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Mrs. Benita Ferrero-Waldner, EU Commissioner for External Relations & European Neighbourhood Policy
Speech to Political Committee of the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly
European Parliament Brussels, 25th January 2005

 

I am very pleased to participate with so many friends in this meeting of the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly’s Political Committee. I would also like to join you in Cairo in March for the 2nd meeting of the Assembly, but I am afraid that prior engagements will prevent me from doing so.

***

I have always been an enthusiastic supporter of dialogue among parliamentarians - in particular among those from around the shores of the Mediterranean. I am convinced that it is only by sharing experiences that we will learn from one another and advance further along the road towards democracy. The Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly is, for me, the institution which best embodies the Barcelona Process’ objective of creating an area of political stability and democracy in the Euro-Med area. Its inaugural session in March 2004 confirmed that the Barcelona Process is a politically-driven process in which our legislative bodies, the cornerstones of all democratic systems, are willing and able to play an active role.

The European Parliament has always been a strong supporter of the Barcelona Process, and I would like to express my gratitude - especially to the many individual Members who are enthusiastic supporters of Euro-Med relations - for its role as the driving force behind the creation of the Euro-Med Parliamentary Assembly.

I believe, and I hope you will agree with me, that the role of the Euro-Med Parliamentary Assembly should be:

  • To strengthen the Barcelona Process; and
  • To develop democracy and transparency in the Euro-Mediterranean region.
  • Strengthening the Barcelona Process

    The Barcelona Process is the central instrument in Euro-Mediterranean relations and the Commission is determined to reinforce it. One way in which we are doing that is through the European Neighbourhood Policy. This is an ambitious new policy designed to promote prosperity, stability, and security throughout the Euro-Med region. Under this policy national Action Plans to promote social, economic and political reforms are agreed by the EU and partner countries. I would like the implementation of these national plans to be a priority for Parliaments in partner countries. The Neighbourhood policy translates our common priorities into a concrete policy agenda with specific and measurable objectives to address the challenges facing the Mediterranean. It does not replace the Barcelona Process, but rather enhances it - the implementation of the Action Plans will be done through the institutional framework of the Association Agreements. I hope this Assembly will support these Plans as a tool for gradual modernisation and will ensure that local stakeholders are actively involved in, and committed to, their implementation.

    Apart from your valuable contribution to the Neighbourhood Policy, the Euro-Med Parliamentary Assembly can also play an essential role in providing impetus to the Barcelona Process by feeding ideas and concerns to the Euro-Mediterranean Ministerial Conferences; and also by supporting the necessary economic, political and social reforms.

    Developing Democracy and Transparency

    As members of parliament, you have the honour and the responsibility of representing the peoples and citizens of your countries. You are therefore ideally placed to ensure that the Euro-Mediterranean Assembly becomes a real force for promoting the principles of representative democracy. You are also well placed to act as a forum for open dialogue and the promotion of political pluralism, freedom of expression, and freedom of association in all Euro-Med countries.

    ***

    2005 will be a year of great opportunities. It started with elections in Palestine; in May, Luxembourg will host the VII Barcelona Conference; and towards the end of November we will hold the 10th Anniversary Conference of the Barcelona Declaration.

    In these ten years of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, we have achieved a lot. Just to mention a few accomplishments: we have concluded Association Agreements with all countries involved; and set up regional and bilateral cooperation programmes to help countries introduce reforms, modernise their economic structures, and improve their economic environment for the creation of jobs and the attraction of investment and know-how. The building blocks of North–South free trade are almost all in place, and South-South free trade will take a step forward with the entry into force of the Agadir Agreement in 2005. The EU is the region’s major donor and, within that, the Commission provides the lion’s share. We have given €7 billion in grants to Mediterranean partners during the period 1995-2003. Total European Investment Bank lending to the region stands at more than €13 billion and is rapidly increasing. And the Commission has proposed increased funding, including the creation of a new Partnership and Neighbourhood instrument for the period 2007-2013.

    But despite this impressive record, more remains to be done. The 10th Anniversary Conference in November should be a forward-looking Conference; we have to agree on a realistic but ambitious agenda for the future of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. In my view, the focus of this agenda should be twofold:

    First, a strong commitment to regional stability and democracy through regional integration and cooperation. This is the single most important political commodity the EU can export - and we hope to export it successfully throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East.

    Second, we should bring the partnership closer to our citizens’ concerns. The Barcelona Process has, to a large extent, been an inter-governmental process. It is high time that we ask ourselves what the Euro-Med Partnership can do to meet the concerns of the people and how we can more successfully address issues such as education, employment, gender equality, democracy, free circulation of people, and migrants’ rights. These are questions that affect the day-to-day life of our citizens, and our Partnership should address them.

    ***

    It was John Milton who wrote that “peace has her victories, no less renowned than war”. Let us work together to make the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership a victory of lasting peace in the region; a result of our shared and determined political will to build a region of dialogue, democracy and prosperity.
     

     

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