Remarks to Foreign Affairs Committee
Dr. Benita Ferrero-Waldner
Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy
Remarks to Foreign Affairs Committee
Brussels, 25 January 2005
Members of the European Parliament,
I am delighted to be here today as this is the first opportunity I have had since officially taking up my position to address one of your regular Foreign Affairs Committee meetings. As I said in my parliamentary hearing, I want to participate in your debates and meetings on a regular basis, and I hope to have many opportunities to do so.
I am particularly pleased that we can have an exchange of views at your first meeting of the year. 2005 has started with many new opportunities, as well as some unexpected challenges. Some of these opportunities and challenges were discussed in your Plenary session two weeks ago. I regret not having being able to attend these discussions, as I had to leave for my official visit to the United States.
1) EU-US relations
Last week the headlines were dominated by President Bush’s inauguration, and the likely shape of US foreign policy under a second Bush presidency. I had the opportunity to judge that for myself on my visit to Washington DC.
My overriding impression was that both sides of the Atlantic share a commitment to revitalise our transatlantic partnership. Condoleezza Rice made that very clear when I met her and National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley. As Dr. Rice said to me, we need to “put the relationship to work” in the interests of Europeans, Americans and the wider world. We agreed that the overall balance of the relationship is positive, and that past disagreements should be viewed in perspective, and put firmly behind us.
We discussed the importance of building on our good track record of cooperation (the Balkans, Afghanistan, Ukraine, and the Tsunami catastrophe). I laid out areas of mutual interest for future cooperation, including the Middle East (focussing on the Peace Process, reform and modernisation in the Broader Middle East, Iraq, and Iran); Europe’s new Eastern neighbours; UN reform; and counter-terrorism. We also discussed areas where we need more meaningful dialogue than in the past, for example on climate change.
Regarding the Transatlantic economy, the engine of the global economy over many decades, I outlined the importance of ensuring that it meets the interests of all our citizens. Fine words about our common objectives and destinies will not convince our citizens of the value of the transatlantic relationship as effectively as job creation and higher real wages. In order to achieve this it is imperative that the EU also focuses on its own competitiveness.
We agreed that EU-US cooperation is indispensable in today’s world, where we face the challenges of terrorism, proliferation, poverty and disease, and failed or failing states. In response, I pointed out that we need to think seriously about the structures which underpin EU-US relations. Although the New Transatlantic Agenda is only 10 years old, we need to be sure that this informal institutional structure still serves to promote the closest possible dialogue between us.
To summarise, although I do not believe that we will see a radical change of US foreign policy, the tone of our relations is definitely improving. On both sides of the Atlantic rational diplomacy and dialogue must be the order of the day.
President Bush’s visit to Europe next month is an important symbol - the US is reaching out to old friends and allies. In return, it is important that we extend the hand of friendship, and make him welcome. As this Parliament said in its recent resolution, we should look on the Bush visit as an opportunity for a new start.
2) Middle East
Another of 2005’s opportunities for a new start has presented itself in the Middle East, with the election of a new Palestinian President, and a new government in Israel.
The process and outcome of the Palestinian elections was very encouraging. I would like to commend Michel Rocard, for his role in leading one of the largest-ever EU Election Observation missions, which gave us an invaluable insight into the conduct of the elections. I would also like to commend Mr McMillan-Scott who led the European Parliament Observer Delegation. The EU presence on the ground was highly effective and visible. Palestinian voters showed their desire for and commitment to peace and democracy.
This is not to say that there is no room for improvement. The Commission has supported the work of the Central Elections Commission since its establishment, and this support will continue. We must ensure that the elections commission can organise future elections in full independence and unhindered by any political pressure.
Abu Mazen is a credible partner for peace and a capable interlocutor for Palestinian institution-building, including reform of the security structures. It is important that the international community now acts quickly to support him. He needs to be able to show tangible signs of progress - on the social and economic situation; law and order; and reform and security.
The international community should also follow up the Oslo donors meeting by strengthening the World Bank Trust Fund. The European Commission will play its part – we allocated approximately €250 million in 2004 and intend to provide a similar amount in 2005. We will step up our assistance to reform the Palestinian Authority, with programmes to develop democratic institutions, ranging from financial control to judicial independence. We will also need to work with both the new Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority on creating the conditions for a successful Gaza disengagement. The key issue is the access and movement of goods and people. The World Bank has been very clear: without improvement on freedom of movement, the Gaza economy will simply stagnate, irrespective of how much funding we provide. The London conference on 1 March and a subsequent donors meeting will give us the opportunity to discuss this further.
Above all, we must ensure that whatever incidents occur to disrupt the path towards peace and security – and there will be many - this window of opportunity remains open. Polls since the election show that the majority of Palestinians support a peaceful resolution to the conflict on the basis of a two state solution. And the new Israeli government is committed to pursuing disengagement, which, if coordinated with the Palestinians, should then lead us back to the Road Map. In the coming weeks I will have the opportunity to visit the region and see for myself how best we can help. I look forward to reporting back to you on the results.
3) European Neighbourhood Policy and Ukraine
Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority have developed Action Plans with us in the framework of our European Neighbourhood policy. We would like to be able to implement these as soon as possible.
As you know, the European Neighbourhood policy is one of my priorities. It is an ambitious policy designed to substantively upgrade our relationship with partners, through both deeper political cooperation and a significant degree of economic integration. 2005 will be the year of delivery and implementation of the current Action Plans, as well as, hopefully, the development of new Action Plans with other partners.
The Action Plans are bilateral political documents committing both the partner country and ourselves to the respect of common values and norms of international conduct. Respect for these, combined with political and economic reforms, will enable our neighbours to develop a closer relationship with the EU. Action Plans for Israel, Jordan, Moldova, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority, Tunisia, and Ukraine were adopted by Council last December and will now be presented to the relevant Association and Cooperation Councils for endorsement, thus paving the way for implementation.
The challenge now for the countries, and for the EU, is to turn the commitments and aspirations contained in these Plans into reality, into measurable reforms which benefit the partner countries and especially their populations.
I would like to lay particular emphasis on Ukraine, where the EU played a very positive role in assisting the country to overcome the crisis late last year. Last December, the Council endorsed the draft Action Plan and indicated that it would transmit it to the EU-Ukraine Cooperation Council for approval “as soon as developments in Ukraine permit”. The holding of free and fair elections opened the way towards strengthened cooperation, and we are now in a position to move ahead.
I was delighted to attend President Yushchenko’s inauguration on Sunday. Now is the moment to take steps to reinforce our relationship. On that note, we hope that the EU-Ukraine Cooperation Council, which has been scheduled for 21 February 2005, will endorse this document so as to prepare the ground for its implementation. Moreover, in recognition of the new political reality in Ukraine, Javier Solana and I have written a joint letter to the Council which contains a number of proposals to maximise the Action Plan’s benefits for Ukraine.
2005 will also see the presentation of Country Reports on Armenia, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Georgia, and Lebanon. Now that Association Agreements are entering into force with Egypt and Lebanon we will also prepare Action Plans for these countries. The next steps for the South Caucasus will be decided on the basis of the country reports.
In parallel, we are continuing work on the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI). I hope I can count on your support for the Commission’s request for adequate financing of this ambitious new policy.
4) Tsunami in Asia
Of course, while 2005 started out on a positive note in some respects, it also began with the dreadful realisation of the scale of the devastation caused by the Tsunamis that hit Asia at the end of last year.
We are all still deeply affected by the human suffering inflicted in particular on some of the poorest and most vulnerable communities in Asia. We now have a responsibility to look to the future, and must do whatever we can to alleviate that suffering; to help communities to re-build; and to take actions to deal with such a disaster should it occur again.
With the announcement by President Barroso of the Commission’s €350 million aid package for reconstruction and the total EU pledge of around €1.5 billion, the EU has created enormous expectations which we must fulfil. We now have to make sure that the pledges that have been made are translated into high quality programmes that benefit the affected population, and that this assistance is delivered rapidly.
We are seeking the support of Parliament and the Council for securing the required new funding and ensuring that reconstruction assistance is implemented as rapidly as possible.
Once the results of the needs assessments currently being conducted by the World Bank are fully known, we will propose concrete measures for the Commission’s reconstruction plans. We are looking at ways of complementing our grant assistance with loans that will be provided by the European Investment Bank through its “Indian Ocean Tsunami Facility” of up to €1 billion.
We are also making progress on a number of supportive actions, such as trade measures, early warning systems, and ideas on how to respond rapidly to similar crises in the future.
This disaster has put the spotlight on our capacity to provide a timely and effective crisis response. Our humanitarian aid programmes are first class. But crisis response is also about being there for the long-haul; re-establishing peoples’ livelihoods; and creating the conditions for normal development programmes to resume.
We have made progress, but there is still work to be done. For example, we are hampered by the fragmentation of our financial and human resources across a bewildering range of budget lines and legal instruments. To address this, last year the Commission proposed an “Instrument for Stability”, which I look forward to discussing with you in the months to come.
The Commission will also propose a number of structural measures to strengthen the EU’s response at the General Affairs Council on 31 January. These will include strengthening the capacity of our international partners to deliver humanitarian aid; improvements to the Civil Protection Mechanism; measures to ensure effective planning and delivery of longer-term reconstruction assistance; and better coordination with Member States and with the military capacity being established in the Council secretariat.
I plan to visit the region in early March to
get a first-hand view of the reconstruction needs in the
affected areas, and will discuss my findings with you on my