Europe, Israel and the future of the Middle East – Speech by European Commission President Barroso – EU speech/Non-UN document

José Manuel Durão Barroso

President of the European Commission

Speech by President Barroso: Europe, Israel and the future of the Middle East

14th Annual Herzliya Security Conference

Jerusalem, 8 June 2014

Good evening ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to be here today.

This is my second visit to Israel as President of the European Commission. Any visitor is struck by the dynamic, outward looking nature of the country and its economy, the combination of modernity and tradition, and the thriving civil society. Israel is a start-up nation that already became a global brand.

I have seen a bit of all of that today – visiting the Weizmann Institute and some of your country's most prominent scientists, witnessing with Prime Minister Netanyahu the signing of the memorandum ensuring Israel's participation in Europe's Horizon 2020 research programme, and returning to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem where I received an honorary degree this afternoon.

I am also greatly honoured to have been invited to participate in this prestigious conference.

I want to use this forum to talk about the role the European Union can play, and about the commitment we have for what we hope will be a better future for the peoples of this region.

As you all know, the European Union has a long tradition of close relations with both Israelis and Palestinians.

We have always supported the peace process and a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Recently we fully backed the commendable efforts by the United States during the latest round of peace talks. This process has now been put on hold, but the extensive efforts deployed in the last 9 months must not go to waste. The current 'pause' in the negotiations is untenable in the longer run. This gives us both the opportunity and the obligation to reflect on where to go from here.

The European Union has always been fully supportive of all efforts to try to reach a comprehensive peace agreement on all the issues which are at the core of the conflict. We understand that Israelis need robust assurances that a peace agreement will increase, not decrease their security, and that it will end the conflict once and for all.

We cannot create such an agreement – only you and the Palestinians can – but through understanding and support, through commitment and dialogue, we hope we can play our part in bringing it about.

Ladies and gentlemen,

To fundamentally change relationships between states and peoples is a huge task – that much is clear from the history of the European Union as well. It is a task that is never finished, but one we need to undertake in order to provide peace, security and prosperity for our citizens.

European integration has always been a way for the countries of Europe to achieve those aims – and the logic behind it is as valid today as it was at the beginning of the process.

Let me briefly highlight the changes that Europe, too, is going through and how this will make us stronger as a diplomatic ally and more attractive as an economic partner in the future. Because I believe this is sometimes misunderstood and often underestimated.

Over the last ten years a number of events and evolutions, both positive and negative, have challenged Europe's unity and stability.

Indeed, the last decade of European integration was marked by historic achievements, starting with the enlargement since 2004 to Central and Eastern Europe and further countries in the Mediterranean. But it was also marked by important challenges. Most recently since 2008, the financial crash that turned a sovereign debt crisis into an economic and social crisis. It was a momentous stress test for the solidity of the European Union and for the single currency, the euro, in particular. And it required exceptional measures to address it, including the creation of completely new policy instruments and solidarity mechanisms.

Time and again, we have come out of these crises more united, more coherent and more integrated. The forces of integration proved to be stronger than the forces of disintegration.

Contrary to predictions regularly heard over the last few years, not a single country has left the monetary union but instead other countries decided to enter it – namely Latvia last January and Lithuanian which will join next year.

The decision to enlarge and deepen at the same time – something a lot of people doubted was possible ten years ago – was clearly the right course to take. This is what gives us an edge for instance in trade negotiations, where we take the lead globally. This is also what enables us to take a stand internationally, for instance in the painful deadlock over Ukraine, where only a European Union speaking with one voice and acting as one can attempt to influence the equation and ensure full respect of international law.

But as the outcome of last month's European elections has shown, these momentous changes have also caused anxiety amongst some of our citizens. In a democracy, doing the right thing is not enough – you also have to convince citizens that it is right, that it is to their advantage.

We have to continue to provide answers to legitimate questions and at the same time fight populism and extremism wherever necessary and uphold the values on which the European project is based. Uncertain economic and social times can never be an excuse for dehumanising political narratives.

On this let me also address the issue of anti-Semitism head-on. Europe, as the continent where the Holocaust took place, has a particular responsibility to lead the fight against any resurgence of anti-Semitism, whenever and wherever it occurs. The European Union remains extremely vigilant on this issue and is acting decisively. We need to root anti-Semitism out from the internet, we need to tackle it in schools, we need to combat hate crime on our streets.

We need also to recognise the particularly difficult challenges ahead addressing the phenomenon of radicalised European jihadis returning to our streets from Syria – I never want to see again the appalling attacks that we saw in Brussels last month, nor in Toulouse in 2012.

While much of what must be done to tackle this remains in the hands of national governments, police and security services, we can also act at the European level.

In 2008 the European Union adopted what we call a Framework Decision on combating racism and xenophobia. The purpose of this decision was to ensure that racism and xenophobia are punishable by effective, proportionate and dissuasive criminal penalties across the European Union (EU). It also aimed to improve and encourage judicial cooperation in this field.

By the end of this year, the European Commission will have the power to take action against European member states who have not adequately adapted their legal systems in line with the decision.

The European Union will remain faithful to its values and principles. To allow their erosion would be to open cracks in our common house.

In foreign policy terms the European Union has also been tested as never before during my second mandate as Commission President. The European Union is deeply involved in tackling the civil war in Syria in particular, preventing the massive influx of Syrian refugees from overburdening and destabilizing the neighbouring countries, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq, and supporting the UN mediation process. The absence of unity in the international community regarding Syria is costing us human lives. And the toll increases every day. We are also supporting the political and economic stabilisation in Egypt, while making sure that fundamental freedoms are observed. We are addressing the continuing security concerns and trying to put in place a functioning central State in Libya. And we are also, through our High Representative, leading the negotiations with Iran to make sure that its nuclear programme has a civilian nature and does not represent a threat to Israel, to the region and to the world.

These are all issues where Israel has vital national interests at stake – interests which the EU is helping to safe-guard with its concrete actions.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As Europeans, we also know something about war and peace, about resentment and reconciliation.

If we received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012 it was because the nations of Europe have finally succeeded in breaking the vicious circle of military offensives and retaliation that was the driving force behind Europe's history for ages.

This was indeed a historic event, but it's worth remembering how recent it really was – less than seven decades ago – and how far we have come in such a short period of time.

And it is worth remembering the spirit that was behind the steps towards European integration from the first moments: a spirit of 'lessons learnt' through hardship and war; a spirit of inevitable reconciliation; a spirit of grasping the future together, because we had lost so much of the past already.

The Schuman declaration of 1950 stated that 'the coming together of the nations of Europe requires the elimination of the age-old opposition of France and Germany.' That mental turnaround, they knew, was the precondition for further steps, such as those highlighted in the famous phrase: 'Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity.'

I mention this because some of those elements are present in the Middle East Peace Process as well: difficult but inevitable steps towards reconciliation that need to be taken, age-old oppositions that need to be addressed, concrete achievements that serve to rebuild trust, and only in that way a common future that can be crafted by the people themselves.

In light of current instability in the region, peace and a comprehensive détente are the real strategic assets for Israel in security terms but also in terms of Israeli integration into the region.

Several peace initiatives have already explored multiple options for the final status issues, blueprints of peace plans are on the table, what is needed now is political courage on both sides to take the decisive step. It is clear that the required concessions will be painful, that some will not like them, but the two sides need to make a bet on peace.

The status quo may seem politically safer in the short term but it does not deliver any long term gains. I am not underestimating the difficulty of the decisions that need to be taken. In both cases we are speaking of existential questions for both the Israeli and Palestinian nations. But leadership is about making possible what is necessary. And Peace is necessary in the region. Security for Israel and a State for the Palestinians are moral imperatives for the entire international community.

Meanwhile no actions should be taken that would jeopardize the viability of a two-state solution. We are deeply concerned that continued settlement activity renders more remote the two-state solution that is in Israel's fundamental interest.

We believe it would also be in the overall interest of future peace that both Israeli and Palestinian leaderships are in a position to have a final deal enforced on the ground and embraced by the populations.

This is why we are of the view that in the interest of a future peace deal and of a legitimate and representative government, intra-Palestinian reconciliation under the principles set out in President Abbas' speech in Cairo in May 2011 – and this pre-condition is very important – should be supported. In other words: any Palestinian government should uphold the principle of non-violence, remain committed to achieving a two-state solution and to a negotiated peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This means accepting previous agreements and obligations, including Israel’s legitimate right to exist.

Palestinian reconciliation, if undertaken in accordance with these principles, must not be considered a hindrance to continued negotiations. On the contrary, reconciliation is actually a condition for the successful implementation of a two-state solution.

Palestinian reconciliation, if done in strict adherence to the principles I just mentioned, will not in any way give a voice to terrorists. On the contrary, it will help our aim of isolating and marginalising terrorists and their misguided and destructive actions.

We all know it: terrorism is bound to fail. It will never be accepted by the European Union or by anybody else in the international community as a way to achieve political goals.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

A comprehensive peace in the Middle East is a key policy objective of the European Union and our foreign policy for the last 30 years. We have been engaged politically and economically to help delivering a two-State solution.

Recently, we have proposed a Special Privileged Partnership to both Israel and a future State of Palestine in the event of a successful conclusion to the peace negotiations.

This would come with a support package of an unprecedented magnitude to both sides, covering the full spectrum of economic, political and security-related initiatives. In Europe, we believe that what the Union has to offer has the potential to fundamentally change your future and your relations with Europe and with the rest of the world.

Our Special Privileged Partnership would be the key to renewed prosperity and to new opportunities in Israel and in a future Palestinian state. It would also have positive repercussions for regional integration.

The envisioned partnership would be a very broad framework for cooperation between Europe, Israel and Palestine in a multitude of policy areas, including trade, investment, infrastructure, energy, environmental protection, culture and education, research. It would be an effective tool to develop the economy and society that future generations need. It would further develop bilateral relations between the European Union and both states as well as – even more importantly – include a joint trilateral Israel-EU-Palestine cooperation format which would tie both states very closely to each other and to Europe.

So this relationship, too, would be able to develop 'through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity,' as Robert Schuman said at the time of the creation of the European Union.

Ladies and gentlemen,

To conclude: we fully understand the difficulties facing peace and reconciliation in the region. Peace between Israelis and Palestinians is not a magic wand that will solve all problems of the Middle East overnight. But it will eliminate a key fault line running through the region and allow Israel to confront some of the real security challenges facing the region.

The European Union cannot create peace in the Middle East, but if you – the peoples of the region – choose peace, the European Union will be there to support you.

History teaches us that there is nothing inevitable about peace. We need to work for it and protect it. It can never be taken for granted. At the same time History also teaches us that there is nothing inevitable about conflict either. Europe's post-war history shows that old enemies can be reconciled, foes became friends and confrontation has been replaced by cooperation.

And more fundamentally what History teaches us is that it belongs to those who continue it and move forward and not to those who hijack it, looking backwards. This place is full of History – some even say too much History – but the pages of the peace chapter of Middle East's History book are still waiting to be written.

I encourage you to persevere on the path of negotiations, to make the compromises needed to reach a comprehensive agreement and to open the door to a new era of peace in Israel, in a sovereign State of Palestine and beyond.

Thank you very much.


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