Review of Neighbourhood Policy

Heidi Hautala sent a video statement to a seminar held in Finland April, 4th and 5th, on the topic “Baltic-Mediterranean Axis: A New Framework for Cooperation?”: [:]

Dear Colleagues, Dear Friends,

I am most honored to have been invited to address this seminar on Baltic-Mediterranean Axis as a possible New Framework for Cooperation.

During these days you have addressed several key issues, at the core of European politics today. By the events surrounding the European southern shores, the issue of cooperation has become the main topic of today.

Answer to how the EU will cooperate with its neighbours who have newly reformed their structures and those who continue to struggle in the face of this challenge, will define nothing less than our European identity.

Indeed, I am privileged to address the issue of reform of the European Neighbourhood Policy and the future perspectives of regional cooperation.

Firstly, during my visit to Tunisia in the aftermath of the Yasmine Revolution, I was struck by how concrete revolutions are. The young people were very clear on what they wanted to stop and what they wanted to commence. I saw how fast things move. I saw how vulnerable the steps of progress can be.

This is a challenge for the EU. In the early stages the EU was too slow to lend its support to the protesters and too cautious in offering financial support later on. In a situation where gains can disappear fast and victories must be secured quickly, timely and effective action is a precondition for all EU cooperation. Full use must be taken of the Post-Lisbon structures, enabling EU to take decisive and rapid action in the global arena.

Secondly, as to the longer term cooperation, fundamental change of action must take place. Policy towards the North Africa and Middle East must change;

– Cosying up to dictators while declaring dedication to the rights of victims must end. Our policy has been driven by cost-benefit considerations and double standards, instead of fundamental human values.

– Any aid must be made conditional to human rights, democracy and rule of law conditions. This has been the case in the past but the pledge was not implemented. Also, existing conditions must be sharpened from their current formulation and they must be also realistic.

– EU must also do hard reflection on its own mindset. It must be ready to offer genuine incentives and reward for progress. Time for exclusion and rejection must be over.

For too long the Mediterranean Sea was a dividing line between the people in the North and the South. Rather than lock up immigrants in detention and restrictive visa regulations, the EU must look into how to turn this into a beneficial and positive element.

To explain in more detail, the EU must open up towards the North Africa and engage on concrete assistance on the ground information technology,  transport, agriculture, student exchange, civil society training and  capacity building – just to name a few areas.

As to the work on human rights, there are many tools in the EU’s toolbox; Human rights guidelines, dialogues and clauses in trade agreements and a brand new human rights directorate at the External Action Service will go a long way if the political will is reinforced by the review.

Dear friends, the importance of this particular review of the EU neighbourhood policy cannot be overstated. This is the time for the EU to be ambitious in its review of neighbourhood policy. We must rise up to the challenge, to the bar set by the young men and women in the streets of Cairo, Tunis, Sanaa, Damascus, Manama and elsewhere.

They brought about the breakout of democracy; the EU can help to solidify it. Only by succeeding in this can the EU have a truly common future with its neighbours to the South.