EP Debate: EU’s commitment to promote regional stability and security in the Middle East


Speech delivered by Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Oliver Várhelyi, on behalf of High-Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell

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Dear Madame President, Honourable Members [of the European Parliament],  

The broader Middle East region remains of fundamental interest to the European Union. Let me therefore thank you for this timely debate and for your focus on this important and very diverse region. 

We cannot afford turning a blind eye: our future, prosperity, stability and security depend too much on how we manage our relations with our wider neighbourhood, including the Southern Neighbours and the Near and Middle East.  

This is why the European Union has presented a new Agenda for the Mediterranean last year and a new Strategy for the Gulf this year, both concerning the wider Middle East. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you, Honourable Members, again for the strong support to the Gulf Strategy. 

We are already implementing [it], working actively to increase and strengthen our engagement with partners in the region, at all levels. 

Among the most visible examples, in November alone, President [of the European Commission, Ursula] von der Leyen participated in the Manama Dialogue in Bahrain, High-Representative/Vice-President [Josep] Borrell met numerous regional Foreign Ministers who, like him, [attended the Sir Bani Yas Forum in the United Arab Emirates], and Vice-President [for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis] Schinas visited Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. This week, High Representative/Vice-President Borrell will co-chair the Ministerial [meeting] with our Southern Neighbours and participate in the Regional Forum of the Union for the Mediterranean, in Barcelona.

The objective of such exchanges is clear: implementing the various work-strands of those two new initiatives - in particular, green transition and climate change, energy, trade and economic diversification and socio-economic recovery, while we continue our engagement on pre-existing dialogues, including on human rights.  

In the case of the Southern Neighbourhood, we hope that the Economic and Investment Plan will contribute to spur challenges that go from the most urgent humanitarian needs to the longer-term socio-economic challenges, development, regional stability and global security, just to name only a few.  

Still, as for any other region, there is no “one-size-fits-all”. The breadth of areas we are mentioning also reflects the diversity of countries in the region, some enduring conflicts since decades, others stable and with thriving economies. 

Our cooperation with the Middle East region in its broad sense has become even more relevant since the Russian attack on Ukraine. The region is suffering the consequences of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, particularly when it comes to food security. But this region plays a key role as well in countering and mitigating the consequences of the Russian war, be it as a major provider of energy for the European Union or as donor and supporter of the countries particularly affected. 

Our engagement across the region also aims to contribute to the Abraham Accords. Ultimately, we aim to support the Arab-Israeli reconciliation and peace. We are actively engaged in sectors where opportunities for new partnerships exist or will arise. For instance, we are advancing well to cooperate with Israel and Morocco in the field of water management. 

Europe should not only start understanding the new regional dynamics since the Abraham Accords, but it should also learn to speak this language, let alone seize the new opportunities for business, people, trade travel and security. 

The European Union is catching up quickly with the Gulf region. In this new world, we need strong allies, and the Gulf is an important one for the European Union. 

We welcome the decision of this Parliament to also intensify the contacts with partners. We welcome the fact that the AFET [Committee] Chair [David McAllister] and colleagues will be travelling to the region soon. In your visits, you will be able to see at first hand that this is a region in full transformation, including in the field of human rights. 

All Gulf States now have regular Human Rights Dialogues with the European Union. It is telling that, in the last four years, we have gone from two Human Rights Dialogues to six, one with each of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. Of course, there are challenges. Therefore, we engage and continue to encourage further reforms. 

We also need to bring our populations closer. This is why, we have proposed to start exempting the Gulf countries from the visa requirement and we strongly encourage you to support this initiative. 

Another issue on which we intend to step up cooperation with the Gulf is regional security. Also in this regard, we thank you for your support, in particular for what we call the European Union’s issues-oriented confidence building approach. High Representative/Vice-President Borrell will soon propose to appoint an EU Special Representative for the Gulf, who will play a central role in this. 

With regards to security, we just mentioned in our previous exchange that international oversight on Iran’s nuclear programme remains a priority. It is in the interest of peace and security of the region. Even if the way ahead is not easy and, indeed, other important issues, including on human rights or Iran’s contribution to the Russian aggression against Ukraine remain of our outmost concern, and certainly have to be addressed.  

Before concluding, let me touch briefly on a few other important issues in the region. 

The Israel-Lebanon delineation agreement is a positive development as well as normalisation agreements. We also need to remain fully committed to the Middle East Peace Process.  

On Lebanon, the European Union is keeping up the pressure, calling the government to organise Presidential elections and deliver on the reforms required by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which are extremely urgent. 

On Syria, where the situation is worse than ever, the European Union remains one of the leading actors. We are already working towards the seventh Syria Conference next year. Counterterrorism remains a key challenge in Syria and the entire region. The European Union’s Strategic Compass for Security and Defence presents a new, broader framework for engagement.  

Last but not least, on Yemen, we keep supporting the efforts of UN Special Envoy [Hans] Grundberg. 

Time is limited and I will stop here, as I am looking forward to our exchange. 

Thank you for your attention. 

Link to the video (starting from 06:23): https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-233415  

Closing remarks  

Thank very much you for this exchange. 

The comprehensive Report on the Middle East that you are presenting today testifies your strong interest in the region. Rest assured that we will thoroughly analyse and consider all recommendations included in your Report. 

It is timely that the AFET [Committee] Chair [David McAllister] and colleagues will soon follow-up on it with a mission to the region. In your visit, you will be able to see, at first hand, that this is a region in full transformation, including in the field of human rights.  Parliamentary diplomacy is paramount for the success of our foreign policy.  

Finally, to Ms [Hannah] Neumann [Member of the European Parliament], let me give you just one figure: in the last cycle of appointments, we have appointed 46% of all Heads of Delegations to be women. Only 20% of all the applicants were women. We are working on this task, and this is not going to come about within just one year.  

Thank you. 

Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-233417 

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