DOC - Europa

Štefan Füle
European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood
Speech on the recent events in North
Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET), European Parliament
Brussels, 28 February 2011
Mr President, Honourable Members,
The events unfolding in North Africa and other parts of the Arab world are of historic
proportions. We are witnessing a sea change in the internal dynamics of this region.
What has happened over the last weeks will have profound and lasting
consequences not only for the people and the countries of the region but also for
the rest of the world, in particular Europe.
The toppling of former Presidents Ben Ali and Mubarak by peaceful protests mostly
led by young people will remain in history as a symbol of the revival of the Arab
world. For several generations, there has been a pervasive feeling of
powerlessness in these countries, an alleged and, frankly, rather offensive “Arab
exception” towards democracy, and a deep sense of despair watching change,
freedom, modernity happening all over the planet.
This has changed irreversibly. Irrespective of any domino effect, it is now clear that
all countries in the region, and all authoritarian regimes elsewhere, have to pay
much more attention to the democratic aspirations and well-being of their
We should welcome these changes whole-heartedly. They carry the hope of a
better life for the people of the region and greater respect for human rights,
pluralism, social justice and the fundamental freedoms which are at the core of our
Europe has a vital interest in a democratic, stable, prosperous, peaceful North
Africa in its immediate neighbourhood. Europe must and will rise to the challenge of
supporting democratic transition in North Africa, as it did after the revolutions in
Eastern Europe in 1989.
Before moving to our response, I would like to say three words of caution.
First, we must show humility about the past. Europe was not vocal enough in
defending human rights and local democratic forces in the region. Too many of us
fell prey to the assumption that authoritarian regimes were a guarantee of stability in
the region. This was not even Realpolitik. It was, at best, short-termism —and the
kind of short-termism that makes the long term ever more difficult to build.
I am not saying that everything we did was wrong, rather that Europe, at this
particular moment more than ever before, must be faithful to its values and stand on
the side of democracy and social justice. The crowds in the streets of Tunis, Cairo
and elsewhere have been fighting in the name of our shared values. It is with them,
and for them, that we must work today —not with dictators who are, as we speak,
spilling the blood of their own people with utter disregard for human life.
Second, we must avoid at all cost a blanket approach to all our Arab and North
African neighbours. The uprisings in the region have many causes in common:
authoritarian regimes, paralysed political systems, a lack of employment for young
graduates, violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms. However, each of
these countries is different and we will have to adapt our policies accordingly.
We cannot have the same approach towards Tunisia, a small country with a rather
homogenous population, a strong middle class and long-standing links with Europe,
or towards Libya where tribal links remain highly prevalent: any transition there will
therefore have to reflect this element of the social fabric while ensuring
Third, while we should and will focus on the short-term negative consequences of
the changes in the region, we should not lose sight of our long-term interests. Yes,
there may be rising irregular migration flows originating from Tunisia, Libya and, to
some extent, from Egypt. Yes, there will be a certain political vacuum in the newly
democratising countries, including an increased visibility of Islamist parties and, at
least in some of them, a worry that they may not want to play by the rules of
democracy. Yes, there may be rising oil prices, lost investments and business. Yes,
there may be potential civil war and instability in Libya. We know that the forces of
change that have been unleashed will not produce stable political systems
overnight. Yet, we must weather these risks without losing sight of our long-term
common objective: a democratic, stable, prosperous and peaceful North Africa.
So what do we intend to do to contribute to change in the region?
Our first priority is to ensure the success of the democratic transitions in Tunisia and
Under the leadership of Catherine Ashton, we have set up task forces to prepare
comprehensive support packages for Tunisia and Egypt. We have consulted widely,
including Members of this House, academics and non-governmental organisations,
and listened to their views on the priorities for these packages. We are currently
seeking the inputs of EU Member States. The initial results of our work were
discussed at last Monday’s Foreign Affairs Council and will be on the agenda of the
upcoming March European Council.
In Tunisia, we have announced an immediate assistance package of €17 million for
immediate and short-term support to the democratic transition and assistance to
inland impoverished areas. This entails support for the preparation of democratic
elections and for NGOs, which is crucial for the consolidation of the democratic
process. We are also supporting the work of the three commissions established in
January, for which teams of experts are already on the ground.
These are only first and modest steps. We are now reviewing our existing cooperation programmes with a view to better taking into account the needs of the
new emerging Tunisia. We are also ready to resume negotiations on the
strengthening of bilateral relations with Tunisia (“statut avancé”). We hope to be
able to conclude these after the upcoming elections, with a democratically elected
government. We still need more thorough discussions with the Tunisians on what
they need and how we can most efficiently provide our support.
For Egypt, it is still premature to announce a support package for democratic
transformation. The Egyptian authorities have engaged in internal discussions on
how the international community can be best supporting the democratic
transformation and socio-economic needs.
As HR/VP Ashton announced in her visit to Cairo last week, the EU is ready to help
as soon as Egypt is ready. We will not dictate outcomes. We will not impose
solutions. This is a country where we already have comprehensive programmes
supporting socio-economic reforms and human rights, good governance and
democratisation. We can go much farther in the new political environment but they
constitute a good basis to build on.
Based on collective demands emanating not only from the interim leadership but
also from opposition parties, civil society and youth, we will revise, review and adapt
our on-going support to optimise our response to Egypt’s democratic transformation
and to increased socio-economic justice.
Catherine Ashton and I told the Council that we believe the EU should assume
leadership in coordinating the international community’s response to the historic
events in Tunisia and Egypt. We need to avoid overlap and maximise collective
impact. This will require strengthening co-ordination within the EU, particularly with
and among Member States, as well as with our main international partners. This is
why we organised last week a conference in Brussels with key international
institutions and actors such as the World Bank, the European Investment Bank or
the Council of Europe, to mobilise all possible instruments in support of the
democratic transition of these two countries. We intend to have later on a Ministerial
conference. In parallel, we will support the international conference to be organised
by the Tunisian authorities in Carthage, most probably in March.
These steps of immediate support to Tunisia and Egypt are essential but they
should only be part of our response. It is crystal clear to us that we need to reflect
on our entire approach towards the Southern Mediterranean and seek to adapt all
our policies and instruments to what is happening in the region.
There is, of course, a strong link with the ongoing review of the European
Neighbourhood Policy, on which I have addressed this Committee several times
and I will not expand now. The Commission held an orientation debate on the ENP
last week to prepare our work for the Communication on 20 April. I trust you will find
in our new approach the level of ambition and commitment that you have
consistently called for, particularly as regards stronger partnership with societies,
greater differentiation, and being ready to go farther with our neighbours
implementing ambitious political and economic reforms.
We see, however, a need for faster and more specific action: President Barroso has
asked all Commissioners to identify possible initiatives towards the “new” Southern
Mediterranean in their respective policy areas and HRVP Ashton and I will put
together a Communication on this contribution of Community instruments to be
adopted on 16 March, in time for consideration by the European Council.
We are now going through fifteen years of experience of Euro-Mediterranean cooperation. We are reflecting on how we could do more to address long-standing
frustrations in essential areas including the most sensitive ones, such as migration,
mobility or market access. We are examining how other policy areas such as, for
instance, our experience at regional and rural development can be best put to use,
in this case to tackle regional inequalities. We are also taking a fresh look at our
financing instruments, including the possibility to re-programme funds, make better
use of blending facilities including the Neighbourhood Investment Facility, bring in
more private sector money for more profitable investments, as well as support
partners in facing short-term difficulties with their balance of payments.
In short, we are leaving no stone unturned —and we will also be honest as to what
can be done with existing funding, what could be achieved through more loans and
blending, and what might require fresh funds. As I mention funding, I would like to
salute the determining role of the European Parliament in securing a €1 billion
increase in the ceiling of lending that the European Investment Bank can make
available to Southern Mediterranean countries.
Mr President, Honourable Members,
I would like to use this opportunity to say a few words on Libya and on migration,
which are of course two matters of urgent concern to all of us.
First, Libya. There was a long discussion at the Council on how best to respond to
the crisis there. While several of us would have liked to see sanctions decided
during the Council and applied even faster, I am pleased that the decision was
finally taken today and that we have been able to agree on lists for travel bans and
asset freezes reaching even beyond those adopted in the United Nations. I want to
salute the exemplary co-operation between the Presidency, the Commission and
the External Action Service in achieving this result.
We are giving the absolute priority to the repatriation and the safety of the many
European citizens who are still in Libya. HRVP Ashton activated the MIC (Monitoring
and Information Centre) on 23 February in order to facilitate the evacuation of EU
citizens and maximise the use of transport and other logistical assets. In parallel
ECHO has already made €3 million available to tackle the immediate humanitarian
needs of refugees fleeing Libya at the Tunisian and Egyptian borders.
In substance, I think it is absolutely clear to all of us that Colonel Gaddafi and the
Libyan leadership have reached a point of no-return. The repression they have
inflicted on their population had not been seen in Europe’s neighbourhood for at
least a generation. Beyond our essential humanitarian and consular duties, there
can be no more dealing with Libya’s government until he and the perpetrators of
these acts are gone.
Second, migration. We all know it is not an easy issue. Justice and Home Affairs
Ministers already discussed the situation in the Mediterranean region on 24 and 25
February. The Interior Ministers of six EU Mediterranean countries met last week in
Rome. Commissioner Malmström has ensured the full mobilisation of European
instruments, including Frontex through the Hermes 2011 operation, to deal with the
crisis that affected Italy last week and to prepare for all scenarios. I know Cecilia is
planning to de-brief the LIBE Committee on this subject tomorrow, in the presence
of members of this Committee.
We must take the correct view of these events: they show we will have to
strengthen cooperation with North African countries, in line with the EU global
approach on migration. Of course, we should ask our partner countries in North
Africa to prevent irregular migration and cooperate on return and readmission. The
EU will have to develop more ambitious approaches in the field of legal migration of
workers, for example in the context of temporary or circular migration. This is a
request that has been made to the EU by Tunisia, and it is preferable to manage
this type of migration rather than the humanitarian crises stemming from
uncontrolled migration. This is another issue on which we will need the full support
of this House.
Mister President, Honourable Members,
We are confronted with a historic challenge and it is my conviction, as well as that
of President Barroso, HR/VP Ashton and the entire College, that Europe should not
fail or remain a spectator in what is happening.
In full co-operation with our Southern partners, we can, we must and we will act
swiftly and decisively to help shaping the new Southern Mediterranean. The
European Parliament has a great responsibility to ensure that the EU adopts the
policies and strengthens the instruments necessary to meet this challenge. We
know we can count on your full support.