EU on the situation in the Southern Neighbourhood and Libya

Remarks by Cather­ine Ash­ton, EU High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive for For­eign Affairs and Secu­ri­ty Pol­i­cy, on the sit­u­a­tion in the South­ern Neigh­bour­hood and Libya, before the Euro­pean Parliament 

Mr Pres­i­dent, Hon­ourable mem­bers
Our South­ern neigh­bour­hood is chang­ing fast. Across the region, peo­ple are stand­ing up for that core human aspi­ra­tion: to be able to shape their own lives, eco­nom­i­cal­ly and polit­i­cal­ly. They call for polit­i­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion, dig­ni­ty, account­abil­i­ty, jus­tice and jobs. I believe we should heed these calls for they are just and will not go away.

A cru­cial aspect of what is going on is that the demand for change comes from with­in. When I vis­it­ed Tunisia and Egypt, I heard sev­er­al times: this is our coun­try and our Rev­o­lu­tion. But also: we need help.

These two prin­ci­ples should guide our actions: the demo­c­ra­t­ic tran­si­tions have to be home-grown. It is for the peo­ple of the region to deter­mine what lies next. But we should be ready to offer our full sup­port, if asked, with cre­ativ­i­ty and deter­mi­na­tion. And do so, on a scale that match­es the his­toric nature of the changes we are seeing.

In a flu­id sit­u­a­tion such as this, our actions should be root­ed in our core val­ues and inter­ests. We have every rea­son to back the changes now under­way. Tunisians, Egyp­tians, Libyans and oth­ers are demand­ing respect for those val­ues that are at the heart of the Euro­pean ide­al. The emer­gence of demo­c­ra­t­ic soci­eties will help to build sus­tain­able secu­ri­ty and shared pros­per­i­ty in our neighbourhood.

That’s why the Com­mis­sion and I have pre­pared a joint paper for the Euro­pean Coun­cil on Fri­day with mea­sures that include more EU finan­cial sup­port, includ­ing through the EIB and the EBRD; help with the train­ing and exchange of stu­dents, the emer­gence of a vibrant civ­il soci­ety, more inclu­sive gov­er­nance. Food secu­ri­ty, fur­ther trade open­ing and mobil­i­ty part­ner­ships form part of the over­all package. 

Over­all, an incen­tive-based approach is need­ed, with greater dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion among coun­tries. The guid­ing phi­los­o­phy is “more for more”: those part­ners that go fur­ther and faster with reforms should be able to count on greater sup­port from the EU.

In the com­ing days and weeks, we will con­tin­ue to dis­cuss with inter­na­tion­al part­ners how we can co-ordi­nate efforts to avoid over­lap and over­load, build­ing on the senior offi­cials’ meet­ing we orga­nized on 23 Feb­ru­ary. There will be a fol­low up video con­fer­ence on Thursday.

And after the Euro­pean Coun­cil and infor­mal For­eign Min­is­ters meet­ing next week­end, I will trav­el to Egypt to see the Arab League and the new For­eign Min­is­ter of Egypt –with whom I have already spo­ken – Mr Elaraby.

But col­leagues, In view of the urgency of the sit­u­a­tion, let me deal more specif­i­cal­ly with Libya. I see two imme­di­ate pri­or­i­ties: first, to address the human­i­tar­i­an cri­sis and assist with the evac­u­a­tion; sec­ond to ensure that the on-going vio­lence stops and that those respon­si­ble are held to account.

On the human­i­tar­i­an sit­u­a­tion, the EU has act­ed swift­ly. The Com­mis­sion has increased its assis­tance to 30 mil­lion euro. I want to pay trib­ute to my col­league Com­mis­sion­er Kristali­na Georgie­va who went to the Tunisian-Libyan bor­der last week to show EU engage­ment. Mem­ber States have also allo­cat­ed impor­tant resources to tack­le the immense chal­lenge posed by the con­tin­u­ous flow of peo­ple includ­ing through FRONTEX.

On the evac­u­a­tion of EU cit­i­zens, the Euro­pean Exter­nal Action Ser­vice has been instru­men­tal in ensur­ing rapid exchange of infor­ma­tion and most effec­tive use of lim­it­ed resources. Togeth­er with the Pres­i­den­cy, I acti­vat­ed the EU Civ­il Pro­tec­tion Mech­a­nism (MIC) on 23 Feb­ru­ary to help facil­i­tate the evac­u­a­tion of EU citizens.

Get­ting infor­ma­tion in real time is crit­i­cal to help us make the right choic­es so at my request, Agosti­no Mioz­zo, the EEAS man­ag­ing direc­tor for cri­sis response trav­elled to Tripoli on Sun­day and Mon­day to assess the sit­u­a­tion. He met with offi­cials and ambas­sadors, in a sit­u­a­tion that he described as calm, but extreme­ly tense.

Our Euro­pean Ambas­sadors wel­comed the chance to talk in detail and to feed in their analy­ses – which com­bined with con­tacts being made else­where help us to estab­lish a clear­er pic­ture of the situation.

We have quite right­ly focused a lot of our efforts on the evac­u­a­tion of Euro­pean cit­i­zens. We must show our sol­i­dar­i­ty with Tunisia which is tak­ing the brunt of the chal­lenge. And we should be ready to step up assis­tance to the Libyan pop­u­la­tion itself, depend­ing on fur­ther devel­op­ments. In this very flu­id sit­u­a­tion, I have asked my Ser­vices to look, on a pru­dent plan­ning basis, at pos­si­ble CSDP engage­ment to sup­port cur­rent evac­u­a­tion and human­i­tar­i­an efforts. As always with any CSDP options, they need to be care­ful­ly analysed and we will need prop­er answers on ques­tions of man­date, resources and clear objectives.

Mis­ter Pres­i­dent, Hon­ourable members,

Deal­ing effec­tive­ly with the human­i­tar­i­an cri­sis is fun­da­men­tal. End­ing the vio­lence is a pre­req­ui­site to every­thing else. That is why I was pleased that the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty as a whole, through its high­est author­i­ty Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil has made its posi­tion clear: the vio­lence is unac­cept­able; it must stop and those respon­si­ble must be held to account.

On the last point, I was pleased that agree­ment was found in New York on the Euro­pean demand to include a refer­ral to the Pros­e­cu­tor of the Inter­na­tion­al Crim­i­nal Court who has already start­ed pre­lim­i­nary inves­ti­ga­tions into alleged war crimes. 

We are work­ing close­ly with our part­ners – the UN, NATO, USA, Turkey, Arab League and many oth­ers with who we are in con­stant contact.

And we have our own respon­si­bil­i­ty. As you know, after the out­break of vio­lence we imme­di­ate­ly sus­pend­ed the nego­ti­a­tions of the EU-Libya frame­work agree­ment togeth­er with all tech­ni­cal coop­er­a­tion. The EU start­ed prepara­to­ry work on restric­tive mea­sures ahead of the UN Secu­ri­ty Council.

In addi­tion to the UN sanc­tions, the EU adopt­ed on 28 Feb­ru­ary fur­ther restric­tive mea­sures such as an embar­go on equip­ment which might be used for inter­nal repres­sion and autonomous des­ig­na­tions under the trav­el restric­tions and assets freeze. We are now in the process of adding sev­er­al enti­ties con­trolled by Qadaf­fi and his clos­est asso­ciates to that list.

The EU will remain at the fore­front of inter­na­tion­al efforts to restore peace and sta­bil­i­ty in Libya Once we have secured an end to the vio­lence, we have to work to sup­port the emer­gence of a new Libya where lead­ers are demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly cho­sen and people’s rights are respect­ed. In line with what we are doing for oth­er coun­tries in the region. Not dic­tat­ing out­comes but sup­port­ing plu­ral­ism, account­abil­i­ty, deep democ­ra­cy and shared prosperity.

By their nature, crises are a test for our poli­cies, resources and abil­i­ty to respond in real time. The events in the South­ern Mediter­ranean rep­re­sent an enor­mous chal­lenge for the EU. As vice pres­i­dent of the Com­mis­sion I believe that how we respond will define this Com­mis­sion over the com­ing years.

I trust that I can count on your sup­port in our col­lec­tive effort to bring the EU togeth­er. We can­not afford to think small. We can­not afford inflex­i­bil­i­ty to get in our way. We can and must respond in a strate­gic way. I believe we can make a real dif­fer­ence, sup­port­ing the peo­ple of the region as they shape their own future.

Mis­ter Pres­i­dent, Hon­ourable Members

I thank you for the very inter­est­ing debate that we have had today which con­firms the enor­mous inter­est raised by events in the Mediter­ranean region.

The cri­sis in Libya and the democ­ra­ti­sa­tion process­es in Tunisia and Egypt will test the EU’s resolve to estab­lish an area of peace and sta­bil­i­ty in our Mediter­ranean neigh­bour­hood. We are con­front­ed with an imme­di­ate chal­lenge. I have con­fi­dence that the extra­or­di­nary Euro­pean Coun­cil on 11 March coun­cil will be an occa­sion for the EU to rise to this challenge. 

Coun­cil of the Euro­pean Union 

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