But apart from this serious challenge, the European Union is confronted with another, even broader issue that affects our values and way of life: the threat of terrorism which has not only reached, but already crossed our borders.
In the last two weeks much attention has understandably been focused on Greece. But apart from this serious challenge, the European Union is confronted with another, even broader issue that affects our values and way of life: the threat of terrorism which has not only reached, but already crossed our borders.
The series of attacks in France, Tunisia, Kuwait, Somalia and Egypt (in Cairo and Northern Sinai) with a terrible death toll are a strong reminder that Europe is not a “safe island” which could protect itself simply by relying on our standards and values and by pulling up the drawbridges. Terrorism cannot be stopped by borders nor can we wish it away. It has reached the heart of Europe, starting with the attacks in Brussels, Paris and Copenhagen.and now with the heinous attacks in Sousse deliberately aimed at Tunisia's economic recovery by brutally and cold-bloodedly targeting tourists.
This is not to identify the victims by their nationality: our condolences and sympathy go out to the families and friends of every single victim, no matter where they are from. The EU has reacted immediately, by reaching out to the Tunisian authorities to offer our support and to mobilise concrete help. Tunisia's fragile transition is still a beacon of hope in a beleaguered region and we are duty-bound to accompany this courageous process.
Some observers question whether the EU, with its often-quoted concept of soft power, is properly positioned to deal with "hard" global challenges such as terrorism and migration. The answer is a clear “yes”: apart from our humanitarian aid, where the EU is one of the leading donors worldwide (including for Syrian refugees), we are a peace-builder and key diplomatic actor. We now aim also to foster stability and security more effectively through our reinforced European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). The comprehensive review of the ENP, which I am spearheading, foresees the strengthening of the security dimension as one of the main reform pillars.
Anticipating this new approach, in March this year the Foreign Affairs Council adopted a strategy proposed by the European Commission on tackling the crises in Syria and Iraq and the threat posed by Da’esh. The strategy proposes to build up EU assistance to neighbouring countries to help them cope with the destabilising effects of conflict, including the massive influx of refugees, to ensure their security and to support their resilience and recovery capacities especially within host communities.
Jordan and Lebanon are bearing an enormous burden, which I witnessed first hand in various visits. We aim to support them even better in the fields of security and border management. Overall there are 20 million refugees and internally displaced people in the Southern Neighbourhood: around one-third of the world’s total. And there is no prospect that the pressure to migrate will decrease. I am afraid that the dimension of this problem is gravely underestimated by those Member States who rejected the Commission’s proposal for a better management of migration flows. Equally important is our desire to engage in advocacy and communication to counter the scourge of violent extremism in the region. Targeting young people in particular through education, training and the creation of prospects is a key aspect of this, but we must also focus on economic reforms that will ensure that well-educated young people can find jobs.
Major efforts have to be focused on Tunisia. This country has demonstrated a remarkable maturity by holding free elections and establishing reform-minded, stable governing structures. But tragically, these positive developments have also made the country a preferred target of terrorists and extremists who fear nothing more than the spread of democratic movements. There have been a number of attacks in Tunisia this year. Apart from one at the Bardo museum in Tunis and the resort in Sousse, there have been others that did not attract as many headlines in Europe.
We are adamant that we won’t let Tunisia down in this difficult moment. Following my first contacts with the authorities I have written to the Minister for Planning and International Co-operation, Yassim Brahim, to assure him of our unwavering support and set out a concrete agenda of support. We will be direct support specifically to the tourism sector, as well as other areas of the economy that are likely to suffer the consequences of these attacks.
It is clearly a major concern for Europe that most of our neighbourhood is marked by instability: of the 16 ENP countries, 11 are involved in one form of conflict or another. In addition to this, the migration phenomenon complicates matters further. We cannot afford to ignore this situation: the time is right to react with a new strategic approach and to translate this into concrete measures. This why our discussions are taking on an increasingly security-oriented slant, by tackling the political and economic forces that produce instability. The new ENP that will emerge from our review process is certain to reflect this reality. Moreover it will provide a complementary track to the revised EU security strategy which will be presented by my colleague HRVP Mogherini. Closer cooperation with our neighbours in the South, as well as in the East, in tackling the root causes of insecurity will be decisive for maintaining Europe as a continent of peace and stability.
The programme comprised an informal ministerial meeting of Arab countries on ENP review (pic.1) the signing of an agreement on financial support for national security (pic2) and the visit to UNIFIL headquarters (pics 3-5)