivery, in particular, on concrete means to support governance, democratisation, growth and job creation.
I am also keen to ensure that regional cooperation in the context of the Union for the Mediterranean is put back on a successful track. There are regional challenges that need to be addressed by regional solutions. We have renewed engagement with regional organizations such as the League of Arab States, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Arab Maghreb Union or the 5+5.
Among them the Union for the Mediterranean plays a special role. It is the inheritor of the Barcelona process and a unique forum where 43 partners can hold a dialogue and develop common strategies. As outlined in our communications, it is fully complementary to the renewed European Neighbourhood policy. Also, the decision by EU Foreign Ministers, to transfer the UfM Northern Co-presidency to the EU demonstrates our commitment and responsibility to support the UfM.
From my part, I am committed to ensure continuous support to the Secretariat of the UfM and its new and dynamic Secretary General, in order to ensure that they are able to identify and launch concrete projects to the benefits of all. Also, I am committed to resume a more intense sectoral dialogue, including dialogue among Ministers, with a view to strengthen regional dialogue and cooperation.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The challenges in the region remain huge; I could identify the following:
the political challenge of ensuring the success of the transition processes and the establishment of democratic states fully committed to respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, women's rights, freedom of speech and religious tolerance;
the economic challenge of boosting growth and providing employment to the youth. Without employment and the prospect of better lives, the societies of our partners will continue to face instability. The aim being to unleash private entrepreneurship and investment by ensuring a predictable and transparent business environment, doing away with obsolete rent seeking behaviours of a favoured few and establish a more inclusive model supporting poverty eradication.
Let me conclude by stressing that the Commission and I personally, are fully committed to implement our new approach to our neighbours, an approach that recognizes that the EU needs to take into account better the specific needs of each of our neighbours and their call for more dignity. At the same time, we will also be more demanding, and offer our increased support to those that are most committed to genuine political reforms.