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"As is" reference - not a United Nations document

Source: European Union (EU)
28 September 2006

Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen at the Conference of Foreign Affairs Committee and Development Committee Chairpersons in Helsinki

28 Sep 2006, 12:00 en

The Finnish EU Presidency - A Mid-Term Review


My first observation is that all Presidencies are shaped by unexpected events. Ours is no exception. No one had foreseen or planned for the crisis in Lebanon, but it was the first big test of our Presidency. I think that the EU performed well. First of all, we agreed on a firm, common EU position. This is a big contrast to the bitter divisions over the conflict in Iraq in 2003.

I am not hiding the fact that there were real differences of opinion between member states about this more recent conflict too, for instance about the need to deal with Syria, the urgency and nature of the cease-fire or the degree of criticism aimed at Israel. But a solid common position was nevertheless forged, in a constructive manner, and EU member states played a decisive role in shaping the UN Security Council resolution, allowing for a robust UNIFIL operation to effectively end the conflict.

And secondly, the EU was able to pledge a major military contribution to the reinforced UNIFIL-operation in Southern Lebanon. I have no hesitation in saying that the operation could not have been accomplished without the EU, its member states contributing the backbone of military forces on the ground.

So I think that the EU has done well in Lebanon. I know it has been claimed on many previous occasions that Europe's hour has finally come, all to no avail, but I still feel that the EU can now have a stronger role in the Middle East, in re-launching the peace process between Israel and Palestine, making progress with the roadmap. I have great respect for the role of the United States and its earlier attempts to find a permanent solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine. At present its attention and resources are unfortunately preoccupied with Iraq - a conflict that seems to be much tougher and more prolonged than was commonly anticipated. The actual war ended three years ago, but there seems to be no end in sight to the bitter conflict still raging on the ground.

It seems natural, perhaps even obvious, to conclude that, because of the unresolved conflict in Iraq, the United States will unfortunately, for the time being, be a passive player in efforts to settle the future of Palestine. Europe must step in. However, whatever the level of the American engagement, I think that the EU's influence in the Middle-East has steadily grown and it has a real chance of exerting a decisive influence in the peace process. I think that both Israel and the Palestinian Authority realise that the EU, with its wide-ranging capabilities, has much to offer, be it in trade or aid. The EU is their number-one partner in peace.

I am convinced that, as Europeans, we must recognise the fact that the region is in our immediate neighbourhood. We must engage with greater determination.

Stabilising Southern Lebanon is only a first step that must be followed by measures encouraging both Israel and the Palestinian Authority to make further progress towards peace. The formation of a stable coalition government between Hamas and Fatah, with a firm commitment to the basic elements of the peace process - Israel's right to existence, renunciation of violence, respecting agreements - and strong backing for President Abbas, are an essential basis for further progress. The EU is firmly resolved to help that government on the road to peace.


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