Euromed speech - EESC European Economic and Social Committee

Ladies and gentlemen,
Please take your seats. There will be simultaneous interpreting during the conference in French,
English, Spanish, Italian, Croatian and Arabic. You can choose the language with which you are most
Before we begin the conference, I would ask you to observe a minute's silence in memory of all the
victims of violence in France, Tunisia, Lebanon, Turkey, Syria, Palestine and elsewhere.
(Minute's silence)
Your Excellencies, presidents, members of the diplomatic corps and friends from the northern and
southern Mediterranean, it is a great honour for me to welcome you to this 20th Euro-Mediterranean
Summit of Economic and Social Councils and Similar Institutions, which is being held in Brussels for
the first time since the Barcelona Declaration in 1995. On that occasion, the European Economic and
Social Committee received a mandate to forge links between economic and social councils and
similar institutions and, judging by your presence here today and at the 19 previous summits, I think
we have succeeded.
The current situation in the Mediterranean region is very difficult and no better than in 1995, when the
EU and its southern neighbours decided to formalise their partnership. The violence born of instability
in some of the region's countries has severe consequences for the citizens of southern as well as
northern Mediterranean countries. We are all directly affected by this violence and by the lack of
stability which has enabled the likes of Daesh to flourish and spread their cowardice and barbarity
through the countries on the southern side in the Middle East and in European countries. This violence
also has terrible implications for the nationals of southern countries who have to make difficult
choices between staying where their lives are threatened or embarking on dangerous journeys to find a
place to live that guarantees their right to live. They are coming to us in search of this safety, so the
EU urgently needs to welcome them as refugees protected under international law and to create more
channels for regular migration that enable them to travel legally and safely.
Even when they arrive in Europe, the situation of refugees is hardly ideal since they are often received
under difficult circumstances. Unfortunately, EU national governments have failed to show the
solidarity and unity required to develop a genuine common reception policy, despite the fact that the
situation is extremely urgent as winter will make it very hard for these people to survive.
Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, we, as civil society organisations, are at the forefront of efforts to
break down the barriers facing refugees. I am not talking about physical barriers, however real and
regrettable these might be, but about more deep-rooted barriers, the mental barrier of prejudice which
turns public opinion towards exclusion and xenophobia, and the social and political barrier that
prevents equal treatment and integration through work and social inclusion. I would also like to
emphasise the seriousness of the situation in the southern Mediterranean, which has a direct impact on
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EU countries. The difficulties facing people in the southern Mediterranean also need to be stressed.
Responsibility for the current situation is shared, with Europe partly to blame.
The situation shows that the two sides of the Mediterranean and their future are inextricably linked. It
is therefore crucial for the European Union and its southern partners to work together to find a
solution to the region's problems. The recent review of the European Neighbourhood Policy, for
which a consultation was organised, is a step in the right direction since it has revealed the need to
take the position of partners into consideration when drawing up policies that concern them.
Although it is clear that the stabilisation of the region and its security are important priorities, they
must not be achieved at the expense of its economic and social development. While living in safety
must be the core concept, this cannot equate to disregard for fundamental values, European values
such as human rights, democratic freedoms and the universal right to a decent life.
Civil society organisations such as those represented in this room must participate in this economic
and social development. Our expertise, commitment and ability to develop inclusive, long-term
solutions to issues of which we have first-hand experience make our involvement absolutely essential.
It is therefore important for all governments in the region to allow these organisations to exist and
express their views. Freedom of association, freedom of expression and movement and the
independence of these organisations must be guaranteed. These are the conditions for civil society
organisations to use their drive and innovative capacity to contribute effectively to finding solutions to
the challenges facing our region. The drive and innovative capacity of civil society organisations are
also fuelled by the contribution of young people and women, who must be included in our discussions
and initiatives, and especially in our dialogue with the public authorities. It would be absurd to try to
create future prospects for young people without them or even to try to improve people's living
conditions without the direct and effective involvement of women.
In ten days' time, we will witness a practical example of the role that we can play in dialogue with the
authorities in Oslo, when the Nobel Peace Prize is presented to the Tunisian National Dialogue
Quartet. I would like to take the opportunity presented to me today to offer my heartfelt
congratulations to our Tunisian friends and to urge them most strongly to continue along the path they
have forged, which, in my view, is the only way out of Tunisia's difficulties.
Dear friends, the challenges facing the Mediterranean region are immense. Discussions between the
European Union and its partner countries will be difficult. By our actions, we must help to ensure that
the intentions of the new neighbourhood policy result in practical measures. The issues relating to the
trade agreements currently under negotiation, the refugee crisis, mobility issues, migration and
integration require our full attention.
Your presence today and your organisations' participation in all the summit meetings are encouraging
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I would particularly like to welcome into our midst the Luxembourg Presidency and the
representatives of the Union for the Mediterranean, the European Commission and the European
External Action Service, whose work is quite crucial to addressing the challenges ahead of us. Finally,
I would like to express my warm thanks to my excellent colleagues Marcos Peña Pinto, President of
the Spanish ESC, and Nizar Baraka, President of the Moroccan ESC, who have agreed to speak at the
opening of the conference as a symbol of the presence of the stakeholders who will be holding
discussions in this room for two days.
In a context where our dialogue has rarely been so necessary, I hope that our conclusions will do
some good.
Thank you for your presence and commitment.
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