Integrating the wider Europe after the Lisbon Treaty
Dear Professor Mayhew,
I always feel reassured when Professor Mayhew is around. Not many people remember this but he was an advisor to the Polish government when we were negotiating accession to the EU. I must say that he did a very good job!
We are today living in a reunited European Union of twenty-seven member states, but we do not live on an island. The EU exists in a dynamic neighbourhood and we therefore need a dynamic neighbourhood policy.
But in the past weeks we have seen just how volatile our neighbourhood can also be. The developments following the elections in Belarus, the revolutions in Tunisia, and the changes now in Egypt, are clear examples that Europe needs to be more pro-active.
The voice of the people demanding democratic change is loud and clear. We can not and will not remain indifferent to those calls. We are ready to accompany and support the changes in every possible way. Let me be very clear, for the EU, stability is essential.
But a democratic neighbourhood is as important as a stable neighbourhood.
I am also convinced that that there is no significant difference between our Eastern and our Mediterranean policies. Both are important, even if both require different solutions. Let me treat our Southern neighbours first.
The fundamental problem in North Africa has always been one of unemployment, lack of development and a lack of democracy.
This is a challenge that we can not ignore. The frustration of the Arab street boiled over these past weeks. Those of us who lived in totalitarian regimes remember that strikes about living conditions and the economy were strikes about fundamental rights and freedoms. Because one is impossible without the other.
We have a duty to our Southern neighbours to help stabilise their economies, to bolster civil society and to strengthen democracy and the rule of law. This is also in our own self-interest. We want the countries in our region to become more like us.
By accepting our laws and our standards, we make them better trading partners. More trade means more jobs, more development, more prosperity, for both of us.
The European Union has always acted as a stabilising force for its neighbours. For example, after the fall of the dictatorships in Greece, Spain and Portugal, it was the EU and the assistance we gave them which helped the transitions to democracies and market economies.
In the past ten years we have done the same in the Western Balkans. At the end of this year I hope we will be able to finish negotiations and declare Croatia ready to join the EU. This has positive effect on the rest of the region - take Serbia which is now playing a very constructive role. Nobody would believe that this was a country at war with Croatia only a few years ago.
The Mediterranean should be, what it always was, a Mare Nostrum. I am convinced that we will need to rethink our policies in the Euro-Mediterranean framework.
It is clear that big investments are needed. Tomorrow's European Council will be discussing energy, and research and development policy in the European Union.
In my intervention I will argue that we must boost projects also in our neighbourhood, such as the Mediterranean ring and the Desertec proposal. Why? Because this will provide jobs and create new industries in North Africa, while at the same time help to secure our own energy needs.
Our policy in our Eastern neighbourhood should be the same, even if the issues are not exactly the same.
Nearly two years ago when we launched the Eastern Partnership the outlook for the region was positive. There was a similar sense of optimism as we see now in North Africa. The orange and rose revolutions brought hope, but today the general trend is one of taking steps back from democracy and freedom.
The worst student in the class is the regime of Lukashenko. The EU has shown willingness to dialogue with Minsk. However, the response to our openness was police and prisons for the opposition.
I am glad that we have sent a clear message this week by agreeing to targeted sanctions against the officials involved in forging the elections and organising the crack downs.
This message is important because I am concerned that what is attempted in Belarus will be copied by other countries in the region. Belarus is becoming a social and political laboratory for non democratic forces. This is why we can not be indifferent.
But, as we treat the regime as it should be treated, we need to redouble our support for civil society. The lessons of the 1970s and 1980s when the West supported democratic forces in Central and Eastern Europe should be revisited.
Let me give three concrete examples: the first is that we need to change our visa regime to allow civil society to travel easier in the EU.
The second is that we need to support NGO's and the independent media, both in and out of Belarus.
The third, and probably the most important, is to invest in the future of Belarus by funding scholarships for students.
These are small, but significant steps and we need to have the political will to not only do it but keep investing. This is a long term project if we wish to see an independent and democratic Belarus.
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Ukraine was the best student in the class in the region two years ago. It no longer is. I am concerned about the worsening situation in terms of the freedom of expression and the freedom of the media.
I am worried about the recent tendency to use the criminal code to intimidate opposition politicians.
This raises the question about the independence of the judiciary and the transparency of the rule of law. I hope that these steps taken are not permanent and that Ukraine will again be on the right path.
There is hope though for the region, and that hope today is in Chisinau.
I was there in December. As in North Africa, but obviously in a very different context, we have a responsibility to help the pro-democracy forces in Moldova. Help them with the hard economic and political reforms they need to make.
I was delighted to learn that the people of Moldova spoke in free elections and their message was clear. We in the EU can not ignore that message.
In May we will all gather to discuss progress in our Eastern Partership. I wonder how much we can congratulate ourselves. We may be giants with our ambitions, but in this policy we are dwarfs when it comes to financing our ambitions.
We will have to address these issues if we want to have a genuine Eastern policy which is effective, the same applies for our Southern neighbourhood. We need a policy which is pro-active and preventive if we wish to face the challenges of the region, which are also our challenges.
The new Lisbon Treaty has given us the tools with the new External Action Service. We in the European Parliament will continue to support the parliamentary dimension of diplomacy. But without a coordinated policy, we will not achieve the ambitions we believe in.
I started my remarks by saying that we do not live on an island. But in a neighbourhood which is dynamic. Let us be players in this dynamic neighbourhood and not just payers.