”Europe and the Middle East – an ever-evolving partnership”, puhe Egyptissä, 3.4.2005

Address by Minister for Foreign Affairs Erkki Tuomioja at the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs on 3 April 2005.

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour for me to be able to address the Egyptian Council of Foreign Affairs today.

I want to thank the Council members for the warm welcome that I have received here and for offering me this opportunity to exchange views on some topical issues of international relevance. This is the first day of my short tour in the Middle East, starting from Egypt and continuing through Israel, Palestine and Jordan. But what would be a more appropriate place to start this tour than Cairo – the Jewel of the Orient.

The title of my speech – ”Europe and the Middle East – an Ever-Evolving Partnership” – is self-explanatory. It illustrates the nature of the relations between our two regions – or at least how we want to see it. Europe and the Middle East are close to each other geographically and share a common history, and the geographical reality underpins our growing interdependence.

I also want to underline the word ”partnership”. Despite the difficulty of fully grasping the political meaning of ”partnership”, the term is widely used and, for many people, ”a partnership” conveys a picture of an ideal state of equality, equity, and harmonious cooperation. And that is the way we want to understand it as well.

In my remarks, I would like to approach certain issues from the Finnish perspective – why the Middle East matters to us and how we would like to respond to current challenges. It should not come as a surprise to anyone that in many ways this perspective is a broader European view as I represent one of the Member States of the European Union – a Member State that will hold the EU Presidency for the second half of 2006.

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I think that it is appropriate to start my remarks with some reflections on the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. This year, the 10th anniversary of the Barcelona Process offers us an opportunity for looking back and seeing what has been accomplished. Obviously it is still too early to try to make any final analysis of the impacts of this process on our relations and on the partnership countries themselves. Therefore, it is perhaps more fruitful to assess the effectiveness of the mechanisms and instruments and see if anything has been learned.

Before going into details, I must state the obvious. Twenty-two states border the Mediterranean Sea, and Finland is not one of them. You might therefore ask why we care. I will give you as short an answer as I can.

During the ten years of EU membership, Finland has learned that the best way of defending national interests is to look for the common good and to support efforts to make the EU stronger both internally and in its external policies. European integration as a peace project, bringing stability and prosperity to the whole continent; it is based on opening of frontiers and dismantling of old barriers and on the recognition that everyone will benefit when we work together on the basis of our common interests. That is the case also concerning our external relations and common foreign and security policy. Access to a wide range of instruments for external action is one of the EU’s strengths.

The Barcelona Process was launched during the first year of our EU membership in 1995, and we expressed our support for that undertaking from the very beginning. We believed then – as we still do – that the advancement of the common goals of the EU is conditional upon an active participation and commitment of all partners. The national interests must be seen in a comprehensive context. That is why also the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership matters to us.

As we know, the Barcelona Declaration of November l995 set in motion a process designed to create a new zone of peace and prosperity around the borders of the Mediterranean Sea. The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership offered both shores of the Mediterranean Sea an unprecedented opportunity for sustained, mutually beneficial cooperation. The potential advantages of the Mediterranean partnership are extensive, including peace, stability, economic development, improved governance and communication, technical, social, cultural and environmental cooperation.

But such impressive results cannot be taken for granted as has become evident during the last ten years. I think we have been honest about this and, whenever necessary, stated it clearly. Despite the crucial importance of the region, it has been repeatedly recognised both among politicians and scholars that the Barcelona Process has not made sufficient progress. The EU therefore decided to make amendments to the process in 2000. The Member States agreed to a Common Strategy and the Commission published a Communication which identified the weaknesses of the process and outlined certain recommendations in order to reinvigorate the process.

The European Commission argued that after its first five years of operation, the concept and policies of the Barcelona Process were correct. The Commission refrained from criticising the fundamentals of the partnership and the EU’s political will to implement it, and focused instead on specific areas of difficulty. In particular, it was argued that problems in the Middle East peace process had held back progress in regional cooperation. But this was, of course, not the only factor. The negotiation and ratification of the framework bilateral agreements between the EU and the Mediterranean partners was also very slow.

There were also weaknesses in the policy related to what economic issues were emphasised. We expected economic liberalisation to automatically spill over to other fields of reform and lead towards political liberalisation. However, this was a miscalculation.

This year is an important one for the Euro-Mediterranean relations. The Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly met already here in Cairo last month. At the end of May, the Euro-Mediterranean Foreign Ministers will meet in Luxembourg for their 7th formal meeting. And in November we will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Barcelona Declaration, with a conference in the very same city that saw the birth of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership in 1995.

At the same time, the credibility of the Barcelona Process will be expanded in other ways. The new Anna Lindh Foundation, which will be opened soon in Alexandria, will bring new added value by concentrating primarily on the third dimension including civil society. The credibility of the Foundation builds on several pillars, and the location of its premises south of the Mediterranean provides a better opportunity for the Arab partners to participate in the meetings. Journalists, artists and youth will hopefully also actively contribute to the Foundation.

In all of these meetings, it is important to discuss future guidelines. The Commissioner for External Relations, Ms Ferrero-Waldner, has already indicated that she has two broad objectives in mind in this regard.

The first is to enhance the impact of our policies thus contributing to the pursuit of reform, peace and stability in the region. The second is to bring the partnership closer to our citizens’ concerns. The Barcelona Process has mainly been an inter-governmental process. It has lacked visibility and presence at the grassroots level. It is high time we ask ourselves what the partnership can do to respond to the concerns of the people. How can we more successfully tackle issues such as education, employment, gender equality, democracy, the free movement of people, and migrants’ rights? The peoples in the region need to perceive the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership as a workable and effective programme that brings peace and progress. NGOs play a crucial role in this.

There are other things we can do as well, especially in the long term. As Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner has also said, we should reflect on how we can best use the Barcelona Process to contribute to the Middle East Peace Process. We should also address the issue of political reform with our partners and work together with you on the practical aspects of counter-terrorism and non-proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction.

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Attempts to bring new life to the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership have found new ways of expression. From now on some countries in the Middle East will also benefit from the new European Neighbourhood Policy, which will generate new partnerships.

The European Neighbourhood Policy confirms the principles and philosophy behind the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, but introduces a new methodological principle of differentiation. After the latest round of enlargement, we had to recognise that a new EU Neighbourhood Policy cannot be a one-size-fits-all policy. There are namely different starting points. Regional trade and integration, for instance, is a recognised objective of the Barcelona Process, whereas the Protocol to the Partnership and Cooperation Agreements with Russia and Newly Independent States grants neither preferential treatment for trade, nor a timetable for regulatory approximation.

Differentiation in this context means also that cooperation will be defined in country-specific action plans. In the Mediterranean region, the EU has already adopted Action Plans with Jordan, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority, Tunisia, and Israel. Now we want to start the preparation of similar processes with Egypt and Lebanon. These Action Plans would open up the prospect of significantly enhanced partnerships and thus mark an important step forward in the EU’s engagement with these countries. I therefore strongly recommend that also Egypt enter these talks with an open and constructive mind.

Both the Neighbourhood Policy and the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership are essential elements of the EU’s Strategic Partnership with the Mediterranean and the Middle East, which was adopted by the European Council last June. The core objective of EU policy is to encourage, support, facilitate and promote reforms and modernisation, political pluralism, democracy, the rule of law and economic development and growth in the Middle East.

As a citizen of one of the Nordic countries, I find it natural to say something about women and development, which is a matter of major importance. Enhancing the participation of women in economic and political life should, of course, be high on any reform agenda. No country can succeed in the long run if half of its population are denied access to their basic rights.

The importance of this matter has been recognised in the Arab countries as well. The 2002 Arab Human Development Report concluded that ”Society as a whole suffers when a huge portion of its productive potential is stifled, resulting in lower family incomes and standards of living.” So critical was the empowerment of Arab women to the authors of the report that they listed it as one of three central components of a strategy for rebuilding society. The other components were human rights and freedom and the acquisition and consolidation of knowledge by Arab nations.

Fortunately, the situation is gradually changing as we can see. Last year also Egypt’s civil liberties score – by Freedom House – improved because of greater civic activism, particularly by women’s advocacy groups.

While talking about reforms I want to underline that the key word here is partnership. The strategy should be implemented in partnership with the countries willing to commit themselves to the agreed goals and methods. A partnership cannot be perceived as a one-way street. The process should be of mutual interest and consistent with the value systems of both sides.

We also believe that while democratic development can be encouraged from outside, it is not an export item and can only be built from within. I sincerely hope that this is the road that Lebanon will now resume after decades of internal strife. But the common challenges are simply too important for Europe to stay on the sidelines of this debate. The role of a supporter suits Europeans well. As Mr Solana, the EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, recently wrote: ”The values of democracy and human rights are in our collective DNA, they are enshrined in the constitution and have been the basis of the EU since it began.”

The thinking behind the EU’s Strategic Partnership is not unique. It is one of the many initiatives that are meant to lead to the same goals. Concrete results are hard to reach but we have already noted that the whole discourse has changed. Hardly anyone calls into question the necessity of reforms any more. The question is now what kinds of reforms are needed and how to implement them.

There are also people who think that the reform agenda should be expanded and that it is time to integrate the issue of security sector reform into the discussion. Only in Iraq and Palestine is the international community involved in the security sector reform. In these two cases, this is a consequence of the acute shortfalls in security capacity.

In many countries, the problem is the opposite: those in charge of security exercise too much political clout and coercive measures, and leaders and security officials tend to postpone or avoid reforms. Security sector reforms have clear implications for and connections with political reform. The promotion of political reform without changes in the security sector and efforts to bring it under democratic control will not necessarily work.

Here I want to make brief reference to our cooperation with the United States. Transatlantic cooperation on the Middle East democracy promotion has indeed advanced further than was generally expected since the G8 summit at Sea Island launched the Broader Middle East and North Africa –initiative last June. Many of the EU’s objectives related to the region are shared by the US, and we are more likely to achieve them together. The EU and the US can do more for the region by means of working side by side and reinforcing the common objectives than by pursuing the same ends separately. This does not mean that we always agree. We may share the basic objectives, but there are also acknowledged differences particularly concerning approaches leading to the goals.

We can hope that after the difficult first term of the Bush administration, we will see more dialogue and coordination during the second one. We expect this at least concerning a range of sensitive Middle East issues, not only in the MEPP but also in respect of nuclear diplomacy on Iran and the ongoing push for freedom in Lebanon. But both the EU and the US also want to see stability in Iraq and a lasting solution to the Palestinian and Israeli problem.

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Europe and the whole world are truly interested in finding out how they could work together with the Arab states and bring an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict. This has a direct link to the debate on reform. Moreover, our credibility in the eyes of the Arab world requires our full involvement in international efforts to resolve this longstanding conflict.

While we readily embrace the perspective of a democratic transformation of the Arab states, it is not in any sense a precondition for political engagement, especially not for a serious engagement in the Middle East peace process. On the other hand, we cannot use the continuing Israeli-Palestinian dispute as a pretext for not addressing democratic reforms in the Arab world.

Even though the UNDP recognises in its reports that the Arab-Israeli conflict has been both a cause and an excuse for slow Arab development, they do not entirely accept that explanation. We should also firmly and repeatedly reject the use of this argument as an excuse, because it is against the interests of the countries of the region. It is clear that neither reform nor progress on the peace process can be a precondition for the other.

Yet there can be no long-term stability without a final solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. A peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would have an extremely positive impact on the whole region. That is why the EU, together with other members of the Quartet, must and will continue to pursue this end as a top priority. We still see the Road Map as the basis for reaching a negotiated agreement resulting in two viable, sovereign and independent states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. This vision is not only shared by the Quartet but is also endorsed in the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1515.

Today the Israeli-Palestinian relations are at a uniquely promising, yet fragile stage. After more than four years of violence and despair, which have produced a legacy of deep mutual mistrust, a cease-fire has taken hold in the West Bank and Gaza. But whether Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and President Mahmud Abbas can rebuild an Israeli-Palestinian partnership and lay the foundations for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will depend on events over the next few months. All possible help should be channelled to address the many remaining challenges.

One of the biggest challenges is Israel’s disengagement from Gaza. Every party – Israelis, Palestinians, the Arab neighbours and Europeans, Americans – has a shared interest in making this withdrawal a success. This requires a serious commitment to security and law and order. In this conjunction I want to say how much we Europeans appreciate Egypt’s contribution.

But it is equally important to improve the catastrophic economic and social situation across the Palestinian territories. We therefore need to contribute to rapid progress in the fields of labour, social services and rebuilding of infrastructure.

Moreover, for the Gaza disengagement plan to work, the Palestinians need a political perspective. It is not realistic to assume that Israelis and Palestinians could resume the permanent status talks immediately, but we simply cannot stay with interim arrangements forever either. Now a balance must be struck between an emphasis on interim arrangements to strengthen trust and confidence and, at the same time, to provide a clear direction to the process. For Palestinians, the outcome can only be a negotiated two-state solution, ending the occupation that began in 1967.

In this context, the ongoing Israeli construction of more settlements in the occupied territories clearly undermines both the credibility of Israeli commitment to the peace process and the goal of a viable Palestinian state and should come to an immediate end.

During our deliberations, we must seek to ensure that the ability of the Palestinian Authority to function as the central governing organisation in the Palestinian territories will be maintained. This requires implementation of reforms as envisaged in the Road Map. Upcoming parliamentary elections are a test criterion of willingness and ability to continue the reforms. The EU stands ready to assist the process.

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There are of course other developments in the Middle East, too, and some of them are very encouraging.

In Lebanon, we have seen the power of people in action, particularly the young. Europe and the whole international community are united and request the government of Syria to fully comply with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559 and withdraw from Lebanon. This should take place without any delay. After that the priority issue is safeguarding of democracy in Lebanon, including the holding of free and fair parliamentary elections. The EU is ready to assist in this process, provided that the Lebanese people so wish. The bottom-line is that we want to see a new government chosen without foreign interference, and acting in the interests of the Lebanese people.

However, I am afraid that the restoration of democracy in Lebanon will not be a cure-all for the nation’s problems. We have to think what maintains the balance in Lebanon after Syria’s withdrawal.

Moving further to the east I am pleased to note that in Iraq we have entered a new and more positive phase – both for Iraq itself and as concerns the US-European relations. The images of the Iraqi voters were encouraging. Some 8.5 million people defied intimidation and voted in democratic elections.

In the current situation, the best and, indeed, the only option is to continue the process set out in UN Security Council resolution 1546. The political process and the strengthening of Iraqi security services will hopefully lead to the reduction of violence. While the UN takes on more responsibility in Iraq, also European engagement is increasing. We are preparing a concrete package of integrated and tailor-made measures: plans to train judges, police and other officials. Our training efforts will be accompanied by an additional aid package of 200 million euros on top of the 350 million euros already spent by the European Union. For their part, individual Member States have already pledged some 2.2 billion euros for the reconstruction of Iraq.

Lastly I want to say something about Iran – a sophisticated, but complicated country to deal with. Its recent history has been tragic in many ways. It is therefore not surprising that, in the light of that history, many Iranians are profoundly suspicious of the outside world. And it is not surprising either that many other countries are deeply suspicious of Iran. Iran has conducted a whole range of nuclear activities and experiments without declaring them to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran, like every other signatory of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, has every right to a peaceful nuclear programme.

But we need guarantees that it is peaceful. Our explicit objective is to stop nuclear proliferation especially in this unstable region, with the ultimate aim of a fully nuclear-weapons-free Middle East. The last thing we would like to have is a nuclear arms race. The EU is committed to working for a diplomatic solution to this programme. Acting on behalf of the EU, the United Kingdom, Germany and France are doing their best in order to find one.

Iran can benefit a great deal by giving objective guarantees of the peaceful nature of its nuclear programme. If we remove the obstacles for cooperation, it is possible to imagine Iran as one of the key players in the region.

With this I will conclude my remarks and I am ready to hear your questions.

Thank you.