Mr. Chairman, Honourable Members,
It is a pleasure to be here with you today for this exchange of views on the European Neighbourhood Policy.
The Lisbon Treaty has created the conditions for the EU i to become a global player. I have stated several times before this House that, as Commissioner for Enlargement and the Neighbourhood, I intend to work closely with High Representative/Vice President Ashton and the External Action Service in helping the EU to live up to this ambition.
But let me say that, if the EU wants to become a credible global player, it should start from its Neighbourhood. In the months and years to come, we must demonstrate our capacity to act convincingly in our Neighbourhood, using all the instruments and opportunities for joined-up action offered by the Lisbon Treaty. This will be one of the main yardsticks with which our ability to implement the Foreign Policy provisions of the Lisbon Treaty will be measured. This makes this Strategic Review of the European Neighbourhood Policy a very timely exercise.
We are now in the middle of our consultation process. We have received contributions from almost all Member States and ENP partner countries. We have listened to experts and academics. We have met with senior officials of partner countries. Yesterday, I had an exchange of views with the Member States in the Foreign Affairs Council. Today, I am here with you. In ten days we will meet with Civil Society organisations from all over the region.
Drawing conclusions at this stage of the process would be premature, but we can start by identifying a number of emerging issues on which to reflect further.
The European Parliament, through its reports, has greatly contributed in the past to shaping and guiding the development of the European Neighbourhood Policy. I trust that, in the debate today, you will give us elements to enrich our reflection further.
In the letter Cathy Ashton i and I sent last July to EU and partner countries’ Foreign Ministers, we have asked three questions. What should be our vision for the ENP within a 10-15 year horizon? What should be the medium-term objectives we pursue, broadly speaking, during the term of this Parliament and Commission? What can we improve in terms of our instruments and resources? I shall try to answer these three questions.
Let me start with the vision. I should say from the outset that all our partners were very pleased with this wide-ranging consultation process. All of them want stronger relations with the EU based on high-level political dialogue. All of them look forward to deeper economic integration based on approximation of legislation and regulatory convergence, to easier mobility, to increased financial co-operation. There is a clear demand for a strong ENP. And this is true even if some partners do not like the label under which it comes.
This is in itself very positive. But it would be wrong for us to think that this is enough. We know we are not the only players in the Neighbourhood. There are others who seek to extend their influence in a way that is not always compatible with EU values or the EU acquis. Belarus has agreed to a Customs Union with Russia. China’s economic and political influence is growing.
Expectations are high and the EU needs to be unambiguous about what it can offer to its neighbours and what it expects from them in return. And my view is that we have not always been so clear. Our response to demands for upgrading relations, especially with our Mediterranean Neighbours, has sometimes privileged “form” over “substance”. Our approach to different countries has not been fully coherent.
Often the EU has shied away from expressing its expectations on shared values. We should be more forceful in underlining that good governance and political reform are not “optional” elements of our policy offer but go hand in hand with deepened political and economic relations. The European Parliament, through its network of bilateral and multilateral contacts with the Parliaments of partner countries, plays a very important role in the promotion of democratic principles.
Our consultations so far highlight a large degree of consensus about an ENP vision along the lines of Article 8 of the Lisbon Treaty, of an area were political co-operation is as close as possible and economic integration is as deep as possible.
How close? How deep? As one expert put it: “the long-term goal could amount to anything between a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area [DCFTA] plus 1 % and EU Accession minus 1%” … depending, of course, on the ambition of individual partners.
When it comes to economic integration, this logically leads us to a vision of full integration into the EU internal market and to the extension of the four freedoms in exchange for the adoption of a large part of the EU acquis and the development of the related administrative capacity.
And here, there are some important gaps between the partners’ expectations and what the EU may be prepared to offer.
The first gap is about the number of freedoms that partner countries’ citizens should enjoy. Partners expect to be able to enjoy all four. Some EU Member States have the tendency to focus on just three of them. There are clear (and understandable) concerns when it comes to the freedom of movement.
The second is about financial support. Partners highlight the cost of the reforms linked to the convergence with the acquis and the conclusions of Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas. Some EU Member States are reluctant to speak about increased financial resources to support the cost of reforms.
Possibly, the key to bridging these gaps lies in a gradual approach based on a clearer and more rigorous differentiation. A DCFTA or a visa-free regime require not only clear commitments from partner countries but also the administrative capacity to credibly implement these commitments. There should be no fudging on this. But we should also be ready to reward real progress and give ourselves the requisite means. Financial allocations should be much higher for those countries that really undertake political reform or implement a DCFTA than for those that declare their readiness to do so. We do not differentiate enough at present. And the EU should be more forthcoming on mobility with those countries that take credible steps to control their external borders and meet other preconditions.
At this stage, let me also say that I believe differentiation should be based on partner countries’ ambition in their relations with the EU, on their readiness to accept shared values, on which the EU is based, on their performance in governance and reform — rather than on their geographical position. Of course some of the neighbouring countries are European and see themselves as potential EU members. But their aspirations are not a reason to offer less to others, or to be less demanding. If European neighbours are more ambitious, it will be up to them to set the bar higher: I am comforted in this approach by the fact that most Member States and almost all partners agree that the European Neighbourhood Policy should remain the “one roof” under which we frame relations with our neighbours.
To attain the goal I have outlined, there are a number of areas that should attract our attention in the medium term. There we would see seven issues deserving further reflection.
One is the request by several of our partners for more political steering of our relationships. This is not meant as adding opportunities for formal discussion but rather as maintaining an enhanced, continuous and substantial dialogue at political level. I see this as a legitimate request and one that can help us address misunderstandings and difficult issues in a spirit of confidence and partnership. We now need to reflect on the best manner to put the idea into motion, not only among Foreign Ministers but also on other areas of close co-operation.
The second concerns the DCFTAs which are at the core of our offer. The prospect of participating in the Internal Market is a powerful agent of change. We should pursue negotiations of DCFTA in the shorter term with the most advanced of our neighbours, both in the East and in the South. Our partners highlight the importance for them of having easier market access, in particular for agricultural and agro-industrial products. We should on our side stress that, for partner countries to fully reap the fruits of such an agreement, serious reforms are needed to ensure the independence and fairness of the judiciary and to curb corruption.
The third request is easier mobility. While there are obvious political difficulties, it would be hard to ignore the insistence of all our partners on this point. We may need to think outside the box here and move away from a black-or-white approach. Perhaps we could develop a broader, win-win, approach to mobility and migration where security concerns can also be addressed. Or focus selectively on certain categories of people such as students, researchers or businessmen. Or envisage the type of robust differentiation I was referring to earlier.
The fourth pertains to protracted conflicts and what the EU can do to help advance these towards a resolution. This is a question we cannot avoid. The inability to contribute to conflict resolution is highlighted as one of the main shortcomings of the ENP, even though this is an issue which goes beyond the policy itself. Partners have asked us to be more active. The EU should be more present and allocate more resources to confidence-building. But can we go beyond confidence-building? There are clear expectations among our neighbours that, with the Lisbon Treaty, the EU will be able to deploy all its instruments (including CFSP and ESDP) in a more coherent way. This is an area which requires further reflection.
The fifth request is about deepening sectoral co-operation. There is demand for greater co-operation in areas such as energy, environment, climate change, education, industrial co-operation or technology transfer. This is also in our interest and we need to respond positively. Partners are also very keen to have more access to EU programmes and participate in EU agencies.
A sixth issue concerns the involvement of civil society. Civil Society Organisations [CSOs] in partner countries are our most faithful and powerful ally when it comes to promoting values and good governance. They are also an important ally when it comes to convergence towards EU standards in areas such as environment or climate change. We need to involve them more in policy formulation and monitoring. We need to link them up with CSOs in the EU. We need to invest in them and strengthen their capacity.
Finally, there is the question of the regional specificities within our neighbourhood and of their contribution to our overall objectives. A tailor-made approach towards the various regions of the Neighbourhood should remain a key characteristic of the ENP. Moreover I am persuaded that the ENP should promote regional co-operation among ENP partners, particularly in the context of the Eastern Partnership and the Union for the Mediterranean which are the main, although not the only, ENP regional dimensions.
With the Eastern Partnership the EU has established an ambitious agenda for deepening relations with the six Eastern partners, both bilaterally and as a group. Eighteen months after the Prague Summit there has been much progress on establishing new contractual relations and multilateral co-operation has become very intense. The ENP review offers us an opportunity to look at these first achievements and prepare successfully the Summit in Budapest next May.
The Union for the Mediterranean [UfM] is also moving forward. In spite of the political difficulties related to the Middle East Peace Process, the Secretariat is about to be established and much work has been done on the projects that the UfM will support. We need to identify, as part of the review, practical ways to contribute to the implementation of this initiative. We must help it deliver on its essential objective of generating the jobs, the growth and the innovation capacity that are acutely needed in the Mediterranean region within the years to come.
Let me finally come to the question of policy instruments, financial instruments and, last but not least, resources.
The ENP Action Plans have proven their worth as a central policy implementation tool. Now that we come to a second generation, we need to make them more focused and better linked to the partner countries’ reform agenda and to the financial resources necessary to implement them.
The European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument [ENPI] has been a step change in the way we deliver our assistance. But many underline that more should be done to link the reform priorities of ENP Action Plans with financial co-operation —and that financial assistance should be delivered more rapidly, with less red tape and with the flexibility to respond to emerging needs. Partner countries also asked us to look more closely at pre-accession assistance for inspiration. We will seriously reflect on this but we will need your support.
There is a trade-off between efficiency and control. I know you are concerned about democratic control on external spending: the “democratic scrutiny” under ENPI has worked well and, outside that framework, we have always been forthcoming to Parliament requests for consultations and exchange of views. We should carefully reflect before making this process, and more generally the overall preparation and delivery of our aid, heavier or more formal. I should also stress here one very important point: assistance to Neighbouring countries is fundamentally different from classical development aid. We need to be able to respond rapidly to emerging needs and evolving policy goals. We need the minimum of agility required to espouse partner countries’ reform agendas and needs.
I hesitate to speak about financial resources in what is indeed a difficult economic and financial situation for the EU. There are certainly efficiency gains to be made by better targeting and delivering assistance. There is mileage to be gained in developing innovative financial instruments. We can co-ordinate EU and Member States assistance better, by using the Action Plans as our programming reference. But let’s be frank, we need to give ourselves the financial means to support an ambitious policy. We cannot ask for far-reaching reforms and decline much needed support. The ENP will need to be treated as a priority in the next financial framework.
Mr. President, Honourable Members, let me say a few words of conclusion.
These are our thoughts around a number of issues that are emerging from this Strategic Review. These thoughts are preliminary and I expect they will continue to evolve and become more concrete as the consultation process goes on. On February 1st, Mrs. Ashton and myself will invite EU Member States and ENP Partners to a Ministerial conference. We expect this conference to provide us with guidance for the proposals that we will put forward in April in a Communication to the Council and the European Parliament.
But I wanted to share these initial thoughts with you already today and hear your reactions and suggestions. If we want the ENP to become an anchor for our neighbours, thus reflecting the ambition of the Treaty, we need your views and your support.