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[Luxembourg 2005 Presidency of the Council of the European Union]
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The European Union as an External Actor

Date of Speech : 20-01-2005

Place : Interdisciplinary Centre Herzliya, Israel

Speaker : Jean Asselborn

Policy area : General Affairs and External Relations

Event : Visit of Jean Asselborn to the Middle East on 19 and 20 January

Your Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have heard whispers saying that the Israelis have 'mixed' feelings towards the European Union, and that we Europeans suffer from a 'public relations' deficit in your beautiful country.

Therefore, the subject of this speech was not chosen without a wink on my part. If the Israelis already feel slightly ambivalent towards the EU as such, this is probably even more true of the EU as an external actor.

Europe's role as a key international player is often ridiculed in the media – they talk of a 'street map' to describe European efforts in the peace process, which is of course an allusion to the Quartet's road map.

Others perceive the EU as a 'provider of lessons'.

Fun is also made of European ambitions when compared to those of the United States, and the results of this comparison are often less than flattering. Like me, you are doubtlessly aware of the description of the European Union as a 'payer' and not a 'player'.

In addition, people poke fun at Europeans' obsession with seeking a consensus. Our ways of decision making are often criticised and misunderstood. The term 'cacophony' is used for describing an often complicated decision-making procedure. People consider our instruments indecipherable for citizens and unusable for diplomats or other professionals who ought to be able to refer to them.

Then, Europe was split over the Iraq crisis.

I do not believe that the European Union deserves such a negative press. I should like to convince you of this argument tonight.

The European Union has made considerable progress in the Balkans. It is actively engaged in Afghanistan, as well as in the war on terrorism through its response to the events of September 11th. It is taking on a new dimension as a result of its enlargement.

A few figures speak volumes.

I should like to point out that we are by far the first donor in the Balkans, with over €7 billion donated during the past decade. More than half a billion was given last year to the FRY alone, most of which (around 60%) was used for repairing the damage caused by the war.

Who knows that 90% of the military forces deployed in Afghanistan as part of the ISAF operations hold a European passport?

Are you aware that the European Union and its Member States currently provide 60% of international development assistance, and are by far the leading provider of emergency humanitarian aid, as the EU's response to the tsunami tragedy again demonstrated.

There is one undeniable fact: the European Union has become a global player and our presence is felt throughout the world. However, the EU is not a great power in the traditional sense. Half a century of European integration has created a unique Union, based on the combined will of the nations that form this entity. It does not seek to become a State; it has its own model of cooperation that is beginning to be imitated throughout the world.

Therefore, the role of the European Union is by necessity distinct and diverse. This role finds its expression, inevitably, through a multitude of voices. We must, however, turn this multitude to our advantage. The European Union is not a victim of diversity; it has fully absorbed it .

The Europe we aspire to create will not be a power seeking to impose a hegemony of any kind. Our aspiration and our vision is to make Europe a partner, and not a mere observer of a changing world, turn it into a committed player on the international scene.

I have spoken of a cacophony of voices. In reality, a majority of Europeans share a common aspiration: to create a Europe based on a balance between unity and diversity, between federalism and national sovereignty, between economic progress and social justice. A Europe that is growing without undoing the achievements of 50 years of solidarity and successive integration processes, and which is forging close and mutually beneficial links with its partners in Africa, Asia, Latin America, etc.

It is not a coincidence that the foreign and security policy that this Europe pursues is called 'common' and not 'single'. Indeed, the 25 sovereign States which make up the policy maintain their own role and visibility on the international scene.

This is one, but not the only reason, why the European Union's external action is sometimes difficult to understand.

I must therefore emphasise that the definition of the EU's external action clearly goes beyond the traditional concept of foreign policy. It would be more precise to say that it comprises a package of actions and targeted policies. This is what makes it both complex, and constitutes its major asset.

The specific aspect of the EU's external action cannot be understood without reference to the history of its genesis.

Over the past 50 years, European integration has accomplished remarkable feats for the citizens of our continent. It has permitted modernisation and growth of the European economy after the ravages of war. With regard to political issues, it has helped consolidate democracy in countries which had experienced dictatorships. It has created a core of stability, freedom and above all peace, thereby satisfying the primordial aspirations of any organised society.

The single market and single currency have formed the cornerstone of an integrated and high-performance economy which, with almost 500 million inhabitants, represents by far the largest world market in terms of consumers, twice that of the United States, and four times that of Japan. Today, the Europe of 25 is the leading exporter of industrial goods and services, totalling by itself 20% of world exports.

Europeans have gradually become aware that the success of integration would not be complete without the means to preserve these agreements and enhance the profile of their model in the world, by becoming a committed and credible political player on the international scene.

This concern explains the continuous progress made in implementing a Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) capable of defending Europe's interests and values.

In order to measure the extent of the progress made, we should take a brief look back. Admittedly, since 1970, the Member States have been striving for concertation on the major problems of international relations/politics within the framework of the European political Cooperation. However, the expression 'common foreign policy' did not appear until the Maastricht Treaty, over 40 years after the beginning of European integration, henceforth enabling the European Union to make its voice heard on the international scene.

The break-up of Yugoslavia under such tragic circumstances highlighted the need for the European Union to be in a position to react and prevent crises, rather than being confined to the role of an onlooker forced to limit its commitment to declarations and reserve its concrete action at repairing the humanitarian consequences of conflicts.

Since the reforms introduced by the Treaty of Amsterdam, which came into force in May 1999, the European Union has had the means at its disposal to address all the issues related to its security. It has been focusing on conflict prevention and crisis management, including peace-enforcement. Furthermore, the treaty provides for the introduction of a High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, a position which Javier Solana is holding whom you have certainly heard of.

These arrangements provided the means for a first police mission to be sent to Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2002, followed by the EU's first military crisis management operation, which relieved NATO's Amberfox mission in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). On 2 December 2004, Operation ALTHEA, a European a civil and military crisis management mission, was launched in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

However, the Treaty of Amsterdam is not just about foreign crisis management. It also targets the essential aspects of security policy.

Article 17 of the Treaty of Amsterdam opens up a huge construction site for the future by providing a basis for potentially consequential development: "The common foreign and security policy shall include all questions relating to the security of the Union, including the progressive framing of a common defence policy…which might lead to a common defence, should the European Council so decide."

It is therefore possible that the defence of European countries could one day be reorganised and serve our common policy. Evidently, this would be done intelligently and in synergy with NATO's strategy and resources which must not be duplicated or rendered obsolete.

We are not there yet, but it is clear that the European Union is gradually becoming a stronger force in the field of external action.

One of the key factors in this area has been the definition of the European Union's ambitions in terms of rapid response, namely prioritising the concept of battle groups. We must also continue to coordinate the different Member States' relations with the newly created European Defence Agency, which seeks to improve the European Union's defence capabilities and contributes to the development of the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP).

However, our external action will not be primarily defined by its military dimension. The European Project itself is the largest peace and stability initiative ever launched. With the union's enlargement we passed a historic landmark. We have to share this victory for Europe.

Both Robert Schuman's Declaration and the preamble to the first EU Treaty evoke this visionary aspect to the European venture. The merging of economic interests were to create "the basis for a broader and deeper community among peoples long divided by bloody conflicts; and (to) lay the foundations for institutions which will give direction to a destiny henceforward shared"?

Moreover, we must stress that Europe's citizens probably do not consider security, in its strictly military sense, to be the first challenge the Union should meet. In my opinion, European citizens are particularly counting on the EU to meet the challenges posed by globalisation.

In line with its pluralist and socialist traditions, Europe is bound to act as the catalyst for a managed globalisation. I would like you to grasp that our Europe is more than just a trade or politico-military bloc. Europe is a community of values.

Sensitivity to environmental damage and commitment to sustainable development are characteristics shared by a growing number of Europeans who are aware that they must come to terms with limited natural resources. At the same time, Europe's sense of solidarity leads us to help the poorest by means of long-established, yet still flourishing cooperation agreements - Yaoundé, Lomé and now Cotonou - linking us to our partners in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. This form of cooperation is proof of our willingness to seek together with them a fairer and more harmonious form of development.

The diverse forms of the European Union's external action are clearly reflected in the European security strategy. This document was adopted a little over a year ago, and constitutes the framework within which the EU's external action lies.

The EU's objectives are clearly set out in this document: a more stable, prosperous world, with a greater respect for human rights. These objectives are the inspiration for all external action undertaken by the EU.

The priority accorded to multilateralism is one of the essential aspects of this strategy. The European Union sees in the multilateral system the best possible way of achieving its ambitious objectives. This is why the EU will continue to support United Nations' action in the various conflicts our world must tackle.

The security strategy also declares that security and stability cannot be defined in purely military terms, and that security issues must be considered in a wider context. Technical assistance programmes, partnership programmes and development cooperation programmes, whether they are in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Africa or elsewhere, all help to create greater stability and consolidate peace for all people in the world.

These examples serve to illustrate that we have a wide range of very different instruments we can employ in our external action so that our strategy's ambitious objectives can be achieved. Obviously, I am thinking of instruments such as the common trade policy, the development cooperation policy and humanitarian aid, fields which are also Community policies. Consequently the Commission plays a prime role in these policies; it proposes legislation to the Parliament and the Council, has a right of initiative, sizeable budgets and suitable means of implementation.

The High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy assists the Council in its tasks, particularly with regard to formulating, drawing up and implementing political decisions. He also undertakes political dialogue with third parties on behalf of the Council and on request from the Presidency. As regards the various instruments the CFSP has at its disposal, I would particularly like to mention the common strategies (currently there are two, on Russia and the Mediterranean, under which all partners have obligations) the common positions on particular issues which require Member States to bring their national approach into line with the jointly held position, and finally joint actions on situations which require operational action by Member States.

These different tools mean we can adjust our approach to suit the type of challenge we must meet, and fine-tune our initiatives to guarantee their make them effectiveness. But you must admit that the high number of players and instruments involved does not necessarily make it easy to take decisions or to explain our approach.

Quite clearly, the finest instruments in the world will remain ineffectual if the Member States do not succeed in a better convergence of their positions. Indeed, what purpose can a single representative serve if he does not have one common message to deliver? What purpose do budgetary means serve if there is no agreement on how to use them.

As far as these matters are concerned, the Treaty of Amsterdam imposes very clear obligations on Member States. I quote by way of example Article 19: “Member States shall co-ordinate their action in international organisations and at international conferences. They shall uphold the common positions in such fora." And “Member States which are also members of the United Nations Security Council will concert and keep the other Member States fully informed. Member States which are permanent members of the Security Council will, in the execution of their functions, ensure the defence of the positions and the interests of the Union..."

It goes without saying that the Treaty cannot prevent major disagreements between Member States, as for instance the Iraq crisis revealed.

Independently of its divergences, or rather because of them, the Union has chosen to improve the functioning of its common external policy instruments and has passed an important milestone on this path through the drawing up of the Constitutional Treaty, which we sincerely hope will be ratified by all the Member States.

The most essential innovation introduced by the Constitutional Treaty is the creation of a European Minister for Foreign Affairs. He will not replace the ministers of the individual Member States but will rather strengthen the visibility and unity of action of the European Union in its external relations.

We may add, to complete the picture, that another important means to permit greater converge of the positions of individual member states could be the creation of a European diplomatic service, the details of which still need to be fine-tuned. This European diplomacy could be built up through an administration comprising civil servants of the Community institutions as well as national ones.

Europe is therefore a key player - a player who is gaining strength day by day and whose action is also important for all its neighbours, including Israel.

Indeed, Europeans are not able to ignore a number of security issues which directly influence the stability of the neighbouring regions of the enlarged Europe. The Europe of 25 needs to carry out its strategic responsibility in line with its new power and ever-expanding security interests of its Member States.

So, for example, an arms race for weapons of mass destruction between a certain number of countries, combined with the proliferation of ballistic technologies, particularly in the Middle East, pose a major danger for Europe.

Europe's strategic objective is to extend the area of security to the outer limits of Europe, especially to the Mediterranean region. One of the most important means available to the EU within this context is the Barcelona process, also known as Euromed. This is one of the rare fora where Israel and its neighbours rub sit at the same table.

This process is likely to acquire new significance at this moment of renewed hope for the Middle East. The democratic transition in the Palestinian Territories, commitments made in terms of security, and the announcement of the Israeli retreat from Gaza, could all mark the beginning of a positive process which could allow for a breakout from the apparently eternal spiral of violence. Achieving this potential implies a constant commitment not only between the relevant parties, but also from all the members of the international community, conducted by the Quartet countries in which the EU plays an active role.

Iraq also remains at the centre of concern. The moment is ripe for a strengthening of relations between the EU and this country. The legislative elections planned for 30 January will, we hope, mark a decisive step towards stability to which the EU intends to contribute actively.

It is also important to remain attentive to the situation in Iran which poses a challenge to the fundamental objectives of the Union's external policy, namely the protection of human rights and the fight against nuclear proliferation.

Lastly, the neighbourhood policy which Europe has committed itself to, not only in the framework of its Euro-Mediterranean policy - namely through the association agreements - and its project to establish a Euro-Mediterranean area of free exchange by 2010, but also in its relations with Russia and the Balkan countries. This illustrates our determination to integrate a vast area of shared political and economic stability. However, collaboration between Europe and its partners cannot be exclusively political and economic. It requires simultaneous involvement in a programme of cultural dialogue, geared to ruling out the possibility of a clash of civilisations. The Euro-Mediterranean Foundation, to be based in Alexandria, will be the mainspring for the Mediterranean region.

This ever-expanding role of Europe should lead quite naturally to a more balanced partnership with the USA. In this perspective, the ambition of the European Union cannot be to weaken neither its principal ally nor trans-Atlantic relations, whose irreplaceable value is shown in the security strategy. To sum up: it is not a question of "less USA", but rather of  "more Europe", where both parties benefit from respective complementary strengths and weaknesses, as well as from their historical, cultural and institutional particularities.

Within this framework, I refute in the strongest possible terms the simplistic claim that Europe sides with the Palestinians while the United States takes the side of the Israelis.

The EU's support for a viable Palestinian State is firmly anchored in the belief that a development of the region is vital for Israel, not only for its own prosperity, but also for its security. A country surrounded by poorly developed neighbours cannot flourish. Moreover, I believe that the USA and the EU share the same framework approach for a lasting peace in the Middle East. Against this background, we welcome the current engagement of the United States, although we are fully aware of the difficulties that lie ahead for us.

For Europe, Israel is a friend and an important partner. Our relations rest on solid grounds. Historical and cultural links unite us. A new phase in our relations began last December with the adoption of an EU-Israel action plan within the framework of the European neighbourhood policy. This action plan, based on the association agreement that took effect in 2000, aims to further strengthen our political, security, economic, scientific and cultural relations. I am convinced that, on this basis, we will be able to develop our relations even further in the months and years to come.

Europe hopes that Israel will be able to bank on a prosperous and safe future, in peaceful cooperation with its neighbours. European integration demonstrates that compromise and reconciliation are possible after generations of prejudice, war and suffering.

Thank you for your kind attention.


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This page was last modified on : 22-01-2005

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