This week I spent two intensive working days in Barcelona where I co-chaired, together with HRVP Mogherini, the Informal Ministerial Meeting with our Southern Neighborhood partners. The meeting was a consultation with the Southern partners in the context of the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) Review launched on 4 March.
I am very satisfied with the evolution of this initiative, which I conceived with the Spanish Foreign Minister Margallo, with the full support of my colleague Federica Mogherini. The meeting in Barcelona was remarkable for several reasons: to start with, it was the first meeting with this particular grouping since 2008. The level of participation - 30 Foreign Ministers both from the EU and the Southern partners - showed how committed we all are to seize this opportunity to make European Neighborhood Policy more effective and relevant.
I am grateful to all my colleague Ministers because the meeting produced an open and constructive exchange of views: we take away from it a clear set of aims and aspirations which will certainly help to fashion our re-oriented strategies towards the neighborhood. It confirmed the strong and unanimous support of our Southern partners for closer cooperation, even if the different partners may not have the same expectations.
The Southern Neighborhood requires quick, efficient and well-coordinated common action. We have many shared challenges: the fight against extremism and terrorism, the tackling of irregular migration, the humanitarian crisis caused by regional conflicts require immediate measures. Europe is directly affected by these serious developments and its stability is closely linked with that of the immediate and more remote neighborhood. It is in our own interest therefore to support the partners in the Southern Neighborhood in achieving peace, stability and prosperity, with our fundamental, universal values at the basis of our action.
We must remember that the revolutionary events in the Arab world over the past few years were to an important degree triggered by a dire economic situation; the inability of governments to provide jobs for educated and skilled people. We must therefore focus our attention also on economic development which is inextricably linked with political stability. It is no exaggeration to say that there is huge potential in encouraging enhanced trade relations among our southern partners. Suffice to say that if we take the 43 members of the UfM and breakdown the total trade among them, we find that 90% is among the 28 EU member states, some 6-8% is between the EU and its partners while only some 2-3% is among the 15 partners. And let us not forget that this includes Turkey, so the exchange between the 10 southern ENP partners is actually below 1%.
It was with this in mind that I was very pleased to launch an event hosted by the European Commission and the Secretariat of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) aimed at the private sector in the Mediterranean region. There is a great deal of potential, but it needs to be provided with adequate means to be unleashed. I am encouraged that the UfM, led by my friend Fathallah Sijilmassi, is evolving into a key player across the region and I pledge my personal support and that of the European Commission to its sterling efforts. I visited the Secretariat while I was in Barcelona and was impressed by the innovative quality of the projects and initiatives that it is driving in areas such as energy, social affairs and environmental matters. Let us not forget that it is also unique in having an Israeli and a Palestinian Deputy Secretary General, whose offices happen to be side by side!
I also spoke at an event organized by Barcelona institute for International Affairs (CIDOB). The quality audience of politicians, journalists, academics and diplomats were particularly keen to hear about the ENP review and other current EU matters. The lively discussion demonstrated how important it is to have a comprehensive exchange of views and involvement at broadest basis which fosters ownership, one of the key principles of the reviewed ENP.
Overall, these were altogether very successful and fruitful meetings, adding much needed impetus for reinforced cooperation which I hope we can carry forward to make a difference in this much troubled region. Moreover, the atmosphere was made all the more open and pleasant by the warmth and beauty of the city of Barcelona which deserves its description as capital of the Mediterranean.
*To follow the entire visit to Barcelona, see Commissioner Hahn's twitter account @JHahnEU (13 and 14 April)