Catherine Ashton delivered a wide ranging speech on the latest developments in the European Union's common foreign, security and defence policy on Wednesday, 23 October at the European Parliament.
The EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy said at the beginning of her speech that her three key priorities when she took up her position were: establishing the European External Action Service (EEAS), strengthening relations with and ensuring lasting change with countries in the EU's Southern and Eastern Neighbourhood, building and deepening relations with the EU's strategic partners.
Catherine Ashton told the European Parliament in Strasbourg that four years after her nomination and three years after the creation of the EEAS, the EU has now a functioning 21st century EEAS with 141 delegations "which represents and projects Europe’s policies and values across the world. Today we have a network of 141 Delegations across the world and a professional staff in Brussels with global expertise. The Service combines the best of the Commission, Council Secretariat and Member States and soon also the European Parliament." The High Representative reiterated that the work of the EEAS does not take away from the role of national diplomacy, but rather stressed "that there things we can do together that we cannot do alone."
Turning to Europe's Southern Neighbours Catherine Ashton said: "the events of the Arab Awakening profoundly changed the dynamic in that part of the world. The EU response to these events was comprehensive designed to strengthen the move towards positive change and to embed deep and lasting democracy."
She went on to say that "political and economic support has been targeted to incentivise reform, to promote inclusiveness – particularly the role of women and youth – and to mobilise all forces in society including civil society and the private sector."
The EU response had been based on "the concept of Task Forces to bring together all the European institutions, International Financial Institutions as well as the private sector to develop tailor made solutions to each country's problems. But they are not only about economics: they also give support to civil society and human rights groups, helping them develop the institutions that give roots to deep democracy - democracy that goes beyond elections, based on institutions, rule of law and a society that gives equal chances to everybody, including the weakest. "
Catherine Ashton said. "This approach has been successful in our cooperation with Tunisia and Jordan. Much remains to be done in Libya."
On Egypt Ashton said. "The EU has a unique role. We have built a strong reputation, we are a trusted interlocutor and I remain able to speak with all sides in Egypt to provide a constant message that an inclusive process is the best guarantee of future stability in Egypt and that stability is required if we are able to deal with the country's political and economic problems."
Catherine Ashton went on to say that "despite recent events I remain able to speak to all sides, including the Muslim Brotherhood. My message remains constant: an inclusive political process is the best guarantee of future stability in Egypt - and that stability is required if we are swiftly to deal with the country's political and economic problems."
Turning to Syria, the High Representative said that "in our efforts to support Syria we coordinate closely with all partners on the bilateral, multilateral and inter-institutional levels. The only solution to the Syria crisis is a political one. That is why we are working hard to support the US/Russia efforts to re-start the Geneva Process and why I will be attending the Geneva II meeting later in November."
She also said that "in addition to the political efforts, the EU, with Member States, also remains the largest donor in dealing with the humanitarian emergency, with €2 billion of humanitarian, development and stabilisation assistance in both Syria and its neighbours."
She went on to say that "we are also working on improving the operational capacity of the Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC) who I met most recently in New York. In parallel, the EU has identified a range of financial and technical measures in support of the OPCW's efforts to decommission Syria's chemical weapons."
Ahead of a crucial Eastern Partnership Summit in November (where Ukraine could sign an Association Agreement with a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with the European Union), she said that "in the case of Ukraine, we received positive indications that it will meet the EU's expectations so that we can to sign the Association Agreement in Vilnius."
She went on to say that "delivery on three issues will be a crucial sign of Ukraine's determination: improved legislation on electoral process, a move to adopt ambitious reform of the General Prosecutor's Office and get rid of selective justice."
She went on "In that context, there also needs to be a definitive progress in the case of Yulia Tymoshenko – and on this I welcome and fully support the efforts by Mr Cox and Mr Kwasniewski."
Turning to Serbia and Kosovo Catherine Ashton went on to say that "over the last 12 months I have regularly sat down with the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo, building on careful groundwork. Taking a strategic perspective, and being willing to invest time and resources, has paid off. In New York I had bilaterals with President Nikolic and Prime Minister Thaçi, where we discussed progress towards the elections in Kosovo – following the successful brokering of the agreement between the two sides. I have since met them in Brussels, and I will do so again in two weeks' time. We have come a very long way in only 12 months."
On Myanmar/Burma she said "we also have a good story to tell in our broader efforts in support of countries in transition. In November we will have a Task Force meeting in Myanmar/Burma. The country has embarked on a remarkable process of reform. But dealing with the legacy of conflict, poverty, oppression and weak institutions will be the work of decades. The EU stands ready to help. I have spent the weekend with Aung San Suu Kyi and I am delighted she has been here in Strasbourg to collect her Sakarov prize after 23 years." The prize was presented at a special ceremony chaired by European Parliament President, Martin Schulz. The Parliament awarded the Sakharov Prize to Aung San Suu Kyi in 1990 in recognition of her fight for democracy and the rule of law in Myanmar/Burma, while she was under house arrest.
On the EU's Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) Catherine Ashton said that "it is also important to stress that CSDP is an important and integral part of the EU's policy options". She reminded Members of the European Parliament that the EU has considerable operational expertise: 30 missions on three continents over the last 15 years. Currently 7000 civilian and military personnel are deployed as part of EU civilian and military missions and operations. For instance the maritime operation Atalanta has drastically reduced the problem of piracy off the Somali coast and in Afghanistan the EU mission has trained 5000 Afghan police officers.
Catherine Ashton was asked by the European Council last year to develop proposals to further strengthen CSDP. She presented her interim report in July and her final report on 11 October. To conclude her statement in the European Parliament she said "we need to be able to act through CSDP, as a security provider in the neighbourhood and at the international level to protect our interests and projects and values."
She also stressed the fact that the defence industry is a driver for jobs, growth and innovation. "With a turnover of €96 billion in 2012, the European defence industry brings a major contribution to the growth of the wider economy. It directly employs about 400,000 highly-skilled people. Its multiplier effect generates up to another 960,000 indirect jobs."
This joint debate in the European Parliament on CFSP and CSDP was a perfect example of the comprehensive approach. The Comprehensive approach is what makes the EU unique. "The strength of EU foreign policy lies in our ability to respond to a crisis with a wide range of tools and instruments, short and long term, humanitarian and development, security and political. This is an approach that we believe is particularly suited to tackling the new security challenges we face today."