Full text 
Verbatim report of proceedings
Wednesday, 15 March 2006 - Strasbourg OJ edition

12. Euro-Mediterranean policy/preparation for the next meeting of the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly (debate)

  President. The next item is the Council and Commission statements on the Euro-Mediterranean policy and the preparation for the next meeting of the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly in Brussels.


  Hans Winkler, President-in-Office of the Council.(DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, in the course of the short debate on the Middle East that has been held today in response to current events, Euro-Mediterranean cooperation has also rightly been mentioned. This cooperation is of the utmost importance, not only with regard to the Middle East issue, but also in other contexts. I do not wish to reiterate at this point what I have already said today on behalf of the Council about the events in the Middle East. In the meantime, the Presidency, too, has issued a statement on this. I should now like to turn to the Euromed process itself.

The Austrian Presidency follows on the heels of last November’s Summit in Barcelona on the tenth anniversary of the first Barcelona Summit, which adopted a five-year work programme for the Partnership, oriented towards political and economic reforms, and also a Code of Conduct on Countering Terrorism. I believe that these documents and agreements are of the utmost importance.

We and our Mediterranean partners have also agreed to increase investment in education and to tackle together all aspects of legal and illegal immigration. That is another very important issue.

It is now up to the Austrian Presidency to work towards implementing all of these projects. This we shall do willingly, vigorously and with conviction. I should also like to take this opportunity to announce that a meeting of Trade Ministers is to be held in Marrakech on 24 March, and there will be a meeting of Euromed Finance Ministers in Tunis on 25 and 26 June.

We shall also be giving particular support to the Commission in prioritising the media, because we are convinced that the media plays a particularly important role in intercultural understanding. In this connection, the Euromed Seminar on Xenophobia and Racism in the Media that has been planned for a long time is now scheduled to be held in May, during the Austrian Presidency.

As the House has already heard from the Austrian Minister for Foreign Affairs, President of the General Affairs and External Relations Council, the Council has been intensely preoccupied with the issue of the caricatures in recent weeks, including at the informal meeting of Ministers for Foreign Affairs in Salzburg. This issue is another about which I have already had the opportunity to speak to you here. This problem, in particular, has made clear to us that we have to specifically take the route of forward-looking dialogue between the EU and the Islamic world and with Muslim communities in Europe. The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership offers an ideal, particularly important forum for the dialogue with Mediterranean countries in this regard. I consider this dialogue to be particularly important at all levels, particularly the direct contact between young people, and I believe that the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership can, and must, indeed play a key role. It was with this aim in view that the Anna Lindh Foundation for the Dialogue between Cultures was established last year. This Foundation has a key role to play, particularly at this time.

The Conclusions of the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council of 27 February 2006 expressly mention the Barcelona process and the Anna Lindh Foundation, along with other multilateral organisations playing a role in this field, a fact that we consider most welcome.

It is now important to take all the available instruments of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership and use them to defuse tensions, such as those seen recently. A meeting of leading Euro-Mediterranean officials has already taken place, on 22 February: this enabled a very open exchange of views on the events and gave all the participants the opportunity to propose specific measures.

In essence, there is agreement on the fact that the structures required to tackle this problem are already in place; I do not believe that we should create new ones. The challenge for us now is to make use of all the appropriate opportunities for dialogue to successfully continue the long-standing efforts towards bringing the peoples on both sides of the Mediterranean closer together.

The Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly brings together representatives of the peoples on both sides of the Mediterranean. We expect it to make a particularly important contribution to further calming this situation and to better understanding.

The Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly has given the Barcelona process an urgently needed new dimension and, in particular, increased its legitimacy. Relevant working committees were put to work even at the stage of preparing for the Barcelona Summit in November 2005.

The Committee on Political Affairs, Security and Human Rights of the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly debated the problem of the caricatures calmly and in detail at its meeting on the sixth of this month and it, too, pointed to the necessity of increasing dialogue. I am convinced that the plenary session to be held on 26 and 27 March will also be able to provide an appropriate response to the questions that have arisen. The Austrian Presidency is following and supporting the diverse initiatives that are being taken in this regard.

Just today, at the meeting of the Senior Officials Committee for the Barcelona process, the Euromed Committee, the title of a seminar to be held in Vienna was changed at the request of our Mediterranean partners, to take account of their request for religious feelings to be respected.

It is my conviction that there is scope for further improvement in communication between the traditional Euromed committees and the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly. I hope that, with a little imagination, we are able to achieve further progress on this issue under the Austrian Presidency, to the benefit of all of the Euromed committees and the Partnership as a whole.

Furthermore, particularly in the light of current events, enhanced cooperation could be initiated, for example with the OSCE or even with the ‘alliance of civilisations’ – which, as we know, is a Spanish–Turkish initiative under the auspices of the United Nations. Austria would like to continue its involvement in this wider context, and has already invited the High Level Group on the alliance of civilisations to hold its third meeting in Vienna at the end of May.


  Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Member of the Commission. Mr President, we are here to discuss the Barcelona Process and the preparations for the next meeting of the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly.

Let me just say a few words about the recent events in the Palestinian territories, because today the time was so short during the speeches on the Gymnich and there were only two Commissioners. I ceded my place to Commissioner Rehn for the Western Balkans debate and now, if you permit me, I shall say a few words on yesterday's events. It is not only topical but also goes to the heart of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership, to our shared objective for a region of peace, stability, prosperity and opportunity. I fail to see how any of the actions yesterday in any way contributed to those objectives.

The Israeli attack on the prison in Jericho and the Israelis' public treatment of prison guards and inmates is unacceptable and should be condemned. I also deplore the violence, the kidnappings and the attacks on the Commission offices and other offices of the Member States in Gaza and the West Bank.

The first victims of this breakdown of law and order are the Palestinian people themselves. In the current circumstances, with key political deadlines ahead in both Israel and the Palestinian territories, it is more important than ever that both parties show restraint and responsibility. Attacks, such as the ones that took place yesterday, and provocative statements do nothing to improve prospects, and the Palestinian Authority must put an end to violence and insecurity. Yesterday evening, I had a good discussion – as you, Mr President, no doubt did – with President Abbas before he returned to deal with the mounting violence and confrontation. He is doing one of the most difficult jobs in the world just now, which was not made any easier by yesterday's events. How he manages to compose a new Palestinian Authority Government will affect the prospects for peace in the Middle East and will also have repercussions for us all.

The European Union is a reliable partner of the Palestinian people. No donor has done more to help them. I told President Abbas once again that we want to continue our support for a better, peaceful and prosperous future, but that we stand firm on our principles, leaving the door open to positive developments. All future assistance to a new Palestinian Authority Government will be reviewed in relation to its position on the key principles of an end to violence, recognition of Israel and compliance with the existing agreements, including the Roadmap. Those with whom President Abbas negotiates must know and understand that their decisions on their issues will have important repercussions.

Let me now say a few words about the Euro-Med Partnership. The Barcelona Summit last November achieved notable results for the future. The five-year work programme agreed at the summit and the Code of Conduct on counter-terrorism constitute a very ambitious agenda which will render the partnership more tangible, more politically relevant and more operational.

To follow up on the summit, we must now ensure constructive and effective contributions by all partners to attain the commonly agreed objectives on political and economic reform, growth and job creation, human rights and gender issues, education and management of migration, regional stability and the fight against terrorism.

The Commission has already launched work on the implementation of that five-year programme. Initiatives have been taken with the current and the incoming Council Presidencies, as well as with Mediterranean partners, to ensure the success of this common endeavour. We have reserved appropriate funding for assistance and support, provided through MEDA and the future European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument, including a substantial facility to encourage progress on governance reform that we call a 'governance facility'.

As of this year, several new and innovative activities will be launched. Preparations are well under way to organise the first Euro-Med ministerial meeting on gender issues at the end of the year.

Two sub-regional conferences, one in the Maghreb and one in the Mashreq, will pave the way for government and civil society representatives to examine the importance of gender equality for economic and social development and propose practical measures to improve women’s access to jobs and public life.

At the Barcelona Summit, Euro-Med partners highlighted the importance of migration, social integration, justice and security as issues of common interest in the partnership, which should be addressed through a balanced and comprehensive approach. Work has begun on preparing a ministerial meeting to tackle all issues from illegal migration to trafficking in human beings and people smuggling.

This regional initiative is complemented by our bilateral programmes aimed at strengthening institutional capacities, managing legal migration, improving border controls, fighting illegal immigration and people trafficking.

Mr Winkler has already mentioned the Trade Ministerial Meeting, which will be attended by Commissioner Mandelson and will advance the objective of a European free trade area.

We also hope to see similar progress on South-South trade – the 'Agadir process'. The so-called cartoon crisis has highlighted the dangers of leaving prejudice, misinformation and misunderstanding to fester. We regret the offence caused by those cartoons to Muslims across the world, but we also strongly condemned all violent acts and threats against individuals and property of the European Union and other countries. Support for intercultural dialogue at all levels is important. I am glad that in Salzburg this has been very strongly recommended. We are convinced that the Barcelona Process has a framework for it and that the architecture is already there: there is the Anna Lindh Foundation and 35 other structures within an entire network.

We must reach out to civil society and the media, and all the media seminars that are being planned by the Austrian Presidency are very welcome.

In this context, I am very happy with the initiative to exchange views on this subject during the next Euro-Med Parliamentary Assembly. From there, I would go to the Arab League summit in Khartoum, because it is highly important that we now use every opportunity to really talk to our Arab friends and colleagues.

At this critical juncture, our message has to be clear: it is through a vigorous but also peaceful dialogue of opinions, with full respect for freedom of expression, that understanding can be deepened and respect can be built. Indeed, that is the essence of the Barcelona Process. Therefore, what we want to do is give more hope to progress. Together, we want to realise the objectives of security, stability and prosperity.



  Edward McMillan-Scott, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – Mr President, it is a great pleasure to see you in the Chair at the beginning of this debate on the Euromed Parliamentary Assembly, which you do so much to elevate and enhance. Of colleagues here in the Chamber, the pioneers of the Euro-Mediterranean policy are very numerous on the left, but not so numerous on the centre-right, with the distinguished exceptions of Mr Busuttil, Mr Kasoulides and Mrs Saïfi, but more may come.

As was mentioned earlier today, Veronique De Keyser and I had the honour to meet the President of Palestine last night. We profoundly regret the circumstances in which he had to return home. I believe it is ironic and tragic that the two countries who talk most about encouraging democracy in the Middle East – the United Kingdom and the United States – should be the very countries who left their posts in Jericho yesterday. The governments of both those countries should have reinforced and not withdrawn their garrisons.

It would be appropriate at the Euromed Parliamentary Assembly that we should hear, particularly from the Council, where the responsibility lay for the decisions, who took them, when and why they were taken. I hope that, if possible, we will get a statement from the Council at that meeting, with the assistance of the Commission.

The work of the Euromed is based largely on its committees. We are deeply grateful for the work that takes place there and for the opportunity that the Assembly provides, uniquely in the world, for Palestine and Israel to work together. It is an unusual meeting, taking place on the eve of an Israeli election, and following the election in Palestine on 25 January. It may be that representatives from those two countries are not present, but that does not mean they have gone out of our minds. They are very much at the forefront of our concerns. I believe that this meeting – the last under your chairmanship under the Presidency of the European Parliament – will be a great opportunity for the Commission, the Council and Parliament to underline our commitment to giving the parliamentary dimension of the Mediterranean real substance.

I hope that the work I am doing on my subcommittee may give the European Parliament the opportunity to become the operational and organisational heart of the Euromed Assembly in the future. That is my intention.



  Pasqualina Napoletano, on behalf of the PSE Group. (IT) Mr President, Commissioner, Minister, ladies and gentlemen, the dramatic events of the last few hours in Palestine force us to reach a view and, as you said, Commissioner, go right to the heart of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership.

I would like to say to the Israeli authorities that an electoral campaign, however important, cannot permit the distortion of existing legal frameworks. One of these frameworks, the main one, is the role of President Abu Mazen, damaged and deprived of authority by the irresponsible attack on the prison in Jericho and by the capture of prisoners whose detention was the competence of the Palestinian authority. I would also like to hear a view from the Council on the conduct of the United Kingdom and United States forces present in the area.

All our moral and political support goes to the President of the Palestinian Authority, who should have been among us here today. We are aware of his very difficult position, particularly after the result of the legislative elections in Palestine. As you said, Commissioner, Europe must remind the Israeli authorities of the need to respect the law and their legitimate partners, just as we demand of Hamas itself. Defying the legal framework means opening the door to the sort of retaliation and violence that is already going on and that we need to try and stem. We are relieved in this matter by news of the freeing of the hostages.

As for the crisis in Iran, another sorry chapter, I welcomed the words of Mr Straw, which I hope he will hold to completely. He stated that no military option exists. He made explicit a position that the whole of Europe ought to take and to which the Socialist Group in the European Parliament fully subscribes, as it is also our position. Stopping negotiations would lead to the disastrous state of affairs already seen in Iraq.

This does not make us weaker: on the contrary, it opens up the chance for close dialogue, and reassures the Iranian and Syrian people, who feel threatened. Let us relieve the tension and avoid creating undesirable alliances forged in the name of the fight against the West. Let us keep the international community united in putting pressure on Iran to respect the obligations it signed up to under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, with a view to disarmament in the Middle East and in the whole of the Mediterranean.

It is to be hoped that over this extremely delicate period Europe can express itself with one voice, autonomously and effectively, and that the next Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly can become the perfect occasion to confront these issues.


  Hélène Flautre, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. (FR) Mr President, I too wish to condemn yesterday’s assault by the Israeli Defence Forces on the Jericho prison. Such actions can only make Hamas's policy more radical and hence make the already very tense relations in that region even more complicated.

In view of the violations of international law and human rights and of the democratic challenges in that region, we must deplore the fact that the declarations and commitments resulting from the Barcelona Summit have not been accompanied by a stronger and more concrete commitment to promoting human rights and democracy.

Freedom of expression is a universal right, which is both crucial and essential to the development of any democracy. The European Union should not, therefore, spare any effort in defending and promoting it.

We are not just talking about the events following the publication of the cartoons. In Algeria, people who attack the President are being tried for slander and being imprisoned or fined. They include Ali Dilem, the correspondent of Sud-Ouest d'Alger, Bachir El Arabi and Hakim Laâlam, the columnist for Soir d'Algérie.

Mohammed Benchicou, the director of Le Matin, has been held in the El-Harrach prison since 14 June 2004. Despite his constantly deteriorating state of health, the authorities refuse to treat him. He has been convicted of or is charged with almost fifty press crimes. He is a prisoner of conscience and not a criminal prisoner, as some people claim.

In Tunisia, whose delegation will soon hold the presidency of the EMPA, Mohammed Abbou, the human rights activist and lawyer, has been in prison for more than a year, following the publication of two critical articles. He had already sown up his own mouth in protest against his imprisonment and the conditions in which he is being held. He now plans to stage a hunger strike.

In Morocco, Aboubakr Jamai and Fahd Iraki, of the newspaper L'Hebdomadaire, have been sentenced to pay the equivalent of 143 times the minimum Moroccan annual salary. The 2 February 2006 edition of the Spanish daily El Mundo was banned from distribution as a result of an article written by Ali Lmrabet. Journalists from the weekly TelQuel have also been convicted of slander.

I shall end by calling for more account to be taken of human rights and democracy in the discussions within the EMPA, as we are urged to do by the winners of the Sakharov Prize 2005, Reporters without Borders.


  Luisa Morgantini, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, at the Karni crossing checkpoint in Gaza, a man called Ayman told me he wished us and our money to the devil, not because he did not actually accept our help, and was ungrateful for it, but to say that he and his people had had enough, that they needed freedom and dignity and not just humanitarian aid. At the same time we ourselves cannot have an easy conscience just because we continue to help; what we really need to do is continue to help the Palestinians.

Yesterday’s action, like so many others, was illegal, cynical and inhumane. Illegal because it was illegal, but cynical because it was done with a thought to the elections. It was actually an example of vengeance and brutal colonialism. I think it is time Israel understood that its very existence, its very love for democracy, can only exist if it respects other peoples. Yet Israel is not doing this, and we certainly cannot be a party to this, and we are not.

The Commission and the Council stated this very openly this morning. Our Parliamentary Assembly is extremely important, but we ought to face up to a problem: the involvement of Palestinian representatives in the Parliamentary Assembly. We must accept absolutely the presence of whoever is recommended by the Palestinian Legislative Council.

It is a shame that this is happening the day before the Israeli elections because it means that an essential component of the Assembly will not be present. We must, however, make sure that the Assembly works, that it functions, not least because if we do not solve the Palestinian question our Assembly will constantly have as the focus of its discussions the subject of Palestine and Israel. Nor will we be able to confront the problems that the Commission and the Council have very clearly set forth, namely how to succeed in establishing a Mediterranean that is truly cooperative.


  Paul Marie Coûteaux, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group. (FR) Mr President, I would like to take advantage of this debate to congratulate the bureau of the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly on the communication that it has published on the infamous cartoons. The figure of Mohammed is what we might call the point of communion for an Islam that is more fragile and diverse, and even more divided, than we might think. Targeting that figure means targeting its heart. There is no way we could not have known that, just as there is no way we could not have considered the consequences of what was being done, namely inflaming the conflict between civilisations. Who exactly do these cartoons serve: who has an interest in stirring up these conflicts? I would like to put that question. Certainly not us, the Europeans, surely not France anyway, which is the main Mediterranean coastal power and whose influence depends on a fine balance between its European continental policy, on the one hand, and its Mediterranean and African policy, on the other.

Admittedly, there comes with this statement a dual concern: on the one hand, the EMPA and Euromed are still like frail barques cast out to sea. Frail not just in terms of resources, but above all in terms of their intellectual inspiration, since it seems to me that they are still clinging to a very Eurocentric view of democracy and human rights − we have just seen yet another illustration of this − which not only smells of colonialism, but which furthermore prevents us − we saw this in December in Barcelona as well − from dealing with what is really important, that is to say, economic, financial and commercial cooperation and the management of migratory flows. Contrary to what the Commission has just said, I personally would talk about cooperation, rather than a free-trade area, which I believe to be a very dangerous formula.

The second concern is that the issue of civilisations has been an obvious one for a very long time, which we have known about since Charles Martel: we have not had to wait for American thinkers to point it out to us. One would have to be foolishly immersed in the delusions of globalisation to be all of a sudden amazed to discover that civilisations are not interchangeable and men even less so, and that coexistence between different peoples is not automatic. This kind of Huntington approach is clearly intended to send a different message, namely that we are all destined to be part of a ‘West’ − in emphatic inverted commas − the capital of which would have to be Washington, with the Europeans simply having to follow the warlike ventures of the United States. This very idea of the West is, as we know, an ideological sham. It is precisely because civilisations endlessly clash that we need a policy, that we need politics, that we need a will to live collectively, something for which, in short, the EMPA and Euromed offer a framework. So let us begin by strengthening them, since it seems to me that they are getting increasingly fragile while becoming increasingly necessary year by year.


  Simon Busuttil (PPE-DE).(MT) It is a pity that no sooner than we take a step forward in the Barcelona Process, than something happens in the Middle East which sets back the development we would have made. However I wish to remain focused on our theme and I wish to talk as a member of the Economic Commission of the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly. I wish that both the Commission as well as the Council analyse a study which was done by the University of Manchester entitled ‘Sustainable Impact Assessment Study of the Euromed Free-Trade Area’. We started to discuss this study in the Economic Commission of the Assembly and it gives a worrying picture of the impact of the European Union’s policy on the setting up of a free trade area in the Mediterranean. It forecasts a rather negative effect on our partner countries in the Mediterranean who are supposed to benefit and not lose by the Barcelona Process. Among the negative effects it mentions the possibility that in these countries there could be an increase in unemployment, a decrease in the level of wages, as well as a great impact on resources such as water and biodiversity and other environmental impacts. Naturally the report is not telling us to halt or to dismantle the plan for the setting up of a free-trade area, but it is saying that we should take these negative effects seriously and we should take preventive measures now, before it is too late. Therefore I wish to ask both the Commission as well as the Council to tell us what is their opinion about this study and what measures they intend to take to address any negative impact which could be brought about by the setting up of a free trade area in the Mediterranean. For example there is the need, no doubt, that the European Union policy towards these countries should balance the commercial aspect with a more intensive cooperation in the financial, social and educational sector as well as in the environmental sector. I conclude by appealing to both the Commission as well as to the Council to take a more active part in the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly and also to reply to the questions put by the Members of Parliament.


  Carlos Carnero González (PSE). – (ES) Mr President, I would like first of all to thank you for being here and above all to congratulate you on having led the work of the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly so well over the six months that it has fallen to this House to head its work.

We must be able to acknowledge what we do well and also what we do badly. In this case, let us acknowledge what we do well. The Euro-Mediterranean process has been a success and so was the Barcelona Summit of last November. This is a live and developing process.

Let us consider the situation had the Euro-Mediterranean process not existed, in light of the events we have seen surrounding the cartoons crisis and the events yesterday in Jericho for example. It would be an enormous problem: how to establish dialogue, how to seek methods of cooperation in order to resolve the problems.

The action plan approved in Barcelona contains some extremely important points − some have been mentioned. I would like to mention something that seems to me to be essential: yes to the free trade area, but with economic and social cohesion as well. We know a lot about this in Europe and this will be the key to the success of the first objective.

Another issue that was dealt with was the Code of Conduct on counter-terrorism. In an area such as this, such a Code of Conduct was unimaginable just a few years ago. Today we have one.

Furthermore, the Barcelona Summit accepted the joint Spanish-Turkish initiative on the alliance of civilisations, which does not mean accepting cultural relativism, but rather guiding cultures in the same direction: the defence of democracy, freedom, human rights and equality between human beings.

Within this context, the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly provides us with an extremely important forum for political debate. I believe that, with a view to the meeting on the 26th and the 27th, we need to do four things: speed up decision making, refocus the debates around rapporteurs by committee, ensure that the Commission and Council attend and participate, as President Borrell demanded this morning at the beginning of our sitting, as events require, and finally to involve civil society.

In that way, we will be moving in the right direction.


  David Hammerstein Mintz (Verts/ALE). – (ES) Mr President, in the one short minute available to me, I would like to make a very specific proposal.

I entirely agree of course with the opinions expressed in relation to the events in Jericho.

From a political point of view, given this spiral of violence and following the cartoons of Mohammed conflict, now more than ever we must strive for peaceful co-existence in the Mediterranean.

In the context of the EMPA committee responsible for cultural affairs, we have proposed the creation of a cultural contact committee made up of respected experts who are capable of dialogue, in order to respond to cultural and religious conflicts, to mediate, clarify and diffuse cultural and religious tension between the two flanks of the Mediterranean.

The Anna Lindh Foundation, based in Alexandria, is in a perfect position to organise this committee of experts, which could act in a preventive manner in the event of similar conflicts, in order to clear up misunderstandings of the cultures of others, in order to clear up any doubts about what really happened.

I believe that in this way, at the Assembly on the 26th we could take a small step towards the tolerance that we want to see in the Mediterranean.


  Tokia Saïfi (PPE-DE). – (FR) Mr President, Minister, Commissioner, we have to admit that the work of the Barcelona Summit has been disappointing in the face of enormous challenges. We must therefore look to the future with greater determination and achieve results now.

In view of recent events, the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly is the ideal place to reinforce our partnership, on the basis of dialogue, exchange and mutual understanding. More than ever, the action of the EMPA needs to be reinforced and supported. More than ever, the objectives of establishing peace and guaranteeing security should be the focus of our decisions and accompanied by concrete action.

Urgent action is needed in order to deal with a difficult local situation and an increasingly uncertain regional context. I believe that the European Union has a heavy responsibility today, and I am saying that as chairwoman of the political committee of the EMPA which, flanked by a Palestinian vice-president and an Israeli vice-president, wishes to place the resolution of the Middle East conflict at the heart of our work. The Union must speak with one voice and condemn the perversity of actions that increase the escalation of violence and undermine an already fragile peace process.

It is regrettable that the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, has not been able to speak to our Parliament following the events in Jericho, and I would like, in this Chamber, to express my concern about this situation.

Commissioner, we have listened to you. We have noted your conviction and your will. In the EMPA and together with President Borrell, we are determined to move forward. I believe that it is time to stop disappointing the people.


  Véronique De Keyser (PSE).(FR) Mr President, Commissioner, there was nothing random about the events in Jericho, which have deprived us of a meeting with Mahmoud Abbas; they are politically significant. The first person to be affected was certainly Mahmoud Abbas; hardly had he left his country than the Israeli forces launched their assault on the prison.

He is not the only one to be affected, though. It has not been mentioned that Ahmed Sa’adat was a member of the newly-elected Palestinian legislative council. Nor has anyone pointed out that Hamas, which had made tentative steps towards recognising the State of Israel within its 1967 borders, could not proceed any further towards such recognition, after the humiliating images of half-naked, bound and blindfolded prisoners.

We Europeans have also been snubbed. We were expecting Mahmoud Abbas but he did not come. What is at stake is our entire policy towards Palestine. Today, with our offices ransacked and our nationals taken hostage, there are some Members of this Chamber saying to me that we, the main donors, must not continue to finance Palestine, after the ingratitude shown. That has been the effect of Jericho.

I should like to say to those MEPs hesitating about supporting Palestine that there is not one Palestinian today who would not swap the money we are giving to Palestine for a firm EU stance on current events. Can we, after all, turn a blind eye to the fact that Israel has chosen a unilateral path, focused on law and order, which no longer has anything to do with the roadmap? The Olmert plan is a unilateral one, as were the Gaza disengagement - warmly applauded as it was - the annexing of the West Bank and the capture of East Jerusalem. The reality of Palestine is an interminable occupation and a wall which was condemned by the Hague but which is still standing. All the money that we give to Palestine to help it survive does not enable it to escape this reality. In other words, the peace process is dragging its feet.

To conclude, Commissioner, if there is to be a Plan B to help Palestine, Europe must take a clear and courageous stance. How otherwise can the Palestinians be expected to have hope and to believe us when we talk about the road map?


  Ioannis Kasoulides (PPE-DE). – Mr President, the Jericho events have been long debated by colleagues, this morning and later, but in the Committee on Quality of Life, Exchanges between Civil Societies and Culture the issue of the cartoons will certainly come up.

We must be unequivocal in condemning the content of the cartoons. Respect for the religious values and identity of others, such as Muslim fellow European citizens, is a European value and only stupidity cannot understand it, but in Europe we are obliged to defend even the right of stupidity to express itself freely, and our Arab partners must understand it.

On the issue of migration, the new initiatives by the Commission and the recent decisions by the Council to manage migratory flows instead of talking only about illegal immigration are commendable. Policies such as the well-anticipated and organised legal reception of migrants needed in the domestic markets, the establishment of brain circulation as opposed to a brain drain, facilitation of remittances, civic integration of migrants, the single asylum policy and so forth will be more appealing to our Mediterranean partners.

It is true that some of these countries have changed from countries of origin or transit to terminals. That is why we need to work together, by sharing technical means, expertise and responsibility, to fight the trafficking of human beings and illegal immigration.




  Béatrice Patrie (PSE).(FR) Mr President, Commissioner, Mr President-in-Office of the Council, ladies and gentlemen, as chair of the European parliamentary delegation for relations with the Mashreq countries, I naturally endorse what has just been said about the recent events in Palestine and, in particular, the condemnation of the attack on the Jericho prison, which is certainly not a step forward on the road towards peace and democracy.

I should like to mention the Anna Lindh Foundation, which fosters dialogue between the civilisations and which was the subject of a Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly (EMPA) working party. This institution is already experiencing a number of structural difficulties. Some partner states have yet to structure their national networks, and there have been serious delays in disbursing contributions. There is the greatest uncertainty as to whether funding will continue after 2008.

This is why these difficulties must be addressed forthwith: the continued financing of the Anna Lindh Foundation must be guaranteed; the measures undertaken by the foundation and the priorities thereof must be accorded higher visibility; European rules on the funding of projects must be relaxed; a European television station in Arabic must be set up; and the structure’s three working languages must be put on an equal footing in communications.

To conclude, the EMPA, along with the Council and the Commission, must put the necessary effort into examining this question.


  Jamila Madeira (PSE).(PT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, following the recent tragic events, the abundantly clear conclusions of our last meeting in November have taken on particular relevance. Economic prosperity and social progress are not within everyone’s reach, which means that issues of violence are very visible.

We already know that those denied healthcare and the right to acquire qualitative and quantitative knowledge tend to be our partners in the southern Mediterranean and in particular the least privileged sections of society, that is, women and the poor.

The future scenario concerns us. This is particularly the case if we assess the impact on sustainability of the Euro-Mediterranean free trade zone, which we want to see up and running by 2010, as the Commissioner pointed out. In this case, the data shows that in terms of reducing poverty, the immediate gains are considerably lower, although other benefits may accrue from the far-reaching changes taking place in the economies of our Mediterranean partners. In the areas of health and education, there is little chance of any short-term gains. Accordingly, with nothing to hold back this effect, it is likely that we will see health and education being adversely affected.

As regards human rights, it is vital that we look into the near-total absence of a guiding concept in the EU and the Euro-Mediterranean institutions on the issue of economic and social rights and the part that this plays in the Barcelona process.

I feel that in the current framework in particular – albeit, in reality, across the board – this is a vitally important question, which should be given due prominence in the MEDA programme.

Our most pressing priorities in this partnership should be to step up social dialogue, the fight against child labour, cooperation in combating discrimination in the field of social security, dialogue on social reforms and promoting equal opportunities between men and women.

In the context of today's reality, this issue should be brought to the fore in the Barcelona process.


  Hans Winkler, President-in-Office of the Council.(DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I am obliged to all of you for mentioning the positive impact of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership in your speeches. It is of course possible to enumerate a large number of issues where fairly great deficiencies remain, as Mrs Madeira has just done. This means that we can by no means rest on our laurels – and, indeed, we are not doing – but rather must set ourselves the task of continuing work on all the fields that Mrs Madeira cited – health care, social dialogue, sustainability, gender issues, opportunities for education and many other issues. That cannot be done overnight. We would be deceiving ourselves if we were to believe that this Partnership alone would be sufficient to enable us to make changes in a short space of time, but we must work at it, and, as the Commissioner said, the instruments to do so are available.

The human rights issue has been mentioned many times. This is a particular concern of mine personally and also of the Council’s as a whole. I would add that I do not believe that the Council or the EU as a whole can be accused of not having a coherent, methodical human rights policy; I believe that we do have one. Incidentally, I believe that the Human Rights Agency, which I hope will be established soon and will have your support, will be able to make a contribution to a methodical approach to the issue of human rights.

Mr President, I would also like to thank all those very engaged parliamentarians like yourself and your subcommittee and Mrs De Keyser and others who are working constantly and with great commitment towards better understanding between the peoples in the Euro-Mediterranean partnership. We should be grateful to them and we should do our best to support you and help you, even if you do not fully agree with one or two Council measures.

(DE) Iran has also been mentioned in this connection. I should just like to say in this regard that it is of course the Council’s policy to use peaceful means, negotiation, to achieve results.

Mr Carnero González said something very important, which was that something happened at the November summit that would have been impossible a few years ago. A close look at this declaration on terrorism, this Code of Conduct on Countering Terrorism, reveals that it contains a good approach to even the difficult, delicate issues – and, of course, the fight against terrorism, with all the familiar political problems, is an extremely difficult one. It is an approach that enables us to continue to achieve further results, and the Council shares this objective.

I should like to thank all the Members for their good ideas and suggestions, which we shall, of course, be happy to take up and look into.


  Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Member of the Commission. Mr President, I entirely agree on the importance of the next Euromed Parliamentary Assembly meeting. It is highly important and I can already confirm my personal presence. This time it is possible and I certainly will want to come.

Your motion for a resolution is an excellent one. All the important topics are there: freedom of expression and respect for religious beliefs, the outlook for a real partnership. That is what we want. That means that not only do we have to deliver, but our partners also have to deliver. Together we have to find the right mix in order for them to develop more and more. There are some specific issues that we also have to highlight, one of which is very dear to my heart and is also in our communication: education. I have always felt that with education we can promote the next generation. We can do our utmost to make things happen.

I also totally agree with Mr Carnero González. I believe Barcelona was a success. However, is not right to say that it was not a complete success because only Heads of State were there. The content was good. Now we have to see to it that it can all be implemented in our five-year programme. I am in favour of liberalisation, but I agree it must also take account of social cohesion and social stability, social rights, questions of energy, and of course education.

Let me quickly say that some studies that have been undertaken; the Manchester study is rather negative, but there are others that are much more positive. As I said, what we wanted to create with the Euromed Partnership is exactly that: a partnership, which means both sides will have to do their utmost to get things moving and quite a lot of reforms are still necessary.

What we would like to achieve, with more trade, is also the creation of more jobs – that means more jobs for more young people – as also, of course, trying to provide the right prospects for the labour market, and sustainable development that takes account of social and environmental imperatives. The Neighbourhood Policy is the policy that tries to complement this Euromed Partnership. While also focusing very clearly on human rights, it tries to promote all the other factors that will assure these countries a better life in the future.

Finally, unfortunately all of that is being overshadowed by the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and unfortunately, this is not the best moment; we are at a very critical, crucial moment. Hopefully we can make the future, even at this critical stage, a better one.


  President. The debate is closed.

(The sitting was suspended at 19.50 and resumed at 21.00)

Written statement (Rule 142)


  Ilda Figueiredo (GUE/NGL).(PT) The President of the Palestinian High Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, was forced to return urgently to his country and cancel his address to Parliament, due to the extremely serious turn of events.

The EU must take a firm line on Israel’s continued attack on Palestine, of which the destruction of Jericho prison is one of the most serious and humiliating episodes. Israel committed this crime after a recent agreement between the Palestinian Authority and the USA and the United Kingdom on prisoner security, yet nothing was done to stop it.

The Commission and the Council’s predisposition towards the Israeli Government and the escalation of criminal violence perpetrated against Palestine must not be allowed to continue. Measures must be taken to stop Israel from continuing to act in this appalling manner, undermining Palestine's most fundamental rights.

At the next meeting of the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly, Parliament must show clear solidarity with Palestine and must condemn the violence perpetrated by Israel, which is jeopardising peace in the Middle East. UN resolutions must be complied with and the free will of the people of Palestine must be upheld.



Legal notice - Privacy policy