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Dear colleagues and friends,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Welcome to Europe Day. It is a pleasure to have you here. Thank you for having accepted the invitation by Brigitte and myself to celebrate Europe Day together.
60 years ago, on 25 March 1957, six Western European Countries: Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany, met in Rome and signed the Treaties establishing the European Economic Community. This was a key step towards a united Europe. Over time, the European Union would grow to include 28 Member States.
From its start, the European Community was an open-ended project. It was designed to include more and more Member States willing and capable to join and designed to expand to more and more areas of cooperation and joint action.
The principles on which the European Union has been built are strong and straightforward:
The European Union is a Union of States respecting and effectively putting into practice the principles of Democracy, Human Rights and the Rule of Law.
Its economic order is a liberal one. The Common Market is based on freedom - the four freedoms of movement - of goods, of service, of people and of capital, checked with provisions guaranteeing social and ecological standards considered essential by its citizens.
Equally important, the European Union has challenged the traditional approach to security. Security, in a European perspective, needs to be organized collectively: If you want to be secure, make sure your neighbour feels secure, not threatened.
All these principles inspire and guide Europe not only within, but also in our interaction with the world. Europe stands for a rules-based international order, for multilateralism and for international cooperation. We stand for sustainable development, inclusive societies, for human rights and democracy and for the fight against inequalities.
The European Union has been a remarkable success story. Our continent, previously ravaged by political instability, by rivalry and recurrent wars between Nations, has been living through a period of peace, security and prosperity unprecedented in history.
Recently, the European project is facing new challenges.
The Euro-crisis still warrants a response on the institutional level, beyond the necessary and effective emergency measures taken to mitigate the immediate effects of the crisis.
More recently, competition and free trade in a globalized world economy, substantial migration flows to Europe, unaccomplished integration of migrants, violence in the name of Islam and Jihad have left some in Europe disconnected from economic growth, resentful towards cosmopolitan elites and migrants alike and hostile to the European project in general.
We notice a worrying rise in Xenophobia, Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in Europe. Right-wing political parties are exploiting these resentments for political gains.
Protectionism and social segregation are not the answers which will be given by Europe and by the European institutions to these challenges.
There can be no doubt about it: the decision by the British people to leave Europe has been a major setback for all who continue to believe in the merits of open borders and a competitive environment for businesses and in the benefits of improved coordination and cooperation at the international level.
On the other hand, we are heartened by the results of the Dutch and French elections in which parties hostile to the European project did not perform according to their expectations.
However, there is still a lot of work to be done ahead of us. The grievances of a growing number of citizens of Europe need to be taken seriously. We must be able to deliver responses more convincing and more up to the challenges than the responses of those who play on resentment and fear. That remains an important task for the years ahead.
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Dear colleagues, dear friends,
While we mark the 60th anniversary of a key step towards the unification of Europe, Palestinians in 2017 mark other anniversaries. Most of them remind them and us of the long and painful journey of the Palestinians as a people and as a Nation:
100 years since the Balfour Declaration;
70 years since the UN Partition Plan and the Nakba;
50 years of occupation;
30 years since the outbreak of the First Intifada;
10 years of Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip and its closure.
What will 2017 be remembered for?
Will we remember 2017 as the year of breakthrough, of a new round of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, leading to a resolution of the conflict? Will we remember it, by contrast, as the year in which hopes to realize a two state solution would have been given up for good?
Will 2017 go down in history as the year in which the split between the West Bank and Gaza was overcome, due to a new political approach by President Abbas, a new Hamas leadership and favourably aligned regional conditions? Or will we see in 2017 a new level of suffering for Palestinians in Gaza, violence in Gaza and war on Gaza again, merciless and bloody?
Will the hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners become a rallying cry for the Palestinian political factions, a call to unite and overcome political differences? Or will we just see Palestinians agonizing? What mark will this hunger strike leave on international public opinion? Will the world be reminded by this hunger strike of the just cause of Palestinians fighting the occupation? Or will the world remain indifferent and unsympathetic to prisoners labelled terrorists?
We do not know what the year 2017 will be remembered for. Many people to whom I talk are convinced that 2017 will be a turning point in the Israeli - Palestinian conflict: It's now or never. Either we see a breakthrough on the path to realize a two state solution or we will have to turn the page.
We do not know what the year 2017 will be remembered for. But one thing we know: it will depend on us collectively, on our efforts and contributions, what the outcome will look like. And we know what the European Union stands for and what the European Union is ready to contribute in this process.
You have heard this many times, but I will not get tired to repeat it:
The European Union is united in its commitment to achieving a two-state solution that meets Israeli and Palestinian security needs and Palestinian aspirations for statehood and sovereignty, ends the occupation that began in 1967, and resolves all permanent status issues in order to end the conflict.
The EU believes that clear parameters defining the basis for negotiations are key elements for a successful outcome:
- An agreement on the borders of the two states, based on 4 June 1967 lines with equivalent land swaps as may be agreed between the parties. The EU will recognize changes to the pre-1967 borders, including with regard to Jerusalem, only when agreed by the parties;
- Security arrangements that, for Palestinians, respect their sovereignty and show that the occupation is over; and, for Israelis, protect their security, prevent the resurgence of terrorism and deal effectively with security threats, including with new and vital threats in the region;
- A just, fair, agreed and realistic solution to the refugee question;
- Fulfilment of the aspirations of both parties for Jerusalem. A way must be found through negotiations to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of both states.
This has been, is, and remains the position of the European Union towards the Israeli – Palestinian conflict.
The European Union is ready to support the implementation of this vision not only politically, but also in practical terms.
Over the years, the European Union has been and remains the most reliable and committed donor to the Palestinian Authority. Our annual budget for Palestine amounts to 300 Million Euros. This is the largest amount spent by the European Union in any country in our Southern Neighbourhood. The European Union contributes more funds to Palestine than to any other country in the MENA region. More than to Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan or Lebanon. And it spends more funds per capita than anywhere else in the world.
The European Union contributes this large amount of funds to underpin our political vision.
Let me be clear at this juncture: Our contributions are an investment into the realization of a two state solution. The European Union is not ready and is not going to provide funding for the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and for the infrastructure of occupation.
Make no mistake: A continuation of our engagement is linked to the perspective that one day, the occupation will end and a Palestinian State will see the light of the day. If that is not on the cards, then we will need to reconsider the engagements we undertook.
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Dear colleagues, dear friends,
What will 2017 be remembered for?
Certainly for the political events which will shape the geopolitical landscape of Israel, Palestine, and its effects on the Levant and the MENA Region.
But I personally will remember 2017 as a year in which Brigitte and I lived in Palestine among Palestinian friends, sharing their dreams, sharing their frustrations, sharing their joy, sharing their tears.
We will remember encounters with Palestinian political, religious, business and community leaders, not all of them in official positions, outstanding examples of political vision and moral integrity; we will in particular remember Palestinian women in leadership - articulate, courageous and passionate;
We will remember political activists and representatives of civil society organizations, dedicating their lives to fighting injustice; let me pay tribute here in particular to the Israeli activists who have decided to join the fight against injustice and the occupation, often at the price of being viewed with hostility and marginalized within their own community;
We will remember the young Palestinians who have been killed at checkpoints and elsewhere by Israeli security forces, branding knives, scissors or allegedly branding knives, scissors, young people the age of Brigitte's and my kids, the loss of young life, unfulfilled and tragic;
We will remember having picked olives with Palestinian farmers, having cleaned a riverbed with Palestinian youth, having shared dinner with orphans, having released together with hundreds of school kids white balloons and white pigeons into the blue sky;
We will remember encounters with artists who give the most meaningful expressions to the feelings and aspirations of the Palestinian people - musicians, painters, film makers, actors, writers, poets, dancers ...
We will remember our friends who keep up the infrastructure for the arts to thrive: directors of cultural institutions, of cultural events and festivals, bookshop owners, and others;
And we will remember colleagues, dedicated, willing to make a difference, ready to go the extra mile to find a solution to one of the most intractable conflicts around.
You all have enriched our lives. You have humbled us by who you are and what you stand for. We thank you for that.