European Union External Action

Speech on behalf of the High Representative/Vice-President at the European Parliament plenary debate on “Post-Arab Spring: way forward for Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region”

Strasbourg, 27/03/2019 - 18:51, UNIQUE ID: 190327_20
HR/VP speeches

Delivered by Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations on behalf of High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini

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Thank you Mr President.
Honourable Members,

First, I wish to thank the Rapporteur, Mr [Brando] Benifei [Member of the European Parliament], for his Report on the situation in certain countries of the MENA region since the Arab Spring.
We very much agree with the main point raised by the report: almost a decade after the beginning of the Arab uprising, many of the demands that moved so many people to take to the streets are still largerly unanswered in most countries.
The demand for better democracies. The demand for social justice. The demand for freedom of expression. In short, the demand for more inclusive systems of governance. This was the core of the Arab spring. And some countries have come a long way since 2011: I think in particular of Tunisia – which was the first country to rise up, and is still a point of reference for the region.
Our Global Strategy for foreign and security policy makes it very clear. Stability in our region cannot be guaranteed if these demands are ignored or denied. A resilient state needs a resilient society. And a resilient society must feature democracy, trust in institutions, and sustainable development.
With this in mind, let me emphasise three points.

First, no one supports civil society in the Maghreb and the Mashreq as much as we Europeans do. Not only have we established a forum for Civil Society of the Neighbourhood South, which is now led directly by Civil Society Organisations. EU Delegations across the region are in permanent contact with civil society representatives. We are already working, as suggested in the report, to promote constant consultations with them, with the help of dedicated contact points in each Delegation.
The report also mentions the essential work carried out by the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights, and our work to protect human rights defenders. In this context, as also stressed on in the report, our engagement with young people is the core of all our policies. There can be no resilience and no democracy without the full engagement of young people. They must find their place in our societies, and find the opportunity to follow their dreams. Their voice must be heard.
For this reason, we have created a safe platform for the youth of the region to listen to them and help us define priorities. It is called Young Med Voices Plus, and it purpose is for young people to have an open dialogue with decision makers and to shape the decisions we make. About one month ago, they had the chance to be part of the 5+5 Dialogue of the Western Mediterranean, and to shape the outcomes of the meeting.
I would like to stress that we engage with civil society in all contexts, even the most difficult ones. So, my second point is about Syria. As you know, we recently hosted the Third Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria and the Region. And we decided to put the Syrian civil society at the centre of the conference. We gathered over 400 NGOs engaged every day on the ground, both in Syria and in the rest of the region, with a special focus on women. We offered them a safe space to meet and to exchange ideas, and we brought their voice to the table of decision makers.
This is something we are truly proud of, because Syria belongs to Syrians, and the only way to end the conflict is to help the Syrian people – together with the United Nations – build a democratic, inclusive, united and reconciled Syria.
We all know that the situation in the Middle East and North Africa is far from ideal, and the aspirations of the Arab Spring have too often been betrayed. The only way to address this state of affairs, is to engage relentlessly with all relevant actors
We must continue to engage with civil society, to support them and to help create the space for them to work freely. But we must also engage with governments, and advocate the change we would like to see in our region.
This would be my final point. Human rights and democracy are always at the centre of our engagement with all governments in the region. We, as the European Union, always raise the issue of human rights – sometimes in public, and sometimes in private, in our meetings with our counterparts.
We fully share the spirit of this report: we want to help our friends on the other side of the Mediterranean to fulfil their aspiration – towards better democracies, more freedom, and more social justice. So let me thank you again for your work – even the more critical aspects, which we take very seriously and we will work to address. We share the same goals, and no one is as engaged as the European Union to achieve them.
Thank you. 

Closing remarks

Thank you very much. Grazie.

Mr President, Honourable Members,

First, I would like to thank you for your views and contributions; this was indeed a fruitful debate and many interesting points were raised. This report calls for an improved cooperation between the EU, Member States and our Southern Neighbours towards a partnership focused on human rights, sustainable socio-economic development and democracy, which we see as a priority. We will consider carefully your concerns and proposals and we will continue to do our utmost to make the Mediterranean a place of enhanced dialogue and co-operation for the benefit of its two shores. But I would also like to refer to Mr [Elmar] Brok [Member of the European Parliament] and say that it is also about inter-regional cooperation amongst the countries in the south, where a lot of potential is still untapped. But thank you again for this report, which is a huge backing for our work in the region. Thank you very much.


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