"As is" reference - not a United Nations document
at the presentation of Steven Everts' publication
"The EU and the Middle East: a call for action"
Centre for European Reform Conference -
Hotel Dorint - Brussels 29 January 2003
I would like to congratulate Steven Everts for his study on the EU and the Middle East. I agree with most of the points he makes. Moreover, when he underlines the need for a call for action, I cannot but agree. Because this is what I am trying to do, what the European Union tries to do, and this in a very bleak context.
We meet today the day after the Israeli elections and two days after M. Blix presented his report to the Security Council. The Middle East enters another complicated year. It will be indeed crucial, once again, to maintain a policy and to do politics.
This has been at the core of our action. As I said before, and as we wrote in the Mitchell Report, in which I had the honour to represent the European voice, we cannot guarantee 100% results, but have the obligation to supply 100% effort.
I read carefully his recommendations . May I say, it has been in various ways what we have tried to do over the last few years, and what we will continue to do. His comments are related to three separate issues: Israel-Palestine, Iraq, the larger picture of the Arab world.
Let me first say that concerning these three hot topics, we have one policy and many ways to implement it.
Over time, and despite a volatile situation; our policy towards the region has become progressively more mature and coherent.
So, let us look first at the Middle-East as a whole. We have a vision. The Middle-East should return to one.
A few years ago, and progressively since the Madrid conference, a crucial attempt was made to have a comprehensive and positive European vision, a project, for the whole region and with the whole region. Today, our efforts are still dedicated to maintaining and developing this legacy - something that I participated in from the outset of the Barcelona Conference.
As solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict its unlikely to put an end to all the elements of the conflict, so the peace treaties, boldly signed by Israel, Egypt and Jordan have not created an enlarged process for peace. It is with this in mind that I went last year to express my support to Saudi Arabia's initiative and later I went to Lebanon to encourage its endorsement by the whole Arab League, chaired by my friend Amr Moussa.
Yet, no clear path to implementing this renewed vision is apparent. This is my main concern. I would like to state what I said to many Israeli and Arab friends: what is your project for your country in one generation's time? What will be your place in the region and in the world in 10 or 20 years? I have never received a clear answer. Ten or five years ago, there were leaders with such a vision, in the same way that Adenauer and de Gaulle opted to open the way for European construction. Today, we have an Israeli State without final internationally recognized borders. We have a Palestinian people without its own State. We have the wider region still awaiting the necessary - and long overdue -reforms, as clearly shown in the last UNDP report mentioned by Steven Everts in his study.
I am sad to say this. But it is the reality. I am deeply sad because we consider that this part of the world is still our neighbour and that we need to build with them a partnership even more today than yesterday. The whole region should listen to the hearts, frustrations, and expectations of their peoples and move quickly through the sometimes painful reforms to a movement for a peaceful partnership. This is the vision we wish for, we have struggled for, and which we will continue to advocate.
As far as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is concerned, supported by the broadest European approach for the last twenty years, continue my efforts to bring back on the table the essential parameters for peace, which should logically be aceptable, and of which we are all aware.
At the Sharm-el Cheikh Summit, we tried to save the efforts of the former US administration to solve the conflict. For various reasons the Summit's decisions were not followed. In our mission, within the Mitchell Committee, we put on the table simple recommendations in order to end violence by rebuilding confidence and restarting final negotiations. All these recommendations remain pertinent, but there was not enough local will to transform wisdom into a policy. Miguel Moratinos took the initiative of creating the Quartet with his US, UN and Russian colleagues last year. We had several meetings at Ministerial level and will continue to do so. I hope, soon to be able to put into motion the "road-map" towards a final settlement that we have been elaborating since last August.
So we continue, with a strong conviction, echoed in Steven's final recommendations to:
I met with the former Secretary of the Arab League Mr. Abd El Meguib a few days ago. He underlined the key point that Iraq possesses three major elements that few or none of countries of this part of the world has: oil, water, and an educated population.
The richness of Iraq's resources are in stark contrast to the poverty of hope that she currently offers. Indeed, we should at this crucial point pursue Steven's recommendations: to "continue to argue that non compliance with UN resolutions is the issue and to back the UN" in any resort to the use of force in order to ensure it. We must remain focussed on the implementation of UNSCR 1441, meaning disarmament of WMD in Iraq, to express our full support to help requested by Mr. Blix and the inspectors, to clearly state that the current Iraqi regime cannot hoodwink us but should demonstrate clear proactive cooperation.
That is the basic line on which I have found the Europeans united. When I say the Europeans, I refer to their leaders, but also to the opinions of the public. In the major part, people don't like wars, they don't like dictators, and they believe that the UN is still an asset in the sharing of common values. They should be listened to at this crucial stage.
Returning to my first point on Iraq, I would like this country to be put in a position to be able to recover its capacity to use the three assets I have already mentioned - oil, water, an educated population- for the benefit of its people and the whole region.
The third topic, rightly mentioned, is the European vision of our Mediterranean and other Arab partners. I have already said that we will maintain the process established in Barcelona. Last year in Valencia, we adopted a new plan for action. The current Greek Presidency and the following one are dedicated to transforming hopes into realities and I will work to this end.
Steven mentions three further recommendations in his report, namely "spending more money on promoting democracy; making EU aid more targeted and conditional; being prepared to annoy traditional allies". I don't necessarily differ with his aims, but I like to express them in a more positive fashion. I prefer to convince than to annoy. Between friends, diplomacy is the first tool to use. Other tools are to be used carefully.
But I see another challenge lying ahead that may have been underestimated : the relation between a regional neighbour to Europe going through deep challenges, and with a European Union on the point of enlarging to new members.
And here, I would like to stress that we are already working hard to enhance our relations. The reality is that most new-comers in the Union have not yet fully understood the importance of our new South-East border with the Arab world, and indeed, with the whole of Africa and the Arabica Peninsula.
We need to prepare, politically, the enlargement of the European Union. We have managed, in European politics, to change our mental borders. We have managed, in European policy, to speak with a common voice to most of our neighbours. Today, the North of Europe is closer to its Mediterranean border that it used to be. Tomorrow, the challenge is to develop this spirit within our new Europeans members.
The main changes that will occur in the near future are: within the Barcelona process, some partners will cross the border, as encouraged in Copenhagen, from partners to members. I refer to Cyprus - where we still have a challenge for peace- and Malta. Most of Association Agreements will come to their full implications. We hope Syria to join the group. Libya should not be forgotten, and should carefully weight its interest between hesitation, participation always welcomed, and full membership which, of course, implies the acceptance of an "acquis". Some other countries in this area are not part of our process, because they are not Mediterranean. I shall say that we work to have with them a more defined relation. And, in my regular contacts with, for instance, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others, I feel that we are, step by step, building a new relation based on two basic elements : a Union that is closer to them; and a better understanding on their part of our will to develop our relations with them. This is not regime change: this is mood change.
We are currently preparing to respond to these challenges apropriately. The next Euro-Med Conference in Greece will include former and new members of the process. A time to ensure that the enlarged European Union will not put aside the priority of this essential partnership. An essential meeting to reinvigorate and renew our partnership.
This will be my work during the coming year: to try to represent the overwhelming will of the people of the European Union for peace in the Middle-East; to express, and convey to our US friends, our views on Iraq; to assist in establishing the new framework within which the Barcelona process will continue. These are complicated issues. Steven Everts mentioned a kind of "soft diplomacy". Indeed. But for which a hard will is necessary.