20 December 2016, Cairo – Opening remarks by High Representatie/Vice President Mogherini at the 4th EU-League of Arab States Ministerial meeting
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Let me start by thanking our hosts, first of all the Foreign Minister of Tunisia [Khmaïyes Jhinaoui], the Secretary General of the League of Arab States [Ahmad Aboul-Gheit] for their wonderful hospitality and a very timely meeting that we share at ministerial level today. We are living in very sad times for our region and I believe our thoughts go collectively to the victims of terrorism on both sides of the Mediterranean in our region. Today we share a feeling of sadness and, if I can say so, mutual condolences as we see victims, civilians, innocent victims falling in Berlin, in Jordan just a few days ago, in Cairo, the assassination of the Russian Ambassador in Ankara yesterday. We face a wave of inconceivable violence and terrorism that makes our gathering together, our meeting today, even more important, even more relevant. Because I believe we share the common and deep conviction of the fact that only a common response to the terrorist violence can bring results for the sake of civilians across our region. So let me start by dedicating our thoughts to those victims, both in Europe and in the Arab world, and show our determination to jointly prevent and fight terrorism in our territories and globally.
This is my second Ministerial meeting between the European Union and the League of Arab States – the first in this capacity. But we meet very regularly bilaterally and multilaterally with all of you.
And let me say that we believe this format is particularly and increasingly important. Regional cooperation is the not only the best, but possibly the only way we have to address the crises we all face in our region. And I say “our region” because when I say “regional cooperation” I don’t just mean a bi-regional dimension of our relations, but us sharing the same region. And this is the reason I believe why we have so many Ministers present today. On the European side, on the Arab side – I think this is only natural. This shows the awareness we share on the need to work together in this format.
What happens in Syria, in Libya or even in Yemen has a direct impact on Europe. And the European Union is an essential partner for growth, peace and security in the Arab world. The Mediterranean has always been a connector, more than a border. I would say a bridge rather than a sea, across cultures, through history.
This link we have, the link we share, grows stronger by the day, as we are called to work together to prevent and fight terrorism, on crisis management, on humanitarian assistance, against organised crime, for a better governance of human mobility, developing a true partnership approach on migration, to save lives, dismantle the traffickers’ networks, manage sustainably regular migration. We need for our cooperation to grow, and the need for our cooperation is bound to increase, and we should all aim to bring our relations to a higher level.
Take Syria, where a battle might end but the war still rages on, years since it started. Peace cannot be built on violence against civilians, on the repeated violations of humanitarian law, on entire cities turned into ruins. And I believe that Europeans and Arabs share this fundamental interest in putting an end to the war in Syria. Peace requires justice for all Syrians and a genuine, inclusive political transition. For this reason, the European Union has launched a European and regional initiative on the future of Syria, with all regional powers, and this means most of you. Together we can agree – Europeans, Arabs, Syrians, in connection with the global community under the UN auspices – we can agree on a framework that can make it acceptable for all – a reconciliation among Syrians, turn this proxy war into a proxy peace, finally, take our regional responsibilities, finally. Because the closer we are to the conflict – as we all are – the more we know that Syria cannot be turned into a black hole. We would all suffer from that. And we – Arabs, Europeans – cannot and will not allow for that to happen. Someone far away can maybe at a certain moment think that this conflict can end simply on a military basis. We know very well that there are people beyond numbers and we share a responsibility to stop this war especially for them. So when a political transition will begin, we will also need to work on a massive effort for the reconstruction of the country. And I underline when a political transition will begin. And it can be the most powerful dividend of peace, the most powerful leverage we can collectively use to end the war and start a political transition, with political intra-Syrian talks under the UN auspices. We are determined to do our part in this process. We need a partnership with the Arab world to make this succeed.
In Yemen too, a political solution cannot wait any longer. The continuation of the war is not only imposing incredible pain on the people of Yemen; it is also reinforcing terrorist groups and regional instability. A sustainable and continued cessation of hostilities is vital both to guarantee access for humanitarian assistance, and for peace negotiations to resume.
Stronger regional cooperation is the key to ending all the current crises. On Libya we need to join our work: the Arab world, the Europeans, other international and regional actors. Together we can help the Libyans to achieve what was not yet achieved; the unity of the country against the threat it is facing, we are all facing, starting with terrorism spreading – to allow all Libyans to live in security and benefit from the country’s many resources, and stop the human trafficking that is causing so much pain and so many losses of lives.
And let me take the occasion to salute the appointment of a League of Arab States’ Special Envoy for Libya [Slaheddine Jemmali]. We are ready to work together.
Let me conclude on a much older conflict: the one between Israel and Palestine. This has become the easier one to solve given the proliferation of many other conflicts. Still, this stays on top of our agenda, and sometimes I have the feeling that it is only Europeans and Arabs keeping the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on the top of our political agenda. We need to join efforts in trying to facilitate a solution to this old, relevant, but not impossible-to-solve conflict in our region.
It is regional players that can play a crucial role in changing the dynamics on the ground. The Arab Peace Initiative provides key elements for a comprehensive conflict settlement. We must keep the prospect of the two-state solution alive and it is even more vital in these days.
We cannot underestimate the risks of a new escalation of violence. And we cannot underestimate – on the contrary – the positive impact that some kind of cooperation in the Holy Places could have for the whole region and, let me add, for the entire world. We can really make a difference there. I am not and we are not, Europeans, among those that believe hope is lost. On the contrary we need that in a moment of difficulty, we need to intensify our common work to solve the conflict.
The European Union has a direct stake in the stability and the security and the prosperity of the entire Middle East. We are ready to support peace with all our tools – though diplomacy, through humanitarian aid, through trade and development cooperation. But there can be no peace in this region without the people and the governments of the Middle East.
And if I can spend one word on our positive agenda – because surrounded by these multiple crises and conflicts and threats we sometimes forget to look at the positive that our people and especially our youth can bring to our common region. Beyond the many crises and conflicts we can together invest in our youth, not only for the future but also for the present, and I say this in the country that is hosting us now that has half of its population that is young. Investing in job creation, education opportunities, opportunities for active participation in our societies for all, societies that we want and we need to be inclusive for all and fair.
It is time to move beyond old and also new dividing lines and build strong, real partnerships for the benefit of our citizens, and let me say also for the benefit of our world. Because we live in this moment in the most conflictual region of the world. We are the ones that know it better because we live in this region. We have maybe a certain responsibility in trying to solve some of the situations we are facing today at first hand.
Politics change, administrations change, but history and geography do not change. And we share too much to even think of ourselves as two distinct entities. So we have this responsibility in common.
Let me wish us all a fruitful common work, not only for today but also for the months and years to come, together. Thank you.
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