European Commissioner Joe Borg addresses the European Policy Summit on EU Enlargement
14 years ago, the face of the world changed. The EU had to rediscover Eastern neighbours that history had isolated for fifty years. The EU leaders of the time perceived the historic opportunity to reunify Europe, they felt the obligation to fulfil the great goal of the fathers of Europe. History will pay tribute to their vision. It led the EU to invest heavily in the economic restructuring and political stabilisation of its Eastern neighbours. In doing so, the EU was also recognising an important truth: that our destiny and that of our neighbours are closely linked. Now that the EU has completed the biggest step ever in the reunification of Europe, we would be well advised not to forget this lesson. It is with this awareness that the European Commission has proposed and is developing a new neighbourhood policy.
The current enlargement brings us new neighbours to the east, and decreases the distance to our neighbours on the other side of the Mediterranean. In both directions the EU and its neighbours face common challenges - such as illegal immigration and the threat of terrorism – that are often rooted in political instability, poverty and conflict. Overcoming these problems and their root causes is clearly of critical importance to our common interests. The question, then, is not whether we should do our utmost to co-operate with our neighbours in promoting economic growth and the development of political institutions based on the values of democracy and the rule of law. The question is how best to do it. Our partners and neighbours, in the East and in the South, need to be reassured that we are fully committed to widening and deepening our relationship with them to mutual benefit, on the basis of shared values and interests. And our southern neighbours, particularly, need to be reassured that our enlargement to the East will not result in a diversion of Europe’s interest away from its Mediterranean neighbours. These are some important issues on which I would like to share my views with you today.
With many of its neighbours, the EU already has a strong established framework of relations, based on the Euromed Partnership and a series of Association Agreements in the South, and the Partnership and Co-operation Agreements with its partners to the East.
In proposing the European Neighbourhood Policy, the Commission is conscious of the need to build on existing frameworks, to make the best possible use of the existing instruments, and to find more effective ways of reaching our shared objectives. It must as far as possible use existing structures, like the regional bodies and the association committees and sub-committees, to pursue more vigorously the agreed objectives.
This enhanced co-operation will touch upon a vast range of areas, from political dialogue, to trade and internal market, from Justice and Home Affairs to the building of trans-national infrastructure networks, from economic and social development policy to people to people contacts. Although these areas were included in our past and current co-operation; we need to give a new impetus to the achievement of our objectives. We must, therefore, define focused and shared objectives with our partners and utilise all existing means to reach them. The Commission should also be ready to propose new instruments or make available to our partners instruments and programmes that were not yet open to them.
If the European Neighbourhood Policy is to deliver the desired results it must be built around two principles, that of inclusivity with regard to the final objective, and that of differentiation with regard to the pace and modalities to be adopted. It must be wide enough to encompass all our neighbours, yet its instruments and implementation must be flexible enough to take into account significant differences between our partners.
In terms of content, inclusivity implies that the ultimate goal for all partner countries, once all criteria have been satisfied, should be integration to the fullest possible degree. This includes participation in the Single Market, an objective that, once reached, should deliver very significant benefits for the countries involved, virtually on a par with the benefits accrued by present members of the European Economic Area. A stake in the Internal Market by our neighbours is an important long-term objective and a powerful incentive for countries willing to take up the challenge.
The second principle – that of differentiation with regard to the pace adopted with each individual state – is just as central to the success of the venture. Full account must be taken of the specificities of each partner country and the rate of progress should be tailored to each individual case. The evolving relationship with each of Europe’s neighbours should continue to reflect the extent to which we share values, the state of political and economic reform, as well as our mutual interests.
At the same time, however, I think that the EU should not refrain from engaging with those of our partners who might move more slowly in this harmonisation process. We should as far as possible undertake confidence-building actions with them, and try to deepen relations where possible, in particular as regards people-to-people contacts. The EU needs to explore to the maximum the possibilities to open to its neighbours its programmes in the fields of culture, education, and research, for example.
A vital step in the development of the European Neighbourhood Policy will be the progressive drawing up of Actions Plans together with partner countries. These constitute key jointly-owned policy instruments, and should be political documents that build on existing agreements and set out clearly the over-arching strategic policy targets, common objectives, political and economic benchmarks used to evaluate progress in key areas, and timetables for their attainment.
It bears repeating that in unfolding its policy, complementarity with existing frameworks and instruments should be ensured. In the Mediterranean, nine years after the launch of the Euromed partnership in Barcelona in 1995, its objectives of building a Euro-Mediterranean free trade area, peaceful and prosperous, remain more pertinent than ever.
Six years only separate us from 2010, the target date for the achievement of the free-trade area. Yet, while co-operative relations between the European Union and the Mediterranean partner countries have improved over the last decade, the evolution of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership has not been as rapid as many had expected or hoped when the Partnership was first launched.
The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership has struggled to maintain momentum as different sub-regional dynamics in the different parts of the Mediterranean have made it a very hard task to formulate and deliver a common programme of action among its members. Additionally, the Euromed agenda has long been overshadowed by the crisis in the Middle East, crowding out other issues and often straining relations between participants.
This has complicated Euro-Mediterranean Partnership proceedings, sometimes to the point of paralysis.
How are the EU’s relations with Mediterranean countries to be revitalised?
Certainly, the European Neighbourhood Policy should aim to lead to stronger bilateral relationships with the Mediterranean countries that will give them a stake in the European project and tangible benefits, thus truly forming a ‘ring of friends’ based on shared interests and values. It should provide a new impetus for relations with our Southern neighbours, and a good basis for developing a new range of policies.
In the context of a reduced present capacity to make rapid progress in the wider framework of the Euromed process – largely due to the stifling effect that the Middle East crisis has on positive development - the EU should actively seek to refocus some of its efforts towards the sub-regional level, not at the expense of the larger Euromed process, but as a means of enriching it. Such co-operation, an objective that the Barcelona Declaration of November 1995 had already envisaged, should also ensure that, when the political climate becomes more conducive towards faster development of the Euromed partnership as a whole, the groundwork will have already been laid for such development to become more achievable.
The commitment to support further sub-regional cooperation that the EU made in the April 2002 Valencia Action Plan is a welcome development that will hopefully be followed by serious political and technical support for sub- regional initiatives that have once again emerged across the Mediterranean. Progress on thorny issues – such as illegal immigration or the fight against organised crime – can sometimes be made in a smaller, more closely-knit group, even when agreement is more difficult to reach in a larger forum.
At this rather tense stage in world affairs it also makes sense for the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership countries to define a set of practical confidence building measures that will improve the political climate and facilitate the management and containment of the large number of security challenges that risk upsetting stability across the Euro-Med area. The long list of “soft” security issues that could derail the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership – and that therefore could usefully be the subject of joint co-operation - include maritime safety, environmental pollution, narcotics trafficking, and the flow of illegal migration.
We are at the very beginning of a process that should bring the enlarged EU to further deepen its relations with its neighbours and speed up the achievement of our goal to have a solid ring of friends around us. Under the skilful stewardship of Commissioner Verheugen we have seen an extremely promising launching of this process, and it is clear to all that sustained efforts, staunch political commitment and considerable resources will be necessary to reach our objective.
I wish to reiterate my conviction that this is not a process we can decide to opt out of. In a global world, where economies are closely intertwined and people are highly mobile, our well-being and our security are closely dependant on our neighbours’ stability and prosperity. Enlargement brings with it significant opportunities, and provides us with this new challenge of incentivising our neighbours to engage with us in a harmonisation process based on shared values and objectives.
As a member of the European Commission, I want to contribute vigorously towards this objective.