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Speech: Revival of practical regional cooperation in the Mediterranean

European Commission - SPEECH/14/113   07/02/2014

Other available languages: none

European Commission

Štefan Füle

European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy

Revival of practical regional cooperation in the Mediterranean

Brussels, 7 February 2014

Honourable Members, Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to thank the European Institute of the Mediterranean and the European Parliament for their kind invitation. I particularly value the Institute’s analysis of events in the Southern Mediterranean. The Mediterranean Yearbook is a “must read” for anybody with an interest in developments in the region.

The last time we met here to launch an earlier yearbook – that was in June 2012! - I stressed that the situation was evolving and changing fast in this region. And indeed, we have witnessed some turbulent changes. All over the Mediterranean, the situation remains unsteady and complex; problems persist and continue to challenge us.

In Syria, a brutal civil war is destroying the lives of millions of people and threatening the stability of those neighbours, in particular Lebanon and Jordan that have generously welcomed the refugees. I am indeed proud that the EU is providing support to the communities hosting refugees in these two countries and doing the utmost to preserve the territorial integrity of these two countries. And, as importantly, the European Union fully supports the ongoing Geneva Conference, a process that will hopefully lead to a swift political solution to the conflict.

In Egypt, we have taken note of the results of the referendum which gives the interim authorities the legitimacy they were looking for. The European Union calls for further implementation of the announced roadmap, in particular the holding of parliamentary and presidential elections in order to have a democratically elected government. It is important that fundamental freedoms and human rights are protected and that a truly inclusive political process is put in place to ensure lasting stability. This is an important message that we have conveyed ever since the beginning of the revolution in 2011.

Not all is gloom however. In Morocco and Jordan, reform continues although at a pace that can be improved. More importantly, there are positive developments in Tunisia. Although 2013 was a year of crisis, the early weeks of this year have brought very good news. Indeed, the adoption of the new constitution is a milestone of the transition process. Recent events have also demonstrated that when a governing party belonging to Political Islam such as Ennadha puts the interest of the country before the interest of its own supporters, it has a legitimate role to play in domestic politics.

The presence today of President Van Rompuy in Tunis is a testimony to the importance that the EU attaches to the new Constitution. I also proud that we have established a very good cooperation between Tunisian and the Council of Europe, and in particular its Venice Commission, which has provided expert advice to the National Constituent Assembly.

In this context, let me stress four points.

First, as demonstrated by the Tunisian experience, the real change should come from within the Arab societies – and this requires an inclusive and cooperative process amongst diverse political, religious and social forces. The key condition for success is the extent to which governments in the Middle East and North Africa can respond to people's expectations and assume the ownership of reform policies.

We know that transition will take time and will be difficult, and there will be setbacks. However, without the inclusive process, there is a high chance of failure.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

My second point is about the EU support. While we cannot and do not want to impose change, we have signalled that we are ready to support those partners that embark on the difficult path of political transition.

Three years ago the European institutions adapted the objectives and instruments of the European Neighbourhood Policy, and made the 'more for more' principle the cornerstone of this new approach.

The EU has made available over €4.2 billion for the period 2011-2013 for the southern Neighbourhood region under the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI) alone, including €700 million of additional funds. We have established the SPRING programme (Support for Partnership Reform and Inclusive Growth), to provide faster and additional support to southern partners showing commitment to, and progress in, democratic reforms.

We set up the Civil Society Facility, with more than €11 million per year since 2011. We have supported the creation of the European Endowment for Democracy, which is already active and supporting NGOs in our southern and eastern neighbours. And we also took new initiatives in the fields of markets (including launching DCFTAs with Morocco and hopefully soon with Tunisian) and Mobility (with a Mobility partnership in force with Morocco and soon with Tunisia).

Dear colleagues,

My third point is about the importance that we attach to regional cooperation in the Mediterranean. Indeed, we believe that regional challenges require regional solutions.

In this context, we have increased our engagement with regional organisations such as the League of Arab States and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. We have also stepped up our dialogue with the Maghreb region, notably in the context of the 5+5 process. As you know, the High Representative and the Commission adopted in late 2012 a Communication on strengthening the relations between the EU and the countries of the Maghreb. Since then, we have worked to implement these ideas, despite the difficulties in the region, including the instability in Libya or the border disagreement among some Maghreb countries. We have had a good ministerial meeting in New York in the margins of UNGA where we have agreed on a new methodology of engagement and also on five priorities of work: a) security; b) energy and water, c) civil society, d) academic mobility/research and e) business networks.

Politically the "new" Union for the Mediterranean has already demonstrated its benefits. The regular meetings of Senior Officials, with representatives of Israel and Palestine, Turkey and now, also Libya touch upon the most pressing political issues. We should not underestimate the value of bringing all these countries together and have them dialogue on important political issues. The systematic involvement of the European Parliament, European Investment Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and other partners such as the League of Arab States, has strengthened the mobilisation in support of a revitalised Union for the Mediterranean.

I am especially pleased with the resumption of Ministerial meetings since autumn 2013 (topics: Women – September, Transport – November, Energy – December). The forthcoming Ministerial meetings on Industry (on 19 February) and Environment (in early May) should continue this trend.

We are also continuing our dialogue with the Secretariat to ensure an increase in the number of projects endorsed by the UfM. It is important to have more UfM projects, and more of them involving the private sector. They need to demonstrate the added value of the UfM to the citizens.

Ladies and gentlemen,

My fourth and last point is on the role of civil society. One lesson that can be drawn from these three years, both in the Southern and in the Eastern neighbourhood, is that civil society has become a fundamental political force that governments ignore at their own perils.

Civil society is a driving force for democratisation and inclusiveness, and has a great role in all aspects of democratic and socio-economic reform. Already when we launched the new approach to the ENP in 2011, we stressed that we wanted to establish a new partnership not only with the authorities but also with the citizens and their organisations. We are determined to ensure that we pay greater attention to their voices.

After the Anna Lindh Forum in Marseilles early last year, we entered into a comprehensive series of consultations with civil society organisations throughout the Euromed region and explored together the possibilities of creating mechanisms for a regional structured dialogue between civil society, authorities and Europe.

These consultations have been widespread – geographically and sectorally; ideas are starting to crystallise.

There was a very successful series of workshops in Malta in December among leading Euromed civil society organisations, academics, media, diplomats and government officials. This meeting helped clarify the engagement of the different actors and build the necessary bonds of trust and confidence between the different actors. It also helped to better understand the complex reality of civil society and challenges of building the most suitable dialogue mechanisms.

Consultations are continuing and all this work will then feed into a major civil society forum that I will convene in Brussels at the end of April. There I will present the results of the accumulated consultations and outline the ideas for mechanisms of structured dialogue. It will also be an opportunity to plan together the next steps forward.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me conclude by emphasising my personal commitment and that of the Commission to the implementation of our new approach towards our neighbours, an approach that recognizes that the European Union needs to take better account of the specific needs of each of our neighbours and their call for more dignity; an approach that considers that true and lasting stability will have to be based on a solid and predictable foundation called democracy.

Of course transition to democracy will be difficult; it will be bumpy and long. But we need to remain committed to this objective. And we need to continue reflecting on how we implement our policies so that they remain relevant and effective. In that context, the publication of the IEMED Yearbook offers an excellent occasion for reflection.

Thank you for your attention.

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