Toespraak Hoge Vertegenwoordiger Ashton tijdens vergadering EP-commissie Buitenlandse Zaken (en)

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC), gepubliceerd op dinsdag 22 maart 2011.

Mr President, thank you very much for your introduction. Colleagues, I wanted to just take the time to pause and reflect on what has happened since we last met in this session in October. I think we can all agree that the pace of change has been relentless. I have been on 28 separate missions on behalf of the European Union since then.

And right now our focus is correctly on Libya and what is happening, the changes in our Southern neighbourhood. It crowds out everything else understandably. But I've always said that the neighbourhood is the test for the European Union; how we respond to events in our own neighbourhood determines the effectiveness of this Union and of course of the new External Action Service.

I should add as well that our thoughts in the last few days have been with the Japanese people. I met with the Foreign Minister of Japan in Paris last week. He had been in office for six days and what a six days it had been. And I sent him the good wishes of this Parliament and of all the peoples of Europe as Japan faces up to the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami.

But when I looked back on what we have been engaged in since October, I remembered that at Christmas I was busy focussing and been concerned about Côte d'Ivoire - a country that I am still concerned about is in a degree of turmoil and we still do not have a resolution satisfactorily giving President Ouattara control of his country.

We were also looking at Belarus and our concerns about the credibility of the elections and subsequently the pressure that we have put on, the difficult meetings that we have had with their Foreign Minister Martynov and the work we're continuing to do to keep the pressure on while making sure that we are engaging with the people of Belarus.

Since then, we've of course also been engaged with the Middle East Peace Process. I visited Israel twice, I met with the Palestinian Authority, I've chaired the Quartet meeting in Munich, we've had the envoys meeting here, and for the very first time the envoys under the chairmanship of Helga Schmid, our political director, have met with the negotiators from both sides.

I've twice chaired the nuclear talks with Iran, spending in each case two days trying to make progress on proposals that we have set forward to persuade Iran to turn away from the path of nuclear weapons, to recognise that it could be a civil nuclear power, and to engage with them in that process. Much time, a great deal of engagement, but I have to tell you that at this point while our proposals stay on the table and while I continue to send messages to them, we await their response.

We've also been busy working on European Union-NATO relations. An important element, not least in these times. Yesterday I was talking with Secretary General Rasmussen, and I meet with him regularly to look at how best we can engage together.

And, of course, another issue that is extremely important, and which I have been engaged with most recently, is with Moldova and Transnistria, where I am engaging with Moscow, with Foreign Minister Lavrov to discuss what we might be able to do to get these talks moving.

And as I know, many parliamentarians have followed very closely the beginnings of the Serbia-Kosovo talks. The first meeting has taken place; the second meeting will take before the end of March.

As we think about all of these different issues we are still building the new service. And I believe - and I think we can demonstrate - that at the heart of what we do is this idea that we're here to resolve conflict, to build peace and democracy, to support people's desire for their rights to be respected and for the freedoms they want to enjoy.

It's why the Serbia-Kosovo dialogue is so important; it's why Bosnia-Herzegovina needs to move from its position of being stuck to moving forward, and why yesterday at the Foreign Affairs Council we discussed the significance of the approach that I am proposing for the European Union. And in Albania Miroslav Lajcak has been engaged as my envoy to facilitate the dialogue between the Prime Minister and the opposition.

We are also thinking about Sahel and the work we need to do to support the countries of Mali, Mauritania and Niger and more broadly the Maghreb, to make sure that we are developing an approach that differentiates each country but builds an overarching strategic approach to the region to help them deal with some of the security issues, the economic issues, the concerns about drug trafficking, people trafficking, the issues that affect that region everyday.

And further down to the Horn of Africa. Not just focussing - important though it is - on piracy, but looking at how we can begin to support economically Somalia, build on African leadership - and you know that I visited the region twice last year - to ensure that we have an overarching view of what Europe can do in support of that region.

I often say that the European Union is there for the long term, that our job is to build deep democracy, to support countries in transition and change, to develop effectively the civil society, the politics, their economics so they have long term democratic institutions, long term economic prospects, and we need a service that can achieve that. Security and development, working together, building trust and building institutions. Deep democracy is built brick by brick. It's not necessarily glamorous, but it's absolutely essential.

At the same time we have to be able to act quickly, flexibly and creatively when required, like now. If you like, it's like a big tanker which is a service which is the EU, which is the institutions, but it needs a speed boat that can also manoeuvre in difficult circumstances to try and put support on the ground. And it has huge implications for how the External Action Service needs to be in the future, bearing in mind that we are still at the building stage, at the very beginning of its work. We also have to think politically and get better at acting in real-time.

It's also worth remembering that everything that we do, we do alongside our partners, and that's why we have to invest a lot of time and energy in those key relationships that matter so much to us. With the United Nations Secretary General, with whom I met many times, and whom I speak to very regularly, and whom I'll speak to again today; of course with the United States of America, with Hillary Clinton and her team, which we speak to every hour; with Secretary General Amr Moussa and the Arab League, whom I've just been talking to again this afternoon; with the African Union, with Jean Ping, with whom I spoke to again today; Secretary General Rasmussen in NATO, with whom we were talking to yesterday; with Russia, with whom we have a long and deep dialogue; with China, for the work that we're doing, not least in China's support with a number of other countries; for how they offer resources to support the transitions in Tunisia and Egypt alongside range of countries who came to Brussels under our chairmanship; and with Turkey, perhaps in some cases the most strategic partner that we have, and with whom we're in dialogue with Ahmet Davutoglu the Foreign Minister on an extremely regular basis. But also with NGOs, with Amnesty International, with Human Rights Watch, with international organisations involved in development and support. With business, talking to the energy companies who at the moment are very engaged in looking at what's happening in terms of Japan and nuclear energy, but also at what's happening in Libya, with oil and the region.

We have to stay in touch with everybody and try move what is an incredibly complicated complex agenda further forward.

If I come to my neighbourhood proper and start with Libya, of course huge change happened when the Security Council passed resolution 1973. The European Council had been cleared that in order to do anything it needed to see three objectives: the legal basis of the Security Council, support from the region (the Arab League in particular), and the needs of the people. It fulfilled those three conditions; then action was necessary. For the EU, for the role that we have to play, which we were discussing at the Foreign Affairs Council yesterday, and where there was unanimity of view, we've been absolutely clear on the essential nature of our humanitarian support, the work that we have already done.

Of the 7,000 EU nationals who came out of Libya, 4,400 were brought out using military assets that we engaged to bring them home. Of the people stranded at the border, 20,000 people - mainly Egyptians, some Bangladeshis and others - got home through the work of the European Union. We have had people - and we still have them - on the borders engaged in supporting people coming out of Libya and I sent very small missions to both Tripoli and Benghazi to talk with people about what was happening, to make contact - especially in Benghazi - with people there to understand the situation and to look at what was happening in terms of food, water, medical supplies. We talked with Médecins Sans Frontières, with ICRC to make sure that support is available, and to prepare for post-conflict Libya. Again, I go back to the role of European Union, which I believe passionately is about enabling countries to build for their future, led by the people of those countries for the country that they wish to have.

And then to Egypt and Tunisia. I've visited Egypt twice since the departure of Mubarak. We were the first by the way to welcome that departure. And I heard the same messages and I know that President Buzek and those who have been in Egypt heard the same messages too: "This is our country", say the people of Egypt, "This is our revolution". As the young people I met with twice, both in Tahrir Square and when I met them again, the young leaders of the future, they say "We want to elect our first leader for 7000 years. That is our ambition". And they also say, "The system needs to recognise the significance of this change, and we need help".

Let me give you one example: the Egyptian planning minister, a woman of incredible energy, is busy working out a programme to build a million new houses for the Egyptian people, houses badly needed, particularly outside Cairo in rural communities. She wants to develop that programme in a way that will provide vocational training and education for people, support small businesses, enable people to benefit in every possible way, and to see something happen for real, to see those houses being built.

I want to help her do that. I want to get the European Investment Bank and the EBRD to provide a massive amount of resource. We want to engage, as we've already done, with all of the countries who called us and said "how can we help?", so that we provide a coordinated, coherent approach in support of the people of Egypt.

We also know that in Tunisia there is a need for support. I just talked to Jean Ping, President of the African Union, who is currently in Tunisia, and he said people are very optimistic that there is much more we can do. We have a big programme already in Tunisia, but we need to engage with them more so that they know we are not just offering them immediate money, but also the long term support.

We have got to do this, we have got to be determined, we have got to not sit on any fences, we have got to want these transitions to succeed and put our resources into making sure that they actually do. And that is why with the Commission I joined in a joint communication, led by myself and President Barroso, to develop what our thinking was and to put that to the Member States through the European Council.

And in essence we said there are three things, three 'M's. There's Money, money and resources: the ability to be able to offer support through our programmes and through reengineering our programmes so that we have flexible resources able to respond to their needs. Plus making sure that we get other resources - whether it’s financial insitutions - I've mentioned EIB, EBRD, there's the World Bank, there are others, but also through Member States too.

Secondly, Market access: removing the barriers to trade, helping with rural development, ensuring that they get the best possible opportunity to have that link with us to grow their economy.

And thirdly, Mobility: particularly thinking about these young populations, the potential for students to be able to benefit from their links with us, and making it easier for business people to move around. But we have to implement it. Writing the paper is one thing, but we have to implement it now. And that means making sure that we have that international coordination that will be so important. That's why the EU has a central role in coordinating with countries across the world who want to help and support, from Turkey to Australia, from China to Russia, coming together to offer what they can do in that region.

So Mr Chairman, we have to make sure that we build the right machine that can do this job, that we use resources properly and effectively, that we are engaging with people to make sure that it is their revolution and their country, but it is our support going in to back them up, that we build those international partnerships and make them as strong as we possibly can. And that we also make it clear that our job is to build that deep democracy, deep economic growth and development to make them feel that they have long-term security and long-term partnership with us, to play to our strengths and do the job that we are most able to do.

Thank you.