European Council President Spokesperson
I am very happy to be here with you today. The more difficult the times, the more important it is to be in good company. The timing could not be better. Nor could you have chosen a more fitting theme for your annual conference: "The European Union in a changing global environment". The Union's representatives, delegations and missions abroad are our eyes and ears - and our voice - on the ground. Perhaps it sounds like a slogan but I really mean it. And I know it not only in theory or from documents and articles but also from my own experience. You are an indispensable part of Europe's response to a global environment that has grown more challenging and you will have an even more crucial role to play in the coming months. I will speak in more detail about the priorities in a minute.
First, I would like to thank you sincerely for the help you have given me since I took up the responsibility as President of the European Council, to represent the Union externally. Whether it has been hosting summits, visiting third countries, from Washington to Tbilisi, Yerevan to Baku, Tunis to Kiev, Tokyo to Chisinau, or engaging with foreign leaders, I have felt completely supported every step of the way. Thank you very much, from my heart, not only an official compliment, I was really impressed.
When I took up office last December, my external priorities were:
To protect the fundamental values of the European Union from external threats;
To make the Union strong internationally, starting with securing our borders and supporting those in the neighbourhood who share our values;
To prioritise strengthening the transatlantic relationship since the ties between Europe and the United States are absolutely essential to both our futures.
You will find that nothing has changed in my thinking since then except that these priorities are more urgent than ever and the consequences of failure more apparent.
When President Poroshenko visited Brussels last week, it was an opportunity to review the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and our response. The new call to respect the ceasefire, in place since Tuesday, and the vitally important deal on debt reduction for Ukraine are very welcome. Let us hope for the proper implementation of the Minsk agreement, which has come dangerously close to falling apart over the past few months. The latest dramatic events in Kiev only prove how difficult the process has been.
Of course, I am pleased that the Union has maintained its unity on the sanctions imposed on Russia after the illegal annexation of Crimea. The way forward is to re-double our efforts to support the reform process in Ukraine and to resist attempts to destabilize the country. Ukraine's case is a test of Europe's fundamental values in the neighbourhood. Countries in the region are watching to see whether sovereign borders can be violated, because this has huge implications for their own security. They want to know whether the future is the rule of law, or the mix of muscle and corruption they have known in the past. Ukraine's future is a mirror image of the European Union's future as a global actor.
Securing our borders is the most immediate and toughest test facing us. It is safe to assume that we will see over half a million irregular arrivals at Europe's external border this year, who are in part genuine asylum seekers from Syria and elsewhere. To rise to this challenge, the Union must mobilise all available tools - internal and external. We are fulfilling and will fulfil our responsibilities under the UN refugee convention. But that cannot be done if we sacrifice public order in the process. I am now working with the Presidency and with leaders to build a new consensus between governments on how the Union responds to sudden influxes of asylum seekers. After the last European Council, we have moved slightly closer to achieving a common position among the Member States, but there is still a long way ahead of us. We take note of some tensions between the countries, sorry to use a something like a simplification, of a divide between the East and West of the EU. Some member States are thinking about containing the wave of migration, symbolized by the controversial Hungarian fence. Others expect greater solidarity in advocating inter alia a so-called obligatory basis for quotas. Therefore the key challenge is to find for them all a common yet an ambitious denominator.
Coping with mass population movements must become a de facto theme of both Europe's neighbourhood policy and its global agenda. First, we need new strategic alliances in our wider neighbourhood on migration and asylum. I recall that the European Council, already in June 2014, agreed that the key to dealing with many of our migration challenges "lies in relations with third countries, which calls for improving the link between the EU's internal and external policies." I want to impress upon you that this means working intimately with your host governments on migration and asylum matters and then making the link back to colleagues on the home affairs and development side here.
Our first goal is to ensure that people in need of international protection receive it, preferably as close to their home country as possible. Second, we must gain more control over mass population flows. To achieve both of these goals, it is necessary to have a successful outcome to both the Valetta and possible Budapest conferences in the coming months. Words are no longer enough in this matter. We need to deliver.
I have just returned from the Balkans, which has become the new route for the people smugglers. We should accelerate the parts of the enlargement process related to immigration and asylum so that these countries have a better infrastructure for handling migration challenges. And there is a clear need to revitalize links with Turkey so that we are once again confident friends and partners on this and in other matters.
Men, women and children are fleeing to our borders as a result of insecurity and economic decay in our immediate neighbourhood and the countries in neighbouring regions: Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and so on. Europe's limited ability to stabilise the situation is not just a result of the shortcomings of the Union's neighbourhood policy. The regions in question are facing unprecedented threats like the rise of ISIS, which controls an area larger than the country of Britain on Turkey's border. This needs to be a matter of reflection for the democracies of the West and the international community more generally. The Gulf countries could do more to help stabilise the refugee situation, for example. This is a point I will be making at the UN General Assembly later this month.
While everyone is momentarily focused on the situation at our south-eastern frontier, the situation in Libya remains extremely serious. The Union continues to support the efforts of Bernardo Leon, the UN special representative, and we earnestly hope that a Government of National Accord can be agreed over the next weeks. Can I just say here that I particularly appreciated the speed at which our new naval mission in the Mediterranean was designed and deployed by our military staff last July. It is important to move to the next phase of the EUNAVFOR mission quickly.
In three months, Paris will see one of the most important international events of the year: the UN climate conference, whose goal is to adopt a new climate change agreement. Climate change may put at risk not only the environment, but also prosperity, poverty reduction or even more broadly stability and security. It is also having an impact on migration flows that we know is real, even if hard to quantify at the present time.
The European Union was the first major economy to submit its contribution in March - a binding, emissions reduction target of at least 40% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. This is the most ambitious contribution presented to date. It is important that other major economies make similar commitments, not least for our future competitiveness. Some G20 countries such as Argentina, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Turkey did not do it. EU diplomacy should encourage these countries to come forward with ambitious contributions without delay.
I know the negotiations are advancing too slowly. But it is clear to me from recent meetings I attended, for example the G7 in June where we agreed on long-term objectives, the EU-China summit or the EU-CELAC summit that there is political will to reach an ambitious global climate agreement.
This topic will be on the agenda of the forthcoming United Nations General Assembly in September and the G20 in Turkey in November, which I will attend. With your help we need to prepare the ground well to avoid the traps of the past. I would like to wish France bon courage for the preparations ahead of December.
I want to stress again that I see the speedy agreement of TTIP as important. This is especially pressing now after the new economic uncertainty in Asia and since the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the world's biggest trade agreement for many years, will soon be concluded.
There are many other issues that I would like to discuss with you. But let me just say a brief word on the eurozone since I know that you have been facing many questions on this from your interlocutors on the ground over the past year. I will not give you a blow-by-blow account of events from January, as we worked to settle Greece's future in the eurozone. I am grateful that the authorities in Athens are now really showing their commitment to working constructively with the institutions following the agreement of a new ESM programme in August. Decisive and swift implementation by the incoming government will allow the Greek economy to return to a sustainable growth path based on sound public finances, enhanced competitiveness, high employment and financial stability. In the meantime, the eurozone as a whole is moving on to take the next steps towards strengthening economic and monetary union following on from the publication of the so-called 5 Presidents' report.
"May you live in interesting times": you know this Chinese curse. Indeed, we live in sobering - shocking - times. But this needs to be a spur to action, rather than the easy indulgence of apocalyptic thinking. I can never remember a time in politics when the world wasn't supposedly in chaos. So I tend to take declarations of existential crises with a pinch of salt.
As we move forward as a team to prove that Europe remains a serious force in the world in our time, I can only recall the words of an ancient European, Virgil: Olim meminisse juvabit ("It will be pleasant to remember former troubles.")
I wish you fruitful discussions and I look forward to achieving much together over the next few months. I am sure however that we are going to meet sooner rather than later in the countries of your daily work. Thank you very much again for your help and engagement.