Future Tasks of the European Union
Prof. Dr. Hans-Gert Poettering, MEP
– Chairman of the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats in the European Parliament –
before the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs
Cairo/Egypt, 15 July 2003
I would like to express my gratitude to the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs for having invited me and having presented me with the opportunity to address this distinguished audience.
I am pleasantly surprised by the interest the European Union attracts in this country.
Your interest in the European Union confirms the ambition which I share with the great majority of the citizens of the EU. A Union of 25 countries with 450 million inhabitants producing around one quarter of the world’s GNP has to assume global responsibilities. This is in our own interest, but – I believe – this is also in the interest – of our partners with whom we share the objective to build a better and more peaceful world – based
on the principles of democracy, the rule of law and the respect for human rights. In this respect, Egypt and its population of 69 million is a central partner. Over the years, Egypt and the European Union have build an ever closer relationship which has the potential of becoming even more intensive during the next decade.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
at the turn of the century, the European Union is itself at a turning point; the European integration process is making a qualitatively leap forward – a leap unparalleled in its history of 50 years.
1. Since 1. January 2002 a single currency has been introduced in the EU. After the creation of a common market and the opening of borders between member countries,
the Euro has become the most important symbol for the European integration process. This process has become irreversible. The Euro has undoubtedly strengthened our economies and it has been a success world-wide. The currency has proven to be stable and more and more countries choose the Euro as the currency for their reserves. But –
and I want to be very frank on this subject – the Euro has not solved and cannot solve
all of the economic problems we face in the EU: The opening of world markets and the increase of trade and investment have made it clear that we have to modernise our economies. A number of steps have been taken on the European level and in member states. These will also allow the European Union to be a driving force in the upcoming WTO trade negotiations in Cancun.
2. The acceleration of the integration process over the last years – Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice were the most important landmarks on this track – has changed the nature of
our Union. Based on a initiative of our parliamentary group in the European Parliament – the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats EPP-ED), which consists of 232 out of the 626 members of the European Parliament – a Convention was set up in February of last year which paved the way for
a first European constitution.
The Convention, which has actually finalised its work last week, has been a unique endeavour in our history. For the first time, the European Union’s fate is not negotiated between government representatives behind closed doors. The Convention assembled representatives from member states‘ governments and parliaments, from the European Parliament and the European Commission. Representatives from the accession countries also participated. The main results of the Convention were already presented by its chairman, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, to the European Council three weeks ago in Thessaloniki and largely acclaimed. The Constitution will make the European Union more democratic, more transparent and more efficient – and it will put the citizens in the heart of Europe.
The result of the Convention’s work is a well balanced compromise between the interests of all participants. It now will be the task of an Intergovernmental Conference to formalise the results of the Convention which then will have to be signed and ratified by all member states. If it is wise, the Intergovernmental Conference will take on the text, adopted by the Convention, without major changes.
3. In parallel to the introduction of the Euro and the Convention, the European Union manages an enlargement process – the biggest in its history – with respect to the scope and diversity of the accession countries. Thus, the enlargement is the third major challenge for the European Union at the beginning of the 21st century.
The forthcoming enlargement to the east, southeast and to the south will finally overcome the artificial division of the European continent into an eastern and western part – Europe will grow together as a single entity. The accession of the central and eastern European countries is above all a historical and moral obligation. These countries defeated communism by an admirable peaceful revolution, and they fought for freedom, democracy and self-determination. Therefore, they have every right to be part of the European integration process. In addition to the historical and moral dimension of the enlargement there is a clear political-strategic reasoning. It is in the best interests of the European Union to stabilise permanently the whole area between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea.
There are also many economic benefits linked to the forthcoming enlargement. The addition of more than 100 million people, in rapidly growing economies, to the EU’s market of 370 million people, will boost economic growth and create jobs in both current and new member states. Also, the EU’s external partners – like Egypt – will significantly profit from an enlarged Union. A single set of trade rules, a single tariff and a single set of administrative procedures will apply not just across the existing member states but across the single market of the enlarged Union. This will simplify dealings for third-country operators within Europe and improve conditions for investment and trade.
Of the candidate countries which applied for membership the following ten countries: Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, the Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic, Poland, Hungary, Slovenia, Malta and Cyprus will effectively join the Union 1 May 2004 after ratification of the accession treaties and in time for their participation in the elections to the European Parliament scheduled for June 2004. The overwhelming success in the referenda conducted in about half of the accession states so far demonstrates the broad support
the European Union enjoys in the new member states.
The present enlargement process has led to a discussion about the borders of the European Union. To be able to function effectively and to preserve its internal cohesion, the enlargement cannot go on unlimited. Although no clear-cut decisions have been taken yet, a few points have been clarified: Bulgaria and Romania join the Union in some years. The goal is 2007, which is especially ambitious for Romania. Also the countries
of the Balkans have the perspective of becoming members.
Turkey has gained the status of an applicant country. However, it still has a long road
to travel before it fulfils the necessary conditions for membership. Huge deficits remain. These are so substantial that in view of my group in the European Parliament it would be more realistic to negotiate a special „strategic partnership“ with Turkey which allows it
to move much closer to the EU – but below the accession threshold. We already develop a „strategic partnership“ with our most important neighbour to the east: Russia. Our objective is to prevent the creation of new rifts in Europe just when the old ones have disappeared.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
without any doubt, we have a keen interest to further develop our relations with our southern neighbours and to strengthen our political, economic and social ties. We will both – Europe and the Mediterranean – benefit from this. The Barcelona Process – established in 1995 – constitutes a comprehensive framework for our relationship.
A lot of progress has been achieved, the Euro-Mediterranean partnership has been developed at a political, economic and cultural level. But the Barcelona process must
be further intensified. There is scope for the political dialogue to become even closer,
the prospect of a Euro-Mediterranean free trade area must finally become reality, and
– in my view the most important element of all – the dialogue with the Arab-Islamic
world must be conducted on the broadest possible basis. The need for dialogue has become even more apparent in the aftermath of 11 September 2001 and the Iraq war
this year. We are still deeply affected by the potentially explosive results of religious extremism. We must do everything in our power to ensure that the century that lies
ahead does not bring a conflict between religions, and thus a struggle between cultures
– the often-quoted „clash of civilisations“.
There must be no front lines across which the Western democracies and their values on one side confront the religion of Islam on the other. On the European side we must withstand any attempt to hold Islam as a world religion responsible for terrorist attacks. We must make every effort to educate and inform, so that prejudice against Muslim citizens does not spread in our countries.
Islam – undoubtedly one of the great world religions – is a monotheistic faith, and as such has much in common with Judaism and Christianity. Let me quote from a speech given by your former president Anwar El Sadat to the European Parliament in Luxembourg on 10 February 1981: „Islam should never be judged by the misguided and irresponsible actions of people professing to be adherents of this great faith. Islam is a religion based on tolerance, not fanaticism, a religion based on love, not hate, and it is a coherent religion based on order, not chaos.“ Eight months after giving this memorable address, Anwar El Sadat was assassinated – as you know – by islamic fundamentalists.
The dialogue between religions is more important today than it has ever been.
Both Greeks and Arabs have a proverb that says, „Man is hostile to what he does
not understand.“ And so, first and foremost, we need understanding of one another,
in order to achieve respect, and we need respect for one another to achieve trust.
In pursuing those aims, we must conduct a dialogue free from prejudices.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
the main reason why the Barcelona Process until today has not lived up to all expectations lies in the ongoing crisis in the Middle East. Both Egypt and the European Union over the years have invested a lot of political capital in the promotion of the Peace Process. Today, a window of opportunity for peace has opened, an opportunity to break the endless cycle of violence. It must give way to negotiations and compromise. Egypt and the European Union have long shared a common vision of two states, Israel and an independent and democratic Palestine living side by side in peace and security. To turn this vision into reality the European Union has initiated the so-called „road map“ which has become the basis for the work of the „Quartet“ consisting of the US, the UN, Russia and the EU and has been accepted by both – by Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
In my view, the roadmap with its clear timelines offers a unique perspective for the region.
At the same time, in their recent meeting in Sharm-el-Sheihk, the Arab leaders following President Mubarak’s leadership have renewed their commitment to the promotion of the peace process. As I said, there is a historic opportunity for peace. In a joint effort, the members of the Quartet and the Arab world have a chance to finally succeed.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
the European Union has long identified Egypt as a key partner in its relations to the Mediterranean region and beyond. Therefore, I was particularly happy when I learned in early May that the Association Agreement between Egypt and the EU had been ratified in the Egyptian Parliament. The agreement will further promote trade and investment. Already today, the European Union is responsible for 40% of Egypt’s foreign trade. The EU is the most important export market for Egypt, the European Union the biggest investor in this country.
Undoubtedly, Egypt plays a leading role in the Euro-Mediterranean dialogue. Our partnership is based on mutual respect and understanding and on our willingness to intensify our cooperation in all fields. We are condemned to cooperation by our geographic location. The European Union and the Arab World should be determined to engage together in a strategic partnership with the objective of developing the Mediterranean into a zone of peace and close cooperation.
Therefore I belong to those in the European Union who propose that the Euro-Mediterranean Forum should be transformed into a Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly, so that we have a strong and solid basis for political and intercultural discussions and decisions. As neighbours, we belong together. Let’s develop means and instruments for our common future.