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Chris Patten talks about Valencia and the Middle

European Parliament Plenary - Brussels, 24 April 2002
Some may find it unrealistic to speak about the Barcelona Process when the Middle East is in flames and that view is not entirely unfounded. Yet it confirms at once the need for the Barcelona enterprise, and its resilience. The fact that we were able to hold the meeting in Valencia in the present circumstances has been a tribute not only to the vision that took shape in Barcelona in 1995, but to the remarkable work of the Spanish Presidency.

Let us focus for a moment on the achievements of Valencia: agreement on an excellent Action Plan to show the way forward for the coming months; the signing of the Association Agreement with Algeria bringing us very close to the completion of the grid of Agreements. I hope Syria will be ready to return to real negotiations soon, and that the EU Member States will speed up the ratification of the Agreements that have been signed.

Much remains to be done. The prosperity gap between the North and South of the Mediterranean is not diminishing. 40 million new jobs need to be created in the coming decade just to keep employment levels where they are now. Economic reforms will help achieve the growth and investment needed for this purpose. And the gradual creation of a true EuroMed internal market will create many new opportunities. This is what the economic pillar of the Barcelona process is all about. And there is a broader point. Failure to close the gap in living standards, failure to increase growth and to alleviate poverty in the south of the Mediterranean is bound to nurture extremism there. And it will nurture extremism in Europe, too.

To achieve these goals, we need to deepen the South-South relationship. There was good news at Valencia from the four countries involved in the Agadir process that an Agreement between them should be signed very soon. And we also need to overcome non-tariff obstacles to trade and integration. The Valencia meeting endorsed decisions taken by Trade Ministers at Toledo on extending the pan-European origin system to the Mediterranean partners, on setting up a Working Group on regional integration, and on liberalising trade in services.

We also agreed to step up our financial co-operation. Some progress has already been made. The ratio of payments to commitments in the MEDA programme improved from 26% for the 1995-1999 period, to 37.6 % in 2000 and to 53.1% in 2001. Last December we adopted new Country and Regional Strategy programmes for the years 2002 to 2004 which provide a more focussed and stable framework for our financial co-operation.

Also in this context I welcome the agreement to create a reinforced EIB lending facility for the region.

On the third chapter of Barcelona, we reached agreement on a programme of co-operation on justice, the fight against drugs, organised crime and terrorism, and co-operation on issues relating to migration. That was a significant success.

Finally, in Valencia, we discussed the dialogue of cultures and civilisations. As you know the Commission has taken a number of initiatives in that area, including a proposal to create a Euro-Med Foundation. Unfortunately we met some reluctance among the Member States to make the €1m contributions we requested from each of them. There is agreement on the principle, which I welcome, but the Member States must make this modest financial commitment if the Foundation is to get off the ground.

I should like to turn now to the situation in the Middle East, which overshadowed our meeting in Valencia. European public opinion has been profoundly shocked by the unfolding tragedy. I have utterly condemned suicide bombings and terrorist acts, and I do it here again. Encouraging children to strap dynamite to themselves and to set out to kill others while killing themselves is deeply wicked. And failure to discourage this is inexcusable.

But I have also been deeply disturbed by the reports coming out of the West Bank of the behaviour of the Israeli Defence Forces. There are reports, which must be thoroughly investigated, that they have sometimes shown a disregard for civilian life, and they have certainly disregarded UN and ICRC appeals to be allowed to carry out humanitarian duties. Israel, as a democratic country that shares many values with the West, should meet international standards of behaviour.

FULL WITHDRAWAL: We regret that the Powell mission did not yield immediate results in terms either of a ceasefire or of an immediate withdrawal. I continue to be concerned about reactions in the Arab world in the face of this stalled situation.

I repeat my strong support for the UN-led fact-finding mission to Jenin. It would not be in Israel´s interest to leave unanswered the allegations which have been made. We want to see the mission make effective and rapid progress and we call for active co-operation from all the parties involved.

FULL ACCESS: With regard to the humanitarian situation there must be full and unhindered access to the affected areas, particularly refugee camps, to provide urgently-needed relief and humanitarian assistance, and to be able to undertake an assessment of the damage done and the repairs which are needed.

FULL INTERNATIONAL CO-ORDINATION: The international community stands ready to help. For the moment the focus must be on humanitarian aid. We are nevertheless still committed to making a full and substantial economic contribution to peace-building, with the aim of improving the living conditions of the Palestinian people, of consolidating the PA, of strengthening the economic basis of the future State of Palestine and of promoting development and regional economic integration. But this commitment to consolidate the PA and to reconstruction will need to be integrated within a wider political process including sufficient guarantees from both parties in the conflict that our efforts will not be wasted or destroyed. You cannot rebuild the PA in a political vacuum. Mr Peres told us yesterday that he supported a flourishing and modern Palestinian Authority. Israel has found a strange way to express that support in recent weeks. But I hope that Mr Peres speaks for the Israeli government, and that we will see his expressed view reflected in Israel´s attitude towards the aspiration to create a Palestinian State, and Israel´s actions in the Palestinian territories.

Even if it is still too early to assess the full extent of damage that has been inflicted it is clear that there is also going to be a need for major reconstruction and rehabilitation work. The assessment of the need, which has only just begun, is urgent. It is already clear, however, that even short term needs will run into hundreds of millions of dollars. I expect that tomorrow´s meeting of the international donor community in Oslo (Ad Hoc Liaison Committee) will help us to quantify the damages and to begin to prepare a co-ordinated response by donors.

FULL REHABILITATION OF PALESTINIAN STRUCTURES: There is also the need to fill the administrative and security vacuum in the wake of the Israeli withdrawal the alternative is chaos and anarchy, which is not in anyone´s interest

I must repeat my grave concern about the destruction of the basic structures of the PA and military operations against Arafat. This weakens the powers of PA to enforce the rule of law, to rein in terrorists and to avert suicide bombings. It plays into the hands of, and increases support among the Palestinian population for extremist groups such as Hamas Jihad. The fight against terrorism cannot be used as a justification for the destruction of basic infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority. I am also very concerned at the breakdown of general law and order. We have seen horrible events such as lynchings in the last few days. This must stop. But it is only likely to stop when Palestinians regain control in their areas.

Israeli military actions have not just targeted the security apparatus of the PA but have systematically inflicted damage on civil infrastructure which has no security role whatsoever, such as the Ministries of Education, Finance, Agriculture, the Land Registry, the Central Statistics Bureau, and even the Palestinian Legislative Council which must be of great concern to the members of this House. Palestinians will have to rebuild large parts of their administration without which daily life cannot function in an orderly fashion.

The Commission is committed to supporting and rebuilding these structures. But our resources are already stretched to the limits - once the needs assessment is done we will come back to inform you of the financial implications and to ask for your help in providing an appropriate EU response.



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