Remarks by High Representative Catherine Ashton at the AFET Committee, European Parliament, Brussels, 20 March 2012 (21/03/2012)
Mr President I want to begin by saying something that is very very important to me because I am really saddened by the distortion of my remarks yesterday at the UNRWA event.
I condemn unreservedly the terrible murders at the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse yesterday and extend my sympathy to the families and friends of the victims, to the people of France and to the Jewish community.
At yesterday's event I drew no parallel whatsoever between this tragedy and events elsewhere in the Middle East.
Mr President several topics you have raised for our discussion today and I will if I may in my opening remarks try and paint a picture around some of them and give you a flavour but I am sure that in our conversation as always we will be able to go into greater detail.
I begin with the Gymnich in Copenhagen because some of the issue that you Mr President have rightfully raised were reflected in our discussions there. We looked at three main areas. The first was how we do our foreign policy in the current economic climate; human rights; and how to deliver change in 3rd countries through pressure and incentives from the EU. Let me just briefly comment on each.
In terms of our foreign policy in this current climate we need to be strategic and we need to use our resources that we know are best used when we deliver at a European level; in other words, issues where we are strong at 27. I have confirmed the priorities that I have set out at the beginning of my time in office: to establish a strong foreign policy office, to be effective in our neighbourhood which is where we will be judged and develop our strategic partners through our bilateral relations and also because we work closely with different partners to tackle some of the big issues that we face.
We discussed how to do more with less; the synergies; how to cooperate better with Member States, how to use our money more effectively; e.g. the joint work between the EEAS and Member States on South Sudan.
And we looked at how our delegations could improve the local cooperation with Member States including offering space to national diplomats in our delegations, the setting up of European Houses for EU and for national representations to be able to come together in one place and to gain the economies of scale and to gain the opportunities of working together.
Mr President we have also talked about human rights. I have often described this as the silver thread that runs through all that we do. I want to confirm to the committee our intention to propose the special representative for Human Rights as part of a package to put into practice the Joint Communication. We want to have an action plan; we want to be action oriented in our work on human rights and we want a political declaration on what we want to achieve and how. And we will of course work closely with you.
Mr President, everything we do on human rights needs to be woven in, be part of every single thing we do. We discussed particularly freedom of religion and belief, a sensitive and a complex issue. We recognized the problems and difficulties faced by Christian minorities at the present time. And we recognized the importance of our working with them but within the context too of addressing all forms of discrimination against those who have faith and those who have no religious belief. And we talked too about how to work on the continuum as I described it between isolation and engagement. Working with countries with whom we need to establish strong relations in order to support our objectives but also in support of our views, values and beliefs. We have a range of different tools at our disposal, through the kind of restrictive measures that I believe have made change in Burma/Myanmar to diplomatic pressure, recalling our ambassadors from Belarus, to the positive incentives in our neighbourhood strategy we described as "more for more".
Mr President you know that sanctions attract a lot of media attention but they are never divorced from wider political initiatives. We cannot isolate the impact of sanctions from other initiatives which can exert influence on a regime or situation. Sanctions are never applied in isolation and they shouldn't be judged in isolation either. Very much in line with the report that Sir Graham Watson gave on sanctions on behalf of the Parliament.
And on incentives, well we have many. We have the more for more approach I've mentioned, we have what we call the 3 M's: money, mobility, market access. We have trade, development cooperation and the need for us always to continue our dialogue with civil society or with the opposition. That applies in Belarus and it applies in Syria. And we've developed the new concept of the Task Force which we recently worked with Tunisia and with Jordan on, bringing together in a comprehensive way the financial organizations, the European institutions, the European Parliament, with those who can offer the economic and political support to help countries going through change, transitioning from one form to another. We also of course as you are aware, Mr President, wanted to discuss the issues of the Multi-Annual Financial Framework.
The Lisbon Treaty gave the European Union the instruments to conduct a more coherent and consistent policy and we have enormous potential through the different methods that we have but our credibility depends on having the adequate tools to implement those priorities. That means I must include the Millennium Development Goals and, under our proposal, we will continue to be the world's largest supporter of the poorest and the most vulnerable through the European Development Fund and the Development Co-operation Instrument.
We also want to present ourselves as the partner of choice to our neighbourhood. Our response to the events in the context of the Arab Spring was an illustration of the added value that we can bring and this will be supported by a properly funded European Neighbourhood Instrument. And global challenges: climate change, poverty reduction, disarmament and many others can only be tackled in close cooperation with countries around the world. The EU must be able to promote its interest across the world and deepen the partnership with our partners.
The Partnership Instrument therefore is a major innovation of this package, and it is absolutely a Foreign Policy Instrument. Your Committee, Mr President, has a central role in the negotiations and its follow up. At the same time, we have to show to the citizens of Europe that we are responsible and accountable on the budget we claimed for the years to come. We have to look for the value for money and that means prioritising our work to where we can really make a difference. I know that the European Parliament shares our ambition to play a more prominent role on the regional and global scene and I do hope that I can look forward to your support on the MFF.
I want to talk briefly about our relations with regional organisations particularly in the Arab World. Mr President, we know that regional solutions are needed for regional problems. We have worked with the Union for the Mediterranean which can play a very special role as a unique forum where we bring together 43 partners to develop common strategies with the EU. The decision to transfer the Northern Co-presidency to EU institutions will enable us to be more coherent and complementary in our approach. The EUROMED Assembly has assured the continuity of the dialogue between the two shores of the Mediterranean since its creation. I pay tribute to the role the European Parliament has and will play in this process. I know from my discussion with President Schulz that he is committed to this on behalf of the Parliament.
We have worked as you know particularly on Libya with the League of Arab States (LAS) through the "Cairo Group". This was their initiative to bring together the UN, the African Union, the Arab League with the EU and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and through the work that we do with some of those partners we now have a group that is supporting the our work and efforts to try and support the people of Syria. We have also provided practical support by helping the LAS to set up a situation room. And I am very grateful to my colleague Agustino Miozzo for the work that he has done to help to set this up.
I also think that our work and relationship with the Gulf Cooperation Council has become increasingly important. We have a really excellent collaboration especially on Yemen. Good discussions between myself and Secretary-General Al Zayani on this and our broader interest. You will know that the GCC is looking to establish stronger ties between its own Member States and has clearly said that their integration model is the EU and has asked for our expertise and advice to achieve that goal. I have mentioned the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in the framework of our work on Syria, the Contact Group that we have established. The first meeting of that group took place on 23 February and officials have been meeting since. We know too that the changes in the Maghreb, in particular the upcoming elections in Algeria, are creating the conditions for renewed cooperation among countries in the Maghreb. The EU participation in the 5+5 meeting in Rome testifies to our readiness to support that.
I want to now turn to some of the key issues that you Mr President have raised with me. The first and the most urgent is Syria. Our priority as you know is the immediate cessation of violence and the unhindered access to humanitarian aid. We continue to engage with Russia, China with our colleagues, on a UN Security Council resolution.
The humanitarian track is important, but the outcome needs to be a political solution. I attended the meeting of the Group of Friends of Syria in Tunis on 24 February and the Contact Group on 23 February in London. They both demonstrated the strong international consensus to increase pressure on the regime. We have to maintain the momentum in the upcoming meetings. But our thoughts too are with the work of former Secretary General Kofi Annan. And to offer him support for the efforts that he is making to try and find a way through to stop the violence and to move forward with a political solution. I welcome the outcome of the ministerial meeting of the League of Arab States and the agreement they have reached with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov on 5 points which is consistent with our policy line.
We are of course looking at additional measures, additional sanctions and other possibilities. We pursue our policy against the regime, not the civilian population. And we're continuing our engagement with the Syrian opposition to whom we stress the importance of inclusiveness, the respect for democratic principles in all interactions with the opposition groups. It is so important that the people of Syria get the message of inclusiveness for their future. We now, in terms of the diplomatic presence on the ground, we have three Members States who have left and two Member States that have stopped their activities. A few diplomats who will be hosted in our delegation from other member states. And we will remain open as long as the security situation will allow, we maintain our eyes and ears on the ground.
You also raised with me, Mr President, the situation surrounding Iran and the nuclear issue. You will know that we have put in a huge amount of effort to try and find a diplomatic solution through negotiations, within the framework of what we call E3+3 and under the Security Council's mandate. The 6th March reply to the Iranian chief negotiator Dr. Jalili, and the letter I believe was sent immediately to you Mister President, reconfirmed our readiness for talks, on the understanding that Iran has to address concerns on the nuclear issue and discuss concrete confidence building steps, without pre-conditions. Our efforts to get Iran back to the table have been relentless and we have kept the unity of E3+3 and we have worked with the international community to bring them back to the table. We have strong cooperation with our colleagues, and we've been involved in outreach efforts to third countries, to those who have a specific interest and with whom we need to engage on the sanctions that we have put in place. These sanctions are critically important. We also recognize of course that the recent discussions with Iran now bring us to the point where we're ambitious in hoping that we were able to resume talks, and you will have seen that today I hosted the E3+3 political directors in order for us to continue our dialogue over the last few hours in preparation of that possibility for the future. I know too that the European Parliament takes enormous steps to recognize how dreadful the human rights situation is in Iran. We've made numerous statements calling for a halt, a moratorium on the death penalty not only on the most prominent ones, I think of Ms Sakineh, but also on journalists and bloggers sentenced to death and the Christian Pastor in recent times. We demarche directly, both in Brussels and in Tehran, whenever needed. And we have adopted sanctions on 61 Iranians in reaction to the continued repression in Iran, and we continue to look at this.
And finally Mr President, a word on South Sudan because that is a situation that we are following closely, a situation which we're fearful in term of its deterioration. As you know we've adopted a comprehensive approach to both Sudans. Our objective is two countries leaving in peace with each other. It does look as if there is may be some movement on North-South talks and I have welcomed this breakthrough when I met President Salva Kiir this morning. I laud President Mbeki for his continuing efforts and we need to work with both sides to try and reach an agreement. An agreement with the North is in the interest of the South and vice-versa. And I have made it clear with the President that we wish to support him in all his efforts. I was delighted too that the President made it clear that South Sudan wishes to accede to the Cotonou partnership agreement and he confirmed that with me when I met him this morning.
Mr President, I hope that I've captured the flavour of many issues but I recognize there is much more to talk about. I will if I may stop here and hand back to you with again.