EU on Common Foreign and Security Policy and the Common Security and Defence policy

Speech of High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Cather­ine Ash­ton on main aspects and basic choic­es of the Com­mon For­eign and Secu­ri­ty Pol­i­cy and the Com­mon Secu­ri­ty and Defence pol­i­cy
Euro­pean Par­lia­ment — Stras­bourg
Mr Pres­i­dent, Hon­ourable Mem­bers,
I will make three con­tri­bu­tions to the Par­lia­ment today, but I want to start by giv­ing you my vision of the issues that we face, and also to touch upon on some oth­er impor­tant issues.

But let me begin: There are storms blow­ing across coun­tries we call our neigh­bours: ‘Arab spring’, ‘winds of change’ — what­ev­er imagery we use, none of us in this house know where this will end, and what the end will bring. Aspi­ra­tions are high, and expec­ta­tions too, that the rev­o­lu­tions will have been worth the blood that has been spilt, worth the tur­moil and fear, worth the eco­nom­ic hav­oc in a world already grap­pling with the worst eco­nom­ic prob­lems for decades.

The upris­ings across North Africa and the Arab world pose great chal­lenges for Europe, but also oppor­tu­ni­ties we can­not afford to miss. Two prin­ci­ples have to under­pin what we do. The first is that we in Europe know how long and painful the jour­ney towards lib­er­ty can be. Our own path to 20th cen­tu­ry lib­er­al democ­ra­cy was a very slow one. The EU itself was born in the ash­es of con­flicts that remind us how ter­ri­ble life can be when democ­ra­cy breaks down. Add into that the mixed record of Europe’s empires, and some humil­i­ty is in order, even as we assert that democ­ra­cy is the nec­es­sary foun­da­tion of human progress.

Sec­ond, democ­ra­cy is of course about votes and elec­tions – but it is also about far more than that. What we in Europe have learned the hard way is that we need “deep democ­ra­cy”: respect for the rule of law, free­dom of speech, respect for human rights, an inde­pen­dent judi­cia­ry and impar­tial admin­is­tra­tion. It requires enforce­able prop­er­ty rights and free trade unions. It is not just about chang­ing gov­ern­ments, but about build­ing the right insti­tu­tions and the right atti­tudes. In the long run, “sur­face democ­ra­cy”, democ­ra­cy that floats on the top – peo­ple cast­ing their votes freely on elec­tion day and choos­ing their gov­ern­ments – will not sur­vive if “deep democ­ra­cy” fails to take root. 

But there is no cer­tain­ty in the out­come in any coun­try, and no quick fix or short term solu­tion that will cre­ate the world so many long to see. And mean­while the spec­tre of reli­gious intol­er­ance casts its shad­ow — wit­ness the recent events in Egypt — find­ing its excuse in uncer­tain times to play on fear and wreak destruc­tion. Free­dom of reli­gion or belief is a uni­ver­sal human right that must be pro­tect­ed every­where. We need to con­demn all those who seek to use reli­gious belief as a means of oppres­sion — and sup­port those who advo­cate tol­er­ance, whether in Syr­ia, Pak­istan, Egypt or elsewhere.

Europe has choic­es to make, too. As we look at our neigh­bour­hood, we have to be ready to rise to the chal­lenges that are being asked of us. I can make hun­dreds of state­ments — and I do. I deplore, con­demn, urge, demand — but we also need to act. And that action has to come in dif­fer­ent forms. Let me take sanc­tions. We impose sanc­tions against regimes which treat the lives of their cit­i­zens as worth­less, with peo­ple killed at the hands of the police or secu­ri­ty ser­vices that they command.

Sanc­tions on Syr­ia were imposed yes­ter­day – an embar­go on arms, an asset freeze and trav­el ban on 13 key indi­vid­u­als in the regime, the freez­ing of our Asso­ci­a­tion Agree­ment, and of our coop­er­a­tion with Syr­ia. Let’s be blunt and clear, as I was with the For­eign Min­is­ter of Syr­ia yes­ter­day: what is hap­pen­ing in Syr­ia is a pop­u­lar aspi­ra­tion for democ­ra­cy and the rule of law – it’s not some for­eign plot. By fail­ing to see what it is, the regime los­es legit­i­ma­cy and estranges itself from the peo­ple and from the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty. Vio­lent oppres­sion and threats inside and out­side are tools of an era long gone. Our con­cern is with the peo­ple of Der­aa where the UN has been refused access, in Baniyas where the crack­down con­tin­ues, in Hama where tanks have moved in. The Syr­i­an peo­ple will not bow to tanks. We say to the regime to change course and to change course now. As I said to Min­is­ter Moallem, the For­eign Min­is­ter of Syr­ia, yes­ter­day — you must allow imme­di­ate and unhin­dered access to human­i­tar­i­an sup­port and to the media and only then can your claims of sup­port for peace­ful protests be substantiated.

And in our East­ern neigh­bour­hood — in Belarus, where Pres­i­dent Lukashenko failed to use last December’s Pres­i­den­tial elec­tions to show his readi­ness for change and a more open and demo­c­ra­t­ic, Euro­pean soci­ety. Not only did he not take this chance, but in using vio­lence against peace­ful demon­stra­tors and mul­ti­ply­ing the num­ber of polit­i­cal pris­on­ers, he has shown con­tempt for democ­ra­cy and the rule of law. I met with the fam­i­lies of those impris­oned. And I know he has left us with no oth­er option than to adopt strong sanc­tions in response, tar­get­ing those in the regime respon­si­ble for the crack-down, includ­ing Pres­i­dent Lukashenko him­self. And also that we should step up our sup­port for civ­il soci­ety and for peo­ple-to-peo­ple contact.

And then there is the action which is about our direct engagement.

In Camp Ashraf in Iraq: what hap­pened on 8th April in Camp Ashraf is deplorable, and has my strongest con­dem­na­tion. I have been adamant that we need a strong and unit­ed EU response. I wrote to the For­eign Min­is­ter of Iraq, and spoke to him again yes­ter­day. While I do not ques­tion Iraq’s sov­er­eign­ty over all its ter­ri­to­ry, it has a duty to pro­tect the human rights of Ashraf res­i­dents. I have con­demned the vio­lence, and called for an inquiry — an inquiry that has to be as thor­ough as it is inde­pen­dent, and which should tell us exact­ly what hap­pened. But, hon­ourable mem­bers, there is no sim­ple solu­tion here — sev­er­al options for a long term solu­tion are being con­sid­ered, with the UN in the lead. All present chal­lenges. I am grate­ful for the Euro­pean Parliament’s con­tri­bu­tions: and I will take this to the For­eign Affairs Coun­cil, and dis­cuss it in detail with the UNHCR. Our Ambas­sador to Iraq arrives today, and she knows the impor­tance I attach to this issue. We need to pur­sue and make sure that we find a cor­rect course of action and inquiry, and our con­dem­na­tion is absolute. 

In Yemen too, where the Gulf Coop­er­a­tion Coun­cil has put for­ward its pro­pos­als, and Pres­i­dent Saleh has once again hes­i­tat­ed. I spoke to him not long ago — we talked about his dis­cus­sions with the oppo­si­tion, and the pro­pos­als on the table. I told him he knew what he had to do — in the inter­ests of his coun­try — and that he should do it. In my meet­ings in the Gulf, when I met with the King of Bahrain: we dis­cussed the ini­tia­tive for dia­logue with­out pre­con­di­tions that the Crown Prince has put for­ward, and I urged him to pur­sue that dia­logue. The cur­rent course is not the answer — we need to see fair and civ­il tri­als, and that the death penal­ty is avoid­ed in all circumstances.

In all of these cas­es it is about the direct engage­ment that we have, and the pres­sure we apply, and the direct­ness of our approach. I am very clear with all the lead­ers I speak to about what needs to hap­pen. I do this with the sup­port of this house and 27 Mem­ber States.

Or take Libya. There are mem­bers of this house who wish that the EU had a stronger defence and secu­ri­ty pol­i­cy. I say to them this — in the last weeks and months we’ve seen how far we have come in some ways, but in this, how far we have to go. But we did engage togeth­er to plan the mil­i­tary sup­port for human­i­tar­i­an needs: ready, at the request of the UN, to sup­port the peo­ple with resources from across Europe. Just as we did when the ter­ri­ble earth­quake in Haiti struck, and we pro­vid­ed the mil­i­tary hos­pi­tal ships, the heavy lift­ing equip­ment, and the civil­ian and mil­i­tary sup­port staff work­ing side by side.

Don’t mis­un­der­stand: I know that Human­i­tar­i­an aid is apo­lit­i­cal, and that human­i­tar­i­an work­ers must not be put at risk. But in the pri­ma­ry objec­tive of sav­ing lives, some­times it is only the mil­i­tary which has the equip­ment or peo­ple who can achieve that — deliv­er­ing aid at speed, putting in place the infra­struc­ture. That is why, should a UN request arrive, we will be ready to help.

But we need to get faster and smarter in how we do this. And I am the first per­son to admit that there is much more we need to do.

That is why we are improv­ing our col­lab­o­ra­tion with NATO, shar­ing details of our oper­a­tions for the first time as part of con­tin­u­ing to devel­op our rela­tions. Last Fri­day I co-chaired with Sec­re­tary Gen­er­al Ras­mussen the meet­ing of the PSC Com­mit­tee and the North Atlantic Coun­cil in our first ever dis­cus­sion on Libya.

And our col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Africa Union and Pres­i­dent Jean Ping, with the Arab League and Amr Mous­sa [and of course his suc­ces­sor], with the OIC and Pro­fes­sor Insanoglu, all under the lead­er­ship of UN spe­cial envoy Al Khat­ib. It was in my dis­cus­sions with Ban Ki Moon that we agreed to bring togeth­er the Region­al organ­i­sa­tions for a meet­ing in Cairo, and to fol­low up after the Con­tact Group meet­ing in Rome. We are dis­cussing togeth­er how to play our part in the future of Libya — to sup­port the nation­al dia­logue, and help with the con­sti­tu­tion and pre­pare for elections.

And the two mis­sions I sent to Libya, work­ing with young peo­ple and with women. As the leader of my team said to me: This is the first time that they have dis­cussed a con­sti­tu­tion, using words and argu­ments they nev­er knew before. They told us how they longed for the end of the regime. Let us be clear, Gaddafi must go from pow­er – he must end his regime. I intend to open an EU office in Beng­hazi, so we can move for­ward on the sup­port we have dis­cussed to the peo­ple, to sup­port civ­il soci­ety, to sup­port the inter­im tran­si­tion­al nation­al coun­cil and Mr Jib­ril, to sup­port secu­ri­ty sec­tor reform, to build on what the peo­ple asked us for – they want help in edu­ca­tion, health care, secu­ri­ty on the bor­ders. That’s the kind of sup­port that we are able and want to give them. And in all this, human rights are the sil­ver thread that runs through our actions. 

And there is the new neigh­bour­hood pol­i­cy – a dif­fer­ent lev­el of ambi­tion and vision. Mutu­al account­abil­i­ty is at its core: the EU and the neigh­bour­hood are respon­si­ble to each oth­er for deliv­er­ing on the com­mit­ments that we make — to the coun­try, and to the peo­ple of our neigh­bour­hood, and to the peo­ple of Europe.

We are build­ing on what we have already talked about: Mobil­i­ty, Mar­ket Access and Mon­ey. The £ Ms: a sim­ple way to describe it, but very impor­tant ways to sup­port these coun­tries into the future. Mobil­i­ty: These are soci­eties with many young peo­ple that long for greater oppor­tu­ni­ties. The Euro­pean Par­lia­ment has a big role to play in sup­port­ing those oppor­tu­ni­ties for young peo­ple to gain the ben­e­fits from Europe’s knowl­edge. And so too with mem­ber states – the oppor­tu­ni­ties for young peo­ple to trav­el and study. We do the same for busi­ness too – sup­port­ing the chance to trav­el, to explore new mar­kets, to sell goods and ser­vices. These are impor­tant — and they are in the gift of mem­ber states, some of whom have long rela­tion­ships with coun­tries in our neigh­bour­hood. They need to step up and pro­vide these opportunities.

Mar­ket Access: We have a gen­uine con­tri­bu­tion to make to stim­u­lat­ing eco­nom­ic growth and sup­port­ing eco­nom­ic recov­ery. You know the effect of the tur­moil on the economies of the coun­tries that we’re describ­ing. Some neigh­bour­hood coun­tries rely on us as their major export mar­ket and source of imports. Allow­ing those coun­tries to devel­op their mar­kets with us could make a real dif­fer­ence, sup­port­ing not just the open­ing of mar­kets but access to them – and ensur­ing coun­tries can reach our stan­dards, ensur­ing that they have real oppor­tu­ni­ties. Nowhere is that more true than in small busi­ness­es. But we have to have the polit­i­cal will to do it. We have to have the polit­i­cal will to be com­mit­ted to ensure that we make our mar­kets avail­able and that, Hon­ourable Mem­bers, is a chal­lenge, a chal­lenge in any cir­cum­stances, a chal­lenge in eco­nom­ic times. But, I would argue, a chal­lenge we have to rise to. Because if we don’t, then the fail­ure of the economies in our neigh­bour­hood will have a direct impact on all of us.

And Mon­ey: or rather resources. Not just what the EU can do in direct sup­port — impor­tant though that is — but in what it can lever­age. We have already host­ed a meet­ing of senior offi­cials from around the world and from the big finan­cial insti­tu­tions, to dis­cuss what we all might be able to con­tribute if asked. And we will — in con­sul­ta­tion with our neigh­bour­hood – be pre­pared to do more to sup­port resources com­ing togeth­er more effectively.

Nowhere will this pol­i­cy mat­ter more than in Tunisia. Prime Min­is­ter Essebsi’s recent TV speech may help as the coun­try moves towards elec­tions on 24 July, but he acknowl­edges the prob­lems of eco­nom­ic growth rates are down to between 0 and 1%. We need to ensure our sup­port to Tunisia — to both its econ­o­my and its civ­il soci­ety. And that means not just the long-term, not just the impor­tance of a new strat­e­gy but what we do now, and how we sup­port coun­tries – Egypt, Tunisia and oth­ers – right now with the bud­getary prob­lems that they have. And that’s the rea­son we have start­ed dis­cus­sions with the finan­cial insti­tu­tions, with our mem­ber states, with those who are engaged in want­i­ng to sup­port these coun­tries. In help­ing them deal­ing with the deficit when tourism has col­lapsed, when the econ­o­my is not work­ing prop­er­ly, it mat­ters right now. So hon­ourable mem­bers must under­stand, there is an imme­di­ate urgency and there is a long term strat­e­gy, and we need to have both in what we do.

We need to con­sid­er too how best to sup­port Egypt. I have vis­it­ed three times in recent weeks, meet­ing with some of the young lead­ers from Tahrir Square, women who have par­tic­i­pat­ed in the rev­o­lu­tion and who now seek a stronger voice in the future of Egypt, includ­ing a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date. I have talked with many Gov­ern­ment min­is­ters — like the plan­ning min­is­ter Fayza Aboul­na­ga who has a big vision: she wants to build hous­es for the peo­ple and inte­grate train­ing, edu­ca­tion and sus­tain­able com­mu­ni­ties into her long-term vision, and sup­port for small busi­ness­es, and work­ing with UN Women on build­ing safer com­mu­ni­ties. And I have also spo­ken with the for­eign min­is­ter, Al Ara­by, who is com­mit­ted to sup­port­ing a solu­tion to the Mid­dle East Peace Process and keen to devel­op a strong rela­tion­ship with the EU

There will be many chal­lenges for Egypt in the com­ing months and years. We have to be there to sup­port them through each of those chal­lenges and be will­ing to put our resources, knowl­edge exper­tise and con­tacts in favour of sup­port­ing them.

But I have always said the Exter­nal Action Ser­vice is a force to pre­vent and resolve con­flict. Let me just men­tion two.

That is why our role in Ser­bia and Koso­vo mat­ters; and it is why the vote that we won at the UN, the voice that we now have can play its part. It is why we need to engage with the lead­ers in Bosnia to get them to get their eyes off the floor of think­ing about only their own com­mu­ni­ties, to think­ing about the needs of their coun­try, to see their future and to see the Euro­pean Union.

And it is why, too, we play the role we do in the Mid­dle East Peace Process. Mem­bers know well that sta­bil­i­ty in the Mid­dle East also requires peace. The quest for a nego­ti­at­ed agree­ment has dom­i­nat­ed the region for decades. We have brought new vigour to the Quar­tet in recent months: I host­ed a Quar­tet prin­ci­pals meet­ing in Feb­ru­ary, the fol­low up of the Quar­tet envoys has been work­ing with the Israelis and the Pales­tin­ian nego­tia­tors for the first time since the Quar­tet was estab­lished. I want­ed anoth­er prin­ci­pals meet­ing in April, and we have pre­pared a sub­stan­tial state­ment, based on the EU posi­tion. I con­tin­ue to believe that a nego­ti­at­ed solu­tion is the only way for­ward, and we will stay engaged and have anoth­er envoys meet­ing lat­er this month.

We too have been a strong sup­port­er of Pales­tin­ian state build­ing. When the ad hoc liai­son com­mit­tee meet­ing was host­ed by us on April 13 I lis­tened to the praise for the work of Salam Fayyad for his remark­able achieve­ments in gov­er­nance, rule of law and human rights, edu­ca­tion, health and social pro­tec­tion – these are suf­fi­cient for a func­tion­ing gov­ern­ment, accord­ing to the World Bank. And I have acknowl­edged the impor­tance of Pales­tin­ian rec­on­cil­i­a­tion behind Pres­i­dent Abbas as an oppor­tu­ni­ty, as some­thing that the EU has called for, for years. Hon­ourable mem­bers, what is hap­pen­ing now is the most seri­ous effort so far to estab­lish uni­ty — which is in itself key to achiev­ing the two-state solu­tion. I have been in close con­tact with Pres­i­dent Abbas and Prime Min­is­ter Fayyad, as well as Egypt, the Arab League, the USA and Israel. Non vio­lence, the con­tin­u­a­tion of state build­ing and abid­ing by exist­ing com­mit­ments will be cru­cial, and we must judge this effort by its results. I do believe that Israel should hand over the rev­enues owned to the Pales­tini­ans. Let me be clear, our posi­tion on Hamas has not changed, and Israel’s secu­ri­ty remains a key con­cern for all of us. I also want to say that I do not con­sid­er a flotil­la to be the right response to the human­i­tar­i­an sit­u­a­tion in Gaza. I have been there twice. I con­tin­ue to high­light the plight of the peo­ple espe­cial­ly ask­ing for more access to enable the econ­o­my to start to devel­op. The sit­u­a­tion there, espe­cial­ly for the chil­dren, is awful. We have put for­ward pro­pos­als to Israel to sup­port that greater access. I want to see the peo­ple of Gaza with a future, and I also want to see Gilad Shalit, cap­tive for years in Gaza, giv­en the chance to go home to his moth­er and father, whom I have already met.

Hon­ourable mem­bers, Europe’s expe­ri­ence tells us that true democ­ra­cy is the nec­es­sary foun­da­tion of tol­er­ance, peace and pros­per­i­ty. In North Africa and the Arab world that des­ti­na­tion will not be reached quick­ly or with­out set­backs. But build­ing “deep democ­ra­cy” is the only way that des­ti­na­tion will be reached at all. We’ve got the expe­ri­ence to help every coun­try that asks us now to help them make the jour­ney to democracy.

That’s why I am propos­ing to sup­port the endow­ment for democ­ra­cy which will enable us to use our resources to sup­port oppor­tu­ni­ties par­tic­u­lar­ly for young peo­ple to engage in polit­i­cal life, to sup­port the devel­op­ment of polit­i­cal par­ties, to enable peo­ple to do what hon­ourable mem­bers in so many coun­tries rep­re­sent­ed here had to do them­selves, which is to devel­op the polit­i­cal process by build­ing those polit­i­cal par­ties, civ­il soci­ety, those deep roots that mean that democ­ra­cy flour­ish­es and grows. 

I often say, when I vis­it these coun­tries, that it is not about elect­ing the gov­ern­ment, so much as the right of being able to throw a gov­ern­ment out. Democ­ra­cy is about being able to say bye-bye, as well as hel­lo. And that is impor­tant. Know­ing that you have the right to use your bal­lot box to change your gov­ern­ment or demand some­thing of your gov­ern­ment is crit­i­cal, and you can only do that when democ­ra­cy is deep and flour­ish­ing. It is why what we have seen hap­pen­ing in Cote d’Ivoire is so impor­tant, see­ing Pres­i­dent Ouatar­ra final­ly take his place. And the role that we have played, which has been sig­nif­i­cant in sup­port­ing that process. It is why it is good to see the Niger­ian elec­tions going well, and Good­luck Jonathan now being appointed.

Change does not nec­es­sar­i­ly assure progress, but progress absolute­ly requires change. And that means we have to be more deter­mined to act. Some of the things I describe are down to mem­ber states, some to the Com­mis­sion, and many need the sup­port of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment — we have to decide that we will all play our part. But if we only do it when the media’s atten­tion is on those coun­tries or on us, then we will fail. We have to be in this for the long haul and we have got to help our neigh­bours not just to start their jour­ney toward democ­ra­cy, but to com­plete it.

Hon­ourable mem­bers, there have been three excel­lent reports that I shall speak to in my next inter­ven­tion, but I do want to thank the rap­por­teurs. I am going to end with a very small quote from an anthro­pol­o­gist, a woman called Mar­garet Mead, whom I admire very much:

Nev­er doubt that a small, group of thought­ful, com­mit­ted cit­i­zens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. 

Coun­cil of the Euro­pean Union 

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