We are here to discuss the Barcelona Process and the preparations of the next meeting of the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly. But before we get to the let me say a few words about the recent events in the Palestinian Territories.
This is not only topical; it goes to the heart of our Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, to our shared objective of a region of peace, security prosperity and opportunity. I fail to see how any of the actions yesterday in any way contribute to that objective.
The Israeli attack on the Jericho prison and their public treatment of prison guards and inmates is unacceptable and should be condemned. I also deplore the violence, the kidnappings and the attacks on Commission and other offices in Gaza and the West Bank. The first ones to suffer from this breakdown in law and order are indeed the Palestinian people themselves.
In current circumstances, with key political deadlines ahead in both Israel and the Palestinian Territories, it is more important than ever that both parties show restraint and responsibility. Attacks like yesterday and provocative statements do nothing to improve prospects. And the Palestinian Authority must put an end to violence and insecurity.
I had a good discussion yesterday evening with President Abbas, before he returned to deal with the mounting spiral of violence and confrontation. He is doing one of the most difficult jobs in the world just now – and it was not made any easier by yesterday’s events. How he manages to compose the new PA government will affect the prospects for peace in the Middle East and has repercussions for us all.
The EU is a reliable partner of the Palestinian people. No donor has done more to help them. I reiterated to President Abbas that we want to pursue our support for a better, peaceful and prosperous future; but that we leave the door open to positive developments, but that we stand firm on principles.
All future assistance to the new PA Government will be reviewed against its positions on the key principles of an end to violence, recognition of Israel, and existing agreements including the Road Map. Those with whom President Abbas negotiates must know and understand that their decisions on these issues will have important repercussions.
Mr President, Honourable Members of Parliament,
Let me now turn back the main subject of this evening’s debate, the status and outlook of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. And let me say at the outset: the Partnership, in my view, is doing a lot better than its reputation.
The Barcelona Summit last November achieved notable results for the future. The 5-year Work Programme agreed at the Summit as well as the Code of Conduct on countering terrorism constitute an ambitious agenda which will render the partnership more tangible, more politically relevant and more operational.
To follow up on the summit, we must now ensure constructive and effective contributions by all partners to attain the commonly agreed objectives on political and economic reform, growth and job creation, human rights and gender issues, education, and management of migration, as well as regional stability and the fight against terrorism.
The Commission has already launched work on the implementation of the 5-year Programme. Initiatives have been taken with the current and incoming Council Presidencies as well as with Mediterranean partners to ensure the success of this common endeavour. And we have reserved appropriate funding for assistance and support provided through the MEDA and future European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instruments, including a substantial facility to encourage progress on governance reform, that we call governance facility.
As of this year, several new and innovative activities will be launched:
Preparations are well under way to organise the first Euromed Ministerial meeting on gender issues at the end of the year. Two sub-regional conferences, one in the Maghreb and one in the Machrek, will pave the way for government and civil society representatives to examine the importance of gender equality for economic and social development and propose practical measures to improve women’s access to jobs and public life.
At the Barcelona Summit, EuroMed Partners highlighted the importance of migration, social integration, justice and security as issues of common interest in the Partnership, which should be addressed through a balanced and comprehensive approach. Work has started to prepare a Ministerial meeting to tackle all these issues in order to ensure co-ordinated actions against illegal migration, trafficking in human beings and people smuggling, while enhancing the benefits of regulated migration flows for all partners in the Mediterranean and the EU.
This regional initiative is complemented by our bilateral programmes aimed at strengthening institutional capacities, managing legal migration, improving border controls, and fighting illegal immigration and people trafficking.
At the upcoming Trade ministerial meeting in Marrakech on 24 March my colleague Peter Mandelson will reflect with colleagues on priority issues to advance the objective of a Euro-Mediterranean Free Trade Area. He will launch the negotiations to liberalise trade in services, and he will take stock of the preparations for the further liberalisation of trade in agriculture and fishery products. Work at the regional level has already resulted in substantial progress on standards and technical regulations, on trade facilitation and on rules of origin.
We would have hoped to see similar progress on (south-south) trade liberalisation between Mediterranean partners – the so-called Agadir Process. This is essential to pave the way to real and sustainable economic progress in all partners.
The so-called cartoons crisis has highlighted the dangers of leaving prejudice, misinformation and misunderstanding to fester. The Commission regrets the offence caused by these cartoons to Muslims across the world. We strongly condemn all violent acts and threats against individuals and property, of the European Union as well as of other countries.
These events have also underlined more than ever the need to support intercultural dialogue at all levels. I am glad that this was offered very strongly in Salzburg. We are convinced that the Barcelona Process offers an effective framework and a set of useful tools for the promotion of diversity and mutual respect. As many of you know, the Commission has presented a number of ideas to bring into play EuroMed networks, particularly through the Anna Lindh Foundation, as well as to reach out to civil society and opinion leaders and to strengthen the involvement of media. The media seminars held by the Austrian Presidency in the run-up to the Barcelona summit provide a good basis and the seminar on “racism and xenophobia in the media”, which will take place in Vienna in May 2006 is even more timely than when we started planning it last year.
In this context, I would also like to particularly welcome the initiative to exchange views on inter cultural understanding and co-operation in the EuroMed Parliamentary Assembly. I will also go to Khartoum to the Arab League Summit, because I think it is highly important that we now use every opportunity to talk to Arab friends and colleagues.
At this critical juncture, our message is clear. It is through a vigorous but peaceful dialogue of opinions with full respect of freedom of expression that understanding can be deepened and respect can be built. Indeed, this is the very essence of the Barcelona Process: Only based on mutual respect and understanding, developed through dialogue and exchange at every level of society, can we hope to progress, together, towards the realisation of our common objectives of stability, security and prosperity for all peoples around the Mediterranean.
Thank you very much.