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Euro-Mediterranean Relations
Speech by Mrs. Benita Ferrero-Waldner,
EU Commissioner for External Relations & European Neighbourhood Policy
Strasbourg, 23 February 2005

 

European Parliament

Honourable members,

I am very pleased to have this opportunity to talk to you about Euro-Mediterranean Relations. The European Parliament has always been a strong supporter of the Barcelona Process. I would like to express my gratitude - especially to the many individual Members who are enthusiastic supporters of Euro-Med relations - for your role as the driving force behind the European Unionís active involvement in this region.

I have a personal interest in seeing the EU develop closer relations with the Mediterranean. Not only is the region strategically important for Europe, it is also our neighbourhood. We share common bonds of geography, history, trade, migration, and culture. That is why we have launched the European Neighbourhood Policy. The Neighbourhood policy does not replace the Barcelona Process; it reinforces it. It builds on the Processí objectives and instruments, in particular developing the EUís bilateral relations with each partner.

***

Let me start with a brief word about Lebanon. We all have been shocked and saddened the assassination ten days ago of former Prime Minister Mr Rafik Hariri. Mr Hariri was one of the main architects of the agreements that brought the long awaited end to civil war in Lebanon; he was a man committed to peace and reconciliation, to the reconstruction of his war-torn country and to the promotion of cooperation and stability in the region. The best legacy to his relentless efforts would be to ensure that free and fair parliamentary elections, under full Lebanese sovereign control, take place as planned in May. It is in the interest of Lebanon and of its stability that the circumstances and the responsibilities of this criminal act are clarified as soon as possible. That is why the Commission supports the idea of an international, independent investigation of the terrorist attack of 14 February. The Commission attaches the utmost importance to the full and prompt implementation, by all parties concerned, of UN Security Council Resolution 1559. This resolution also calls for free and fair elections without foreign interference, and for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon, the disbanding and disarmament of all militias and the government control of all Lebanese territory.

Mr President, 2005 will be an important year for Euro-Mediterranean relations. There are signs that Israel and the Palestinians are at last trying to end the cycle of violence. Many challenges and risks lie ahead. But we must lend our full support to the Middle East Peace Process. We must move rapidly beyond the cease-fire and Gaza withdrawal towards the end goal - the two state solution.

In March, the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly will meet for the second time in Cairo. At the end of May, Euro-Mediterranean Ministers will meet in Luxembourg for the 7th Barcelona Conference. And in November we will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Barcelona Declaration, with a conference in the very same city that saw the birth of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership in 1995.

We should seize these opportunities and turn 2005 into a year of substantial achievement in Euro-Med relations. In early April the Commission plans to issue a Communication to the European Parliament and Council containing specific proposals. We have two broad objectives:

The first is to increase the impact of our policies, so contributing to the pursuit of reform, peace and stability in the region.

The second is to 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 we ask ourselves what the Partnership can do to meet the concerns of the people. How can we more successfully tackle issues such as education, employment, gender equality, democracy, the 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.

***

I would like to give you some thoughts on priorities for the years ahead:

  • We should reflect on how we can best use the Barcelona Process to contribute to the Middle East Peace Process, and to safeguard peace once we have it. We should address political reform with our partners and work together with them on the practical aspects of counter-terrorism and non-proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction. The EU has an impressive record in democracy-building, including in those countries which are now new member states. We should use this experience to help build stable democracies in the Mediterranean.
     
  • Education is an issue of fundamental importance for the future of the region. The EU and our partners should increase spending on education. We should set a target date for eradicating illiteracy and focus on the critical issue of improving quality and access to education - especially for girls. Together we could also organise schemes for student exchanges; improve higher education cooperation through a new scholarship programme; and promote the study of European integration.
     
  • In trade and economic relations we should reconfirm the 2010 target for free trade; agree a road map with a timetable for free trade in agricultural and processed agricultural products; decide on a timetable for liberalisation of services; accelerate South-South free trade; use the Neighbourhood Policy to help partners eliminate obstacles to investment; and hold a meeting of Transport Ministers to extend transport corridors to the Mediterranean with the financial support of the EIB.
     
  • And finally, on the issue of Migration and Social integration, we should promote a joint cooperative approach to managing the movement of people. We should also implement European Neighbourhood Action Plan commitments, including on the social integration of migrants.
  • Before concluding, let me make reference to our cooperation with the United States. The Broader Middle East and North Africa initiative provides a valuable opportunity to work together with other partners. Many of the EUís objectives for the region are shared by the US, and we are more likely to achieve them together. Working in parallel, reinforcing our common objectives, the EU and US will have a greater degree of persuasion and political influence in the region than we would separately.

    ***

    These are times of hope and opportunity in the Mediterranean and Middle East. The UNDP Arab Human Development reports talk of three deficits: in freedom, in womenís empowerment, and in knowledge. They also rightly point out that the main constraint is not resources but the lack of political commitment. On behalf of the Commission I confirm our commitment to contribute to progress in this region and to strengthen its relations with Europe.

    But the Commission is also aware of the importance of having sufficient resources to support EU policies. We have put forward a proposal for a European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument to operate under the next financial perspectives. This instrument will support our cooperation and should allow for a substantial increase in the annual amounts allocated to our neighbours.

    I am sure the European Parliament will be our staunchest ally in supporting these proposals, so enabling us to achieve our ambitious policy objectives in the region.

    Thank you for your attention.
     

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