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European Commission - Speech - [Check Against Delivery]

Morocco: an indispensable strategic neighbour of Europe

11 December 2014

Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Rabat

Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen

This is my first visit to a Mediterranean country since taking up office last month as Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations. My decision to visit the Kingdom at the very beginning of my mandate reflects the importance that I attach to the EU’s partnership with Morocco.

The countries in Europe's ‘southern neighbourhood’ are experiencing a particularly challenging period in their history. Each country has its own different challenges, with chronic instability, political turmoil and weak institutions particularly prevalent. There is also a growing threat from religious extremism and a tendency to backslide on reforms, including human rights.

Morocco is one of the few countries that is resisting that regional trend. So while it is vital that we in Europe devote strategic attention to the crises in our neighbourhood that are currently preoccupying us – in Ukraine, in Iraq and Syria, in Libya, there are alas too many of them to mention – we should also celebrate success stories and strengthen our ties with longstanding, like-minded partners.

This brings me to the first of my three clear messages for you today:

Morocco is an indispensable strategic neighbour of Europe. For centuries, we have been connected through trade, through culture, and through people-to-people contacts. Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the very first trade negotiations between the EEC and Morocco. Our partnership has come a long way since then. More recently, the EU Morocco summit in 2010 was the first EU summit with an Arab state and another example of our solid relations.

The EU is proud to be Morocco’s leading cooperation partner. We are already working with you in key areas ranging from education, health, fisheries, renewable energy and infrastructure to support for SMEs to become more competitive, boost exports and create jobs. I could go on: the list is a long one.

Our human contacts are also growing ever closer. Some 5 million EU residents of Moroccan origin have already enriched the diversity of European society. Every year Moroccans top the list of third country nationals receiving EU nationality. Growing numbers of Europeans are choosing to live and work in Morocco. Hundreds of student exchanges every year bring European and Moroccan students together. This type of mobility, especially for young people, should be encouraged further.

Our cooperation also extends to the growing phenomenon of irregular migration. This poses difficult and complex challenges for the EU and its neighbours. Morocco has assumed its share of responsibility in managing these migratory flows, by signing a Mobility Partnership with the EU. Your migration policy is unprecedented in the region and you are fast becoming an example to your neighbours. We need to work even more closely with you in the coming years, to support your integration policy and to ensure that migrants' rights are fully respected.

We also share close economic ties. The EU, with its internal market of 508 million people, representing 24% of world GDP, is by far Morocco’s largest economic partner, accounting for over 50% of external trade and more than 70% of foreign direct investment. And our economies are continuing to converge. In the past 10 years, trade between Morocco and the EU has doubled. The new trade agreement and the regulatory harmonization plan that are currently being discussed will help integrate the Moroccan economy more closely with the single market, improve Moroccan producers’ ability to export to the world and provide a model for other countries of the benefits of economic openness.

Many of the social and migratory challenges that you face are our challenges too. Many of the economic challenges that we face affect you. Today, we need each other more than ever. Morocco is a crucial and resilient security partner for the EU at a time when we face common threats from instability in the region and extremism.

My second message is that the EU acknowledges the considerable progress Morocco has made in recent yearsin introducing reforms, especially since the Constitution of 2011. I welcome your pioneering spirit in signing up to new initiatives. The EU is proud to be your leading partner in supporting the National Equality Plan, the justice reform programme, the ‘Hakama’ (Governance) programme and the wide range of other reforms being developed that have the potential to transform Moroccan society. We applaud your determination, as set out in the Advanced Status of 2008, to go faster and further. We encourage you to adopt an open and inclusive approach, so that dialogue takes place not only at political level but also with business, academia, youth and Civil Society, as envisaged by the Constitution.

And we remain committed to working with you in the future. Our Ambassador recently signed the Single Support Framework for 2014-17with Finance Minister Boussaid. This rather technical-sounding document sets out a joint vision for our cooperation over the coming four years. It commits the EU to financial support of between 728 and 890 million euros in Morocco during this period. This is a substantial sum, especially at a time of austerity and belt-tightening in Europe. But we believe it will be money well spent, because Morocco has demonstrated its commitment to reform.

This commitment, unrivalled in the region, is recognition that the EU relationship with Morocco is special. It reflects our determination to provide sustained support to your efforts to introduce far-reaching reforms that respond to the legitimate aspirations of the Moroccan people for a fairer more inclusive society.

It is also a sign of EU confidence in the ground-breaking reforms that Morocco is working on, such as the National Equality Plan. There is no issue more important for any country’s development than equality and I will follow its progress, including the draft law on violence against women, with great interest.

Support for democracy and human rights lies at the very heart of the EU’s priorities. An independent justice system is essential for a fair, inclusive society. It is indispensable too for a thriving, entrepreneurial economy. So I am pleased to note that justice reform is another flagship Moroccan reform supported by the EU.

And the EU’s support for civil society is another important element of our partnership. Morocco’s flourishing civil society is a valuable asset for the country – a key building block for your democratic transition and an important contributor to public debates. I look forward to meeting representatives of civil society gathered here today.     

The conventions that I will sign tomorrow with Minister Boussaid reflect both the breadth and the depth of the EU’s commitment to Morocco. They cover:

  • a programme on education worth a total of 92 million euros that will support the reform and modernisation of this key sector so as to extend its reach and further improve its standards – both essential to help Morocco build a stable, prosperous future;
  • a supplement of 9 million euros to our major Hakama programme on public governance, aimed at improving the transparency and efficiency of public finance; and
  • support for the Noor 2 Solar Energy and the Eolien Wind Energy (to be confirmed) programmes, worth 40 and 15 million euros respectively. Together with the European Investment Bank and financing from other European development banks, Europe remains by far the largest contributor to Morocco’s ambitious renewable energy programme.

We are, as you know, ambitious. We know that you are ambitious too. While acknowledging what Morocco has achieved, we recognise the potential to do more. This is why we will continue to urge you to persevere in your reforms and to constantly renew the vigour of your efforts.

My third message is that I am here to listen. The European Neighbourhood Policy was created in 2004 to build new partnerships with the EU’s direct neighbours, based on shared values, stability and prosperity. Those fundamental objectives remain as valid today as they were 10 years ago; indeed, they are more important than ever. But the situation in the southern neighbourhood has changed dramatically since the ENP has been in place and in particular since 2011. The EU too has changed, almost doubling its membership to 28 Member States, with a Eurozone membership that will expand to 19 EU countries next month. And Africa is changing.

There is widespread recognition both in Europe and in the Middle East and North Africa that we need to refresh our engagement in the region. President Juncker has asked me to take stock of the ENP and suggest a way forward within the first 12 months of my mandate. The process of reflection has already started and it will be important to find the right approach that reflects the particular circumstances of each country.

Over the coming months we want to hear from all our neighbours. And in particular we want to learn from Morocco’s experience, not just of the Maghreb and the wider Middle East, but also of the Sahel and west Africa, our neighbours’ neighbourhood if you like.

I recognise that many of the challenges North Africa faces are exacerbated by the lack of inter-connectivity and integration in the Maghreb. The impact of this situation on Morocco and its neighbours, particularly in terms of economic development, is well known. But this is an issue that affects Europe too.

The countries of the Arab Maghreb Union are our nearest southern neighbours. Their stability and prosperity matter to us as well. It is profoundly in Europe’s interests to see a more integrated region, with open borders. The EU has committed itself to supporting efforts towards greater integration. I renew that commitment now, and will do everything I can to facilitate that process over the next 5 years.

I was pleased to read in a recent EU Neighbourhood Barometer poll that 91% of Moroccans feel the European Union has good relations with Morocco, and that 84% see the EU as an important partner of Morocco.

But we must not rest on our laurels. The challenges in this region are unlikely to get any easier over the coming years. That is why I am determined that the EU-Morocco partnership should remain rock-solid and that we continue to ensure that all Moroccan citizens, especially young people, understand why this partnership matters. Together, as real partners, we can work towards achieving peace, stability and prosperity not only in Morocco, but throughout North Africa, the Sahel and the EU.

Thank you.

SPEECH/14/2607

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