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EUHR Solana's Speech on 'Freedom of Borders' to the Veerstichtung Symposium in in Leiden

Summary: October 7, 2004: Speech by JAVIER SOLANA, EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), on "FREEDOM OF BORDERS" to the Veerstichtung Symposium in LEIDEN, THE NETHERLANDS

Your Majesty, Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak to you today. I consider it a real honour to address such a prestigious gathering. And it is a pleasure also to be in the company of so many bright minds.

Mr. Chairman, you have chosen “freedom of borders” as the theme of this year’s symposium. As you have said in your introduction, borders take many different forms.

I want to share three quite simple thoughts with you this morning. First: borders matter less. Second: while the extent of states has become less relevant, so the content of the state has become more important. And thirdly: in a world where the most potent threats transcend borders, so must the responses.

It is of course the geographical variety of borders that we are most familiar with. The fortunate – those born in a settled, stable part of the world - learn at school the comforting shapes we call our countries. The certainty of their boundaries helps us to bring order and sense to the world. Their uniqueness helps establish identity. But it was not always so. And it is not everywhere so.

Borders that today seem solid, undisputed, and objective owe those qualities to the passage of time. For in truth, there is something arbitrary about all borders, even when they follow natural features. They are the convenient markers of the outer limits of our tribes. They are the lines in the sand that divides “us” from “them”. And like lines in the sand they can be washed away.

I was reminded of this when in a corner of the Balkans some years ago. I was introduced to a charming elderly gentleman. He had, he told me, lived all his long life in the same house where he had been born. During that time his house – one house – had found itself in six different countries.

Much of the recent attraction of the European Union lies in the way that it has made familiar and often ancient borders less relevant. We still marvel at the ease with which we cross frontiers. Where once we queued, today we barely slow down. Where once we needed passports, visas and currency exchange, today we need not worry. Lines on maps that defined and divided us for centuries now seem barely perceptible.

Some worry that as the relevance of the Union's internal borders has diminished, so that of its external borders has increased. Our neighbours fear that, as we in the Union remove some borders, we will put up new ones in their place.

Such anxiety is natural, but I do not believe that it is well founded. We did not tear down one iron curtain simply to construct another in its place.

Many of our neighbours want to become members of the Union. Four countries - Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Turkey - all enjoy candidate status. Our objective is to formally conclude negotiations with them in the coming months and years.

And now, with the Commission's report and recommendation published yesterday, the European Council can take a clear view on the start of negotiations with Turkey.

We are more than a marketplace. We are a Union of shared values and interests. The pooling of sovereignty makes the process we call "European integration" more than just regional economic integration. We are a political Union also. In other words, the extent of the European Union cannot be separated from its content.

But it is not in our interests – and neither is it our aim - that the benefits of the Union end abrubtly at its external borders. Nor do we want the benefits of the Union to be reserved solely to those countries that are current or future members.

It is impossible to imagine that the Union can exist as an island of peace, prosperity and stability within a wider sea of turmoil. Whether our neighbours will one day be members or not, we are working to ensure that they can share in a wider zone of comfort.

With the countries of the Balkans we also borders. These countries have changed their former borders in a very cruel manner, through war, not so long ago.

We are also looking to our borders with a vast arc of countries, stretching from Morocco, along the length of the southern shores of the Mediterranean, to Jordan and Syria, through the Southern Caucasus, and encompassing Moldova, Ukraine and Belarus. The latter will probably not become members of the European Union but through a European Neighbourhood Policy, we offer these countries a privileged relationship with the Union. They will be able to negotiate participation in many of our activities.

This attention to neighbours is not new. Soon, we celebrate ten years of partnership with the countries of the Mediterranean region. This partnership has been a success story. It has allowed for co-operation in many policy fields. But the present European Union Member States must be more ambitious still.

The borders that the European Union shares with its neighbours must be lines that connect not lines that divide. We must also take care that new and higher borders do not form among and between our neighbours.

The European Union is powerfully attractive to many of our neighbours. But it is in all of our interests to avoid a pattern of connections that looks like iron filings pointing to a single magnetic pole. All roads should not lead to Brussels.

Our neighbours must deepen their own bilateral and regional relationships. That is why, with both our Balkan and Mediterranean neighbours, we place such emphasis on intra-regional integration.

In the European neighbourhood and beyond, borders no longer provide the insularity they once did. All around the world, the division of “us” from “them” has weakened. This is due both to the advance of technology and to the expansion of human freedom.
As a result, we live in an era of easy travel and instant global communication. People, goods, ideas, diseases, fashions, information – all move around our world with unprecedented speed. The consequences for our societies have been profound. It affects who we are, what we think, and how we respond.

Not many of us live in states that are truly ethnically homogenous. Most of our societies enjoy varying degrees of multi-nationalism. This may give us useful insights into other parts of the world, but it also means that segments of our populations have an important stake in issues and conflicts around the world.
In an inter-connected, inter-dependent world chaos cannot easily be contained. Containing chaos is difficult, but ignoring it is impossible. The power of television means that even the most distant crisis finds its way into our living rooms. The borders between domestic and foreign policy are breaking down. The linkage between internal and external security is becoming stronger.

We face new opportunities and new threats. All of us – policy-makers, scientists, citizens - need to reflect on how best to realise the opportunities and how best to confront the threats.

I see two basic challenges ahead. They are complex and inter-linked. The first challenge is how to address the threats we see in a world where inter-dependence matters more and borders matter less.

These threats include terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, organised crime, environmental damage, and climate change. They also include local or regional conflicts with global resonance.

The second challenge is that of “transition". How can we encourage political and economic freedom beyond our borders in very different parts of the world, with different traditions and varying starting points?

The starting point in confronting both challenges must be to create stable frameworks of law and physical security. We must look to what lies within the borders of states. Strengthening the capacity to govern, effectively and legitimately, will be key to success in countries as diverse as Afghanistan, Iraq and Haiti. Borders matter less, but the capacities of governments matter more.

Almost a year ago EU heads of state and government adopted a European Security Strategy. At the heart of this strategy is the belief that multi-national challenges require multi-national responses.

No single country has the wisdom, resources, or patience to tackle today’s challenges alone. Because the most urgent contemporary challenges are trans-national in character, they can be tackled only as a co-operative venture.

But multilateralism must be effective. It must be action-oriented and capable of delivering results.

In the European context, that does not mean that the Member States will have a diminished role in future. But it does mean that the European Union will have to do more and do better. It must become a more effective and a more coherent actor in international affairs.

Achieving that goal will mean removing some remaining borders - borders of a functional kind.

The recently adopted Constitutional Treaty seeks to give an answer to this demand.

In the last twenty years the Union has done a fantastic job of spreading prosperity, democracy and stability on our continent.

It has done so by removing borders between our members, and by extending the outer limits of those borders. Our borders are set to extend further still.

But the main challenge for the coming twenty years will be how best to spread prosperity, democracy and stability beyond our borders.

I am fortunate that my political career has allowed me to travel all over the world. I lost count long ago of the numbers of borders I have crossed.

But I am envious of men like Prince Sultan bin Salman Al Saud. He was the first Arab astronaut. His recollections of the view from space are revealing. He said that on the first day or so all the astronauts pointed to their own countries. By the third or fourth day they were pointing to their continents. By the fifth day though, they were aware of only one earth.

Only a lucky few have shared his view. The rest of us must work on sharing his awareness.

Thank you very much.

  • Ref: SP04-279EN
  • EU source: Council
  • UN forum: 
  • Date: 7/10/2004


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