EU High Representative Catherine Ashton on Egypt and Tunisia

Remarks by the EU High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Cather­ine Ash­ton at the Senior offi­cials’ meet­ing on Egypt and Tunisia1 Cather­ine Ash­ton, the High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Union for For­eign Affairs and Secu­ri­ty Pol­i­cy and Vice-Pres­i­dent of the Com­mis­sion, made today the fol­low­ing remarks:

“Wel­come all.
I am pleased so many have come. Some of you have trav­elled a great dis­tance. All of you rep­re­sent coun­tries and organ­i­sa­tions that have a key stake in how we can best sup­port the momen­tous changes that are sweep­ing through Tunisia, Egypt and beyond.

Over the last few weeks we have all watched events in Tunisia and Egypt unfold. Across the Arab world we see pop­u­la­tions demon­strat­ing their desire for change; to shape their own lives, polit­i­cal­ly and eco­nom­i­cal­ly. The scale and con­se­quences of these changes are his­toric. We must ensure that our response is on a sim­i­lar his­toric scale.

Our focus today is Tunisia and Egypt. But we are extreme­ly con­cerned about devel­op­ments in Libya, where we face an unac­cept­able sit­u­a­tion with vio­lent attacks against peace­ful pro­test­ers. Gaddafi’s defi­ant speech yes­ter­day has only raised our con­cerns. We wel­come and ful­ly agree with the state­ment of the UN Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil with its firm con­dem­na­tion of the vio­lence, its rejec­tion of the on-going repres­sion and its call for those respon­si­ble to be held to account.

I was in Cairo yes­ter­day and vis­it­ed Tunisia last week. My trips to the region have con­firmed my belief that we should offer help but not to dic­tate out­comes or impose solu­tions. As inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty we will accom­pa­ny the trans­for­ma­tion if our help is wel­come. But the future lies firm­ly in the hands of the Tunisian and Egypt­ian peo­ple. They own their rev­o­lu­tion and right­ly so. Dur­ing my vis­its I had meet­ings with the tran­si­tion­al gov­ern­ments, as well as oppo­si­tion groups, civ­il soci­ety and the young. These meet­ings have con­firmed that we face a 3‑fold chal­lenge and need to put togeth­er a 3‑fold response: 

We need to help build what I call deep democ­ra­cy (polit­i­cal reform, elec­tions, insti­tu­tion build­ing, fight against cor­rup­tion, inde­pen­dent judi­cia­ry and sup­port to civ­il soci­ety). Where rel­e­vant, we can draw on our own his­to­ry of build­ing democ­ra­cy and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion includ­ing from those among us that have gone through these tran­si­tions recently.

We also need to work on eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment. We are deal­ing with extreme­ly young pop­u­la­tions, with high unem­ploy­ment; a lack of oppor­tu­ni­ties and sig­nif­i­cant social imbal­ances. Egypt, for instance, is both big­ger and poor­er than most oth­er Arab states with around 40% of its pop­u­la­tion liv­ing on less than 2USD/day. Although in recent years the gen­er­al macro­eco­nom­ic sit­u­a­tion and the growth fig­ures have improved, this has not yet trick­led down to the low­er-income house­holds which have also suf­fered from ris­ing food-prices and sharp­er com­pe­ti­tion for secure jobs in the con­text of a grow­ing labour force and insuf­fi­cient employ­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties. To address these eco­nom­ic chal­lenges we will have to con­sid­er mar­ket access and trade mea­sures; big infra­struc­ture projects (water, trans­port, ener­gy) as well as wider finan­cial assis­tance which must be well-coor­di­nat­ed to be effi­cient and effective.

Third we have to con­sid­er what we can do to facil­i­tate peo­ple to peo­ple con­tacts, exchanges and mobil­i­ty while avoid­ing uncon­trolled migra­tion flows.

The key point of this meet­ing is to dis­cuss how we can best respond col­lec­tive­ly, in a coor­di­nat­ed man­ner. The needs for assis­tance are vast and all in this room are com­mit­ted to offer our sup­port. But we need a com­mon under­stand­ing of what the needs are and who is best placed to do what; to max­imise our col­lec­tive impact.

The sit­u­a­tion is in flux across the region. We can­not know for sure how things will unfold. But we do know sev­er­al things that could guide our col­lec­tive response:

First, we know that we need the right blend of demo­c­ra­t­ic and eco­nom­ic reforms to build sus­tain­able sta­bil­i­ty. Events in the region show that the “old sta­bil­i­ty” wasn’t work­ing. That is why we need to build a new “sus­tain­able sta­bil­i­ty”. This will require us to tack­le the polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic aspects in an inte­grat­ed man­ner. What these last few weeks have shown us is that polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic reforms must go hand-in-hand. Pop­u­la­tions are striv­ing for polit­i­cal rights and free­doms, account­abil­i­ty and participation.

But they also strive for eco­nom­ic free­dom; job oppor­tu­ni­ties; an end to cor­rup­tion and a bet­ter future for their chil­dren. That is why I am pleased that we have sev­er­al mul­ti­lat­er­al banks present today – and I am keen to hear there assess­ments on the nature eco­nom­ic chal­lenges and what can be done in what sort of time­frame to make a difference.

Sec­ond, we know that we as Euro­pean Union must respond with deter­mi­na­tion to ful­ly sup­port the aspi­ra­tions of the peo­ple of the South­ern Mediter­ranean and their hopes for demo­c­ra­t­ic change, social jus­tice and demo­c­ra­t­ic development.

We have said that we are ready to offer our sup­port to the coun­tries of the region, pro­vid­ing more effec­tive sup­port on the basis of shared prin­ci­ples, col­lab­o­ra­tion and local ownership.

One big part of this is a fun­da­men­tal review of our Neigh­bour­hood Pol­i­cy. This morn­ing I was dis­cussing with fel­low Com­mis­sion­ers how revamp and renew the Neigh­bour­hood Pol­i­cy in light of the new chal­lenges we face.

Mak­ing it more ambi­tious and more polit­i­cal. With a greater focus on insti­tu­tion build­ing and civ­il soci­ety. What I call “deep democ­ra­cy”. With more dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion and pos­i­tive con­di­tion­al­i­ty or “more for more”: those that go fur­ther and faster with reforms will be able to count on greater sup­port from the EU

Third, we know that local own­er­ship is key. These tran­si­tions – how they will unfold, at what speed, lead­ing to what kind of new polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic dis­pen­sa­tion – are and have to be led by the cit­i­zens of Tunisia and Egypt. Our role is per­haps to be mod­est but offer stead­fast sup­port, with every­thing we have got. Sup­port­ing plu­ral­ism and inclu­sive­ness, not dic­tate out­comes or impose solutions.

This meet­ing is cru­cial. Bring­ing togeth­er the major inter­na­tion­al stake­hold­ers in what is a great endeav­our. The coun­tries and inter­na­tion­al insti­tu­tions present in this room are all impor­tant part­ners for Egypt and Tunisia.

I hope this after­noon we can have an open dis­cus­sion. What have to avoid is to over­lap and over­load. What we can achieve is get­ting a shared polit­i­cal under­stand­ing of what last­ing suc­cess in the demo­c­ra­t­ic tran­si­tions requires and how dif­fer­ent inter­na­tion­al actors can best con­tribute in a coor­di­nat­ed manner.” 

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