Mr President Michel Vauzelle, special adviser to the President of the Republic of France on the Mediterranean and Rapporteur to the Forum of local authorities of the Mediterranean.
Mr President of the Anna Lindh Foundation, Dear Andé Azoulay,
Mr Ambassador Al-Zoubi, representative of the co-Presidency of the UfM
Madam Deputy Secretary-General to the UfM
Madam Director of the European Investment Bank,
Honourable Members of Parliament and Colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Allow me, first of all, to welcome you to the European Parliament in Brussels for this ninth plenary session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Union for the Mediterranean.
One year already! Yes, it’s one year since I assumed the Presidency of our Assembly in Rabat on behalf of the European Parliament. At the end of our session, I shall be handing it over to Jordan which will hold the Presidency during the year ahead.
Time has passed quickly, and I would like to take this opportunity to tell you what I have learned from this year of Presidency of this Assembly.
I have just returned from Marseille where, as you know, the first Summit of Presidents of Parliaments of member countries of the Union for the Mediterranean was held last Sunday at my initiative.
Beyond the statement that we adopted unanimously on this occasion, there is, I believe, one lesson to be learned from this summit, namely that, in both the North and South of the Mediterranean, people still feel an overwhelming need to continue working together.
And this, despite the economic crisis currently affecting every one of us, the political upheavals that have shaken the region in the last few years and, it must be acknowledged, the lack of interest shown in the region by our governments, at least by the EU governments.
How then can we satisfy that need?
Since I have just mentioned the economic crisis, let me tell you of a striking parallel that has occurred to me between what is happening here in Europe and the future of the Mediterranean region.
You will be familiar with the debates taking place within the EU on how best to overcome the current crisis and the discussions surrounding the process of drafting the EU budget for the next few years.
Should we continue on the path of national economic austerity policies and settle for a more modest EU budget?
Or should we instead, as I have argued, ensure that Europe is able to prepare for the future by doing more to encourage investment and the implementation of growth policies in place of austerity policies?
I believe that we find this central dilemma reflected almost identically in the cooperation between Europe and the Mediterranean.
On the one hand, there are those who take a hard line, which equates more or less with the line being pursued at present and which consists in not providing the responses and the financial resources needed to address the daunting challenges facing the Mediterranean region.
And then there are those who take a more ambitious line, which consists in saying that now is the time to give a new impetus to cooperation between our countries if our societies on both sides of the Mediterranean are not to be left behind by the tide of history.
I think it is precisely because these issues are extremely similar in both cases it is incumbent upon us, as Members of Parliament, to alert our governments and our public opinion to the danger of the present course and attempt to bring about a U-turn.
Just as we have often endeavoured, here in the European Parliament and in the national parliaments of the EU Member States, to recall the need to preserve the prospects for growth and the future of young people in Europe, it is also up to us, as Members of Parliament from both sides of the Mediterranean, to speak up for the Mediterranean in our respective countries.
This is perhaps the principal message I wish to convey to you after this year-long Presidency of our Parliamentary Assembly of the Union for the Mediterranean.
It is incumbent upon us, despite the indifference and uncertainties we are confronted with and despite the limited means available to our Assembly, to play our role as parliamentarians vis-à-vis our governments and in our parliaments in order to secure for Euro-Mediterranean cooperation the resources it deserves.
This is what we, in the European Parliament, shall strive to do, especially in respect of the ‘Cooperation’ part of the EU budget. I hereby undertake to put these words into action and, of course, look to you to work to this end in your respective parliaments.
But what should we do exactly, and what form should this Euro-Mediterranean cooperation take today?
I believe that the debates we will be engaging in today will show us the way forward, or at least possible avenues to be explored.
I see three such avenues:
1. Firstly, we must not forget that we are the Parliamentary Assembly of the Union for the Mediterranean, and should therefore focus on projects developed by the Secretariat of the UfM! This is our best raison d’être, if we wish to strengthen the parliamentary dimension of the UfM that we represent.
This is what we have tried to do over the last few months, with some success, I believe:
A Bureau meeting was held at the UfM Secretariat in Barcelona last month in order to strengthen our relations with the Secretariat, and last year we also appointed a contact person to liaise between our Assembly and Barcelona.
Together with committee Chairs, I have also tried in recent months to refocus the activities of our Assembly’s committees on UfM projects.
However, I would call upon you, dear colleagues, to continue along this path by engaging yourselves more fully in projects developed by the Secretariat. Go to Barcelona! Get behind these projects! Go back to your respective capitals and help the UfM Secretariat to find funding for these projects!
We cannot wait any longer: it is now, in 2013, that we must show that the UfM can attain its original ambitions by implementing projects on the ground, as we will discuss in a moment.
I am confident that you will heed this message and I thank you very warmly for whatever assistance you can provide to the Secretariat of the UfM in this area.
2. The second avenue is to continue to make our Assembly a forum for debate and meetings for everyone involved in Euro-Mediterranean cooperation.
This was one of the priorities of my Presidency. I was able to convene in Brussels last November the first interinstitutional meeting in the presence of the Co-Presidency of the UfM, the Secretary-General, Commissioner Füle and the EIB.
Some of our committees have also worked to this end, and I thank them for their endeavours.
We will be seeing shortly how the Political Affairs Committee and the Women’s Committee have taken up the issue of the representation of women in politics at a time of democratic transition in the Arab world and how the Energy Committee has itself launched projects such as the ‘Let’s do it!’ campaign and Eco-Villages.
I think this is exactly what is expected of us: that we listen, discuss and maybe put forward initiatives on key issues for the future of the region.
We must continue along this path, because it will allow us to gain a better understanding of the issues and developments in the region, thus increasing our ability to influence them.
3. Finally, there is one further avenue to be explored, which is perhaps less institutional and leaves more room for your initiatives, your ideas, your creativity. It involves asking what each and every one of us can do, in his or her way, to make progress.
I think it will be interesting shortly to hear Mr Vauzelle and Mr Azoulay discussing the messages they heard in Marseille and what we can do, in this Assembly, to translate them into action.
Boost inter-parliamentary dialogue to strengthen the newly elected parliaments?
Strengthen the role of the regions to achieve a more decentralised form of cooperation?
Involve civil society more closely in establishing a framework for our relations and our cooperation?
There is no shortage of ideas, and I shall be happy to hear your thoughts on these matters in the course of our discussions.
That sums up what I wished to share with you this morning.
It will, of course, be up to the next Presidency to set its priorities, but I believe that I have pointed to promising avenues to be explored.
Jordan may in any case count on the support of our Assembly’s Secretariat, which is at last taking shape. It has offices in Brussels, and thanks to the Assembly’s first budget which will be submitted for your approval presently, it will soon be able to begin operating.
I am delighted that our discussions will give us the opportunity to discuss all the points I have just raised.
Thank you for your attention. I hereby declare this ninth plenary session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Union for the Mediterranean open.
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