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[Luxembourg 2005 Presidency of the Council of the European Union]
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European Neighbourhood Policy, by Jean Asselborn

Date of Speech : 14-03-2005

Place : Luxembourg, Neumünster

Speaker : Jean Asselborn

Policy area : General Affairs and External Relations

Event : Meeting of the Presidents of the Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Commissions of the Parliaments of the EU

Presidents of the Parliamentary Committees for Foreign Affairs,

The emergence of a Europe without lines of division is only conceivable if there is a European Union that thinks outside the strict framework outlined by the borders of its Member States. This assessment, clear on the surface, has even more truth with the last enlargement, which profoundly transformed the European continent by pushing the borders of the EU towards both the south and the east. And yet, enlargement is a continuous process: Romania and Bulgaria intend to join the European Union in 2007, negotiations with a view to the accession of Croatia and Turkey will, in principle, begin in the next few months. Croatia is not just a western Balkan country that already has obtained concrete perspectives on accession: the Commission is dedicated to providing its note on the request for accession of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia before the end of the year.

I believe that the different processes of enlargement in which the EU has been engaged during the last thirty years sufficiently demonstrate how attractive the EU is to its neighbours. I would go so far as to say that the EU is, to a certain degree, a victim of its own success. Accession to the EU has become the priority for several countries that, following the different enlargements, have become, or will become, direct neighbours of the EU. I do not want to go back to the much debated question on the borders of Europe: there is no question here about the legitimacy of the European aspirations of these countries. On the contrary, I am convinced that while it increases our security, the integration of the accession States will also have the effect of bringing the EU closer to troubled areas. Our task has thus become to promote, to the East of the EU and to the borders of the Mediterranean basin, a group of well-governed countries with which we could have close relations based on cooperation.

I would like straightaway to keep the question of enlargement well separate from that of being a neighbour: being a neighbour is an objective fact dictated by geography that one must accept. As I just now indicated, the last enlargement resulted in the EU coming closer to countries located on the eastern and southern edges of Europe. To the east, of course, is Russia, but also Moldavia and Ukraine. To the south are all the countries of the Mediterranean basin. The future enlargements (Bulgaria, Romania) will only accentuate this new orientation of the EU and so, beginning in 2007, the EU will be directly present in the area of the Black Sea.

Since 2002, the EU has been seeking to implement a new policy whose objectives go beyond searching for pragmatic solutions to the challenges posed to the enlarged Union and by its new neighbours: in fact, the EU does not want to restrict itself to a passive policy that would be limited in its reaction to the threats that arise from its new, sometimes unstable neighbours by the fact of existing latent regional conflicts. The EU has other ambitions: the dynamic of enlargement should profit both the EU and its new neighbours. While the EU has an undeniable interest in the stability, prosperity and economic development of its neighbouring countries, the existence of a moral and political obligation of the EU to favour the stability, prosperity and economic development within these countries is no less real. In this context, former President of the Commission Prodi has spoken of the necessity for the EU to surround itself with a “ring of friends".

Allow me to remind you that the European Council of Copenhagen on 12 and 13 December 2002 confirmed that the EU should seize the opportunity offered by enlargement to advance, based on common values, relations with our neighbours both to the East and the South. This initiative took on a more precise outline in the communication of the Commission of March 2003 on the enlarged Europe. In this communication, the Commission offers its neighbouring countries to the South and East a maximal integration into the internal market of the EU and its four freedoms of movement. However, it is not planned to give the countries in the “Enlarged Europe" initiative a voice in the European institutions. In the words of President Prodi, the intent is to offer these countries "everything except for the institutions". This, it seems to me, is already a considerable step.

Thereafter, there was what I would call an "adjustment", reflected in the strategy paper presented in May 2004 by the Commission, in which the Commission defined the broad outlines of the new policy of the EU as regards its neighbours and makes proposals with a view to the concrete implementation of this policy. One no longer speaks of an "enlarged Europe" initiative, but rather of a "European Neighbourhood Policy." The list of countries targeted by this policy has evolved: while Russia is no longer on the list, other countries have been added. In June 2004, the Council decided, among others, to include the three countries of the South Caucasus, that is, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, in the new neighbourhood policy. But the essence of the policy has not changed and the means foreseen for the implementation remain the same.

These means - they are action plans jointly negotiated with each of the partner countries included in the European Neighbourhood Policy that have in-depth contractual relations with the Union. Taking into account the particular situation of each country, the action plans propose a series of concrete measures oriented towards a rapid intensification of relations between the EU and the member partners and favouring respect for European values and the reconciliation with Community standards in areas as diverse as justice, human rights and trade. If after three years, or five as the case may be, the priorities of the action plans have been achieved, the partner countrie in question can legitimately expect a reassessment of its relations with the EU and the conclusion of a new agreement that goes beyond the framework of the current contract.

In this context, I would emphasise that all the measures foreseen in the action plans are strictly made within the framework of the agreements currently in place with the different neighbouring countries: The action plans are aimed at, from this fact, making the agreements more effective. For our neighbours to the east, these are partnership and cooperation agreements. For our neighbours to the south, these are Euro-Mediterranean association agreements.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The European Neighbourhood Policy is an illustration par excellence of a policy of results in the service of all those who participate in it. It is regrettable, of course, that Russia has – by its own decision - refused to participate in this policy. However, the Russian attitude is understandable if one takes into account the distinctive relations between the EU and this important neighbour, relations that we could call strategic.

In this context, please allow me to remind you that Russia and the EU decided in Saint Petersburg in May 2003 to give content to its strategic partnership for the implementation of four common spaces: a common economic space, a common space of freedom, security and justice, a common space of external security and a common space of research, education and culture. Negotiations with a view to adopting roadmaps for these four spaces began last year under the Irish Presidency and should conclude, we hope, in Moscow on 10 May - on the occasion of the next summit between the EU and Russia – where a package made up of four roadmaps, one for each of the spaces, should be adopted. I conclude from this that relations between the EU and Russia are sufficiently close and do not need the support of the European Neighbourhood Policy.

The situation is radically different for neighbouring Belarus, whose relations with the EU are - for reasons that are, I believe, well known – very limited. Of course, the European Neighbourhood Policy is aimed explicitly at Belarus: but the hostility demonstrated towards the EU to date by the Lukashenko regime has, unfortunately, not allowed an opening with this country for negotiations with a view to the adoption of a joint action plan. Nevertheless, the EU has left the door open for Belarus, and does not exclude the practical integration of this country in the European Neighbourhood Policy once the Belarusian authorities have given concrete indications of their intent to respect democratic values and the rule of law.

Aware that it is not sufficient to express its desire for change, but to encourage real change in that country, the EU, with the support of the Commission and all of the actors involved, is dedicated to supporting civil society in Belarus to promote democratisation, especially through cooperation in the humanitarian, regional and cross-border area and through projects that directly or indirectly support democratisation and democratic forces in Belarus.

The European Neighbourhood Policy finds another justification in its application to the Mediterranean countries. In fact, the EU already has a long tradition of cooperation with the Mediterranean countries, made more concrete ten years ago by the launch of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership, which today more than ever is a central reference framework for relations of cooperation and solidarity between the European Union and the Mediterranean partner countries.

Two crucial meetings should be remembered as regards the Barcelona Process of 2005: first, there is the seventh Ministerial Conference of the Euromed Partnership, which will be held in Luxembourg on 30 and 31 May, and over which I will have the pleasure of presiding. Second, there is the tenth anniversary of the Barcelona declaration, to be held in November of this year, in Barcelona itself, which demonstrates the Euro-Mediterranean orientation of that city.

The European Neighbourhood Policy will allow much more profound opportunities for cooperation between the European Union and its partners to the South: we have Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreements with most of the ten Euromed partner countries, which form the contractual framework of our neighbourly relations. The oldest of these is with Tunisia, while we have recently concluded negotiations with Syria. As for partners to the East, the Action Plans in the framework of the Neighbourhood Policy will make more concrete the engagements that have been made in the framework of the existing agreements: this will strengthen the political dialogue in the area of human rights and good governance, consolidation of trade, and technical cooperation in the area of the fight against illegal migration and organised crime. The European Neighbourhood Policy Action Plans will advance the objectives, which are sometimes very ambitious, of our contractual framework. In the first place, Action Plans have been adopted with the Palestinian Authority, Israel, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia, but these will also be followed by other partner countries before long.

Today, we are entering into what will probably be the second concrete phase of the European Neighbourhood Policy. In fact, on 2 March of this year, the Commission adopted a communication on the European Neighbourhood Policy that recommends the negotiation of action plans for countries of the South Caucasus, Egypt and Lebanon. This recommendation is based on the country reports prepared by the Commission that outline, for each of these countries, a complete picture of the political and economic situation and that analyse the state of their relations with the EU.

For my part, I think that this communication comes to the point named. Without wanting to prejudge the decision that the Council will take based on this communication and the recommendations the Commission makes, it seems to me that it can already be said that the European Neighbourhood Policy is a remarkably efficient lever on the policies of all the countries involved, and thus also on the countries of the South Caucasus which will soon be at the door of the Union.

If in this way, that is, through these action plans, we manage to encourage political and economic reforms within these neighbouring countries, we will have reason to be satisfied. If, in addition, we strengthen regional dialogue with and among these countries, we will also be providing an additional chance for the peaceful and rapid resolution of regional conflicts, sources of tension and instability.

It is not in our interest that the enlargement creates new lines of division in Europe. We should have our neighbours to the east benefit from the advantages of economic and political cooperation while tackling the political problems these countries have.

These objectives are also valuable for the Mediterranean aspect of the second phase of the European Neighbourhood Policy. The Commission intends to begin soon preparation of action plans for Egypt and Lebanon, and it is hoped that recent political developments in Lebanon will not have negative repercussions on the agenda for consultations with a view to the preparation of an action plan.

I would like to look back for a moment to illustrate what I consider to be the acquis of this European Neighbourhood Policy.

I welcome the formal approval in December of the action plans with the five partners in the south and the approval, at the end of February, of the action plans with Ukraine and Moldavia: it is now possible to begin the practical implementation of the measures foreseen in these action plans. Notwithstanding the considerable and quite remarkable efforts of our partners and friends to the south, to which I will later return, I would like to emphasise the particularly constructive attitude of the Moldavians: to the extent that they have not discussed the legitimacy of the European Neighbourhood Policy, negotiations with a view to adopting of a joint action plan managed to progress at a pace that allowed an agreement to be reached last summer.

The matter has been a little more difficult with Ukraine. From the beginning, the Ukrainians thought that the European Neighbourhood Policy did not go far enough, because according to them, it does not entirely take into account their European ambitions. An agreement was finally reached in October 2004 after long and difficult negotiations: but, thereafter, there was the "orange revolution" in Kiev, which ended up in the election of a new pro-Western government. The government named at the beginning of 2005 by incoming President Yushchenko hesitated to give its approval to a joint action plan, hoping that the EU would honour the pro-European choice of the Ukrainian people by offering the Ukraine a clear prospect of accession.

The action plan negotiated jointly with Ukraine does not work towards this prospect for Ukraine, simply because this is not the objective of the European Neighbourhood Policy. I can tell you that the discussions were difficult with the Ukraine, but the Ukrainians finally accepted the approach advocated by the EU: a gradual approach, in which each step is defined with reference to achieving precise and concrete objectives and the review of the action plan after one year.

I do not want to touch again on what I said at the beginning of my speech on the fine distinction between the enlargement of the EU and the European Neighbourhood Policy, but I am satisfied to have contributed to convincing the new Ukrainian government that this policy is a precise tool that serves the country, and that deepening relations between the EU and Ukraine will primarily depend on the concrete results that the new government will manage to obtain based on this action plan and that, in addition, this policy does not prejudge what could happen in the years to come, but that the essential thing is that what happens primarily depends on the Ukrainians.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today I have attempted to give you a general overview of what the European Neighbourhood Policy can accomplish for the partners of the EU. It is up to the different partner countries with which the EU has already finalised action plans to rise to their ambitions: The success of this policy depends directly on the efforts made by the different partner countries in the coherent and concrete implementation of the measures and actions provided for in the action plans. In other words, is it is up to the partner countries themselves to choose the pace of their closer ties with the EU.

The particularity of the European Neighbourhood Policy is that it is a true common policy that requires efforts from both sides: it is not simply a unilateral initiative of the EU that will be imposed on the partners. This is why we use the term "partners". The watchwords are partnership and shared responsibility.

The EU, it seems to me, demonstrates the seriousness with which it envisages the implementation of this policy by proposing the implementation of a financial instrument specific to the European Neighbourhood Policy and thus to cooperation with all the neighbouring countries. Included in this instrument, of course, are measures foreseen in the different action plans. This is a European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument. The funds allocated to this instrument will be at the disposition of the projects developed jointly by the EU with the different countries included in the European Neighbourhood Policy, but also with Russia. In this context, projects favouring cross-border cooperation between the Member States of the EU and its neighbouring countries will be accorded particular importance.

Last year, the Commission presented to the Council a regulation proposal focusing on, among other things, the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument. The Luxembourg Presidency will actively pursue the work begun by the Dutch Presidency on the proposal of the Commission. The regulation proposal for the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument being in the co-decision procedure, the Luxembourg Presidency will do everything to facilitate an agreement with the European Parliament on this instrument and on other financial instruments for the external relations of the Union.

I am convinced that the European Parliament will accord the same priority to this work that the Luxembourg Presidency has. With the support of the European legislator, the Union will have a financial instrument at the service of its ambitions in the area of external relations.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for your kind attention.

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This page was last modified on : 15-03-2005

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