Presentation by Minister Cowen to the press of the Programme of the Irish Presidency, Thursday 18 December, Brussels (2)
In a Union of 25, finding common ground on issues of global importance - and sticking to it - is a challenge. It is a challenge however that we are willing and able to take on. A European Union of 25 member states, with 450 million people and a quarter of the world's GDP, is a global player, well positioned to play a responsible role internationally. It cannot and should not be otherwise.
The Union's engagement with the wider world is, fundamentally, based on the values of democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
For the Union to play a positive role on the global stage in support of these values, it needs to be both coherent in its policies and effective in its actions.
This means fully utilising all the instruments and capabilities at its disposal, including the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP), as well as trade, humanitarian and development cooperation policies
It also means using the capabilities, both civilian and military, that are being developed under the European Security and Defence Policy to prevent and manage conflict situations outside the Union's borders. A major challenge for the Union over the next six months will be preparing for a follow-on mission to the current NATO-led peace stabilisation force (SFOR) in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Our Presidency comes at a time when the EU has adopted the first European Security Strategy. The Strategy takes a comprehensive and holistic approach to Europe's security. We look forward to progressing key elements of the Strategy, in particular in relation to effective multilateralism, the fight against terrorism, strengthening relations with the Middle East region and Arab World and developing a comprehensive strategy for Bosnia-Herzegovina.
You all know that the external affairs agenda of the European Union is extensive. In the time available, it is not possible for me to give a full account of our programme across the global spectrum. What I want to do, however, is give you a sense of some of the strategic themes and issues that will be particularly important throughout our Presidency.
The values underpinning the European Union are best expressed through our support for an effective multilateral system. This is at the heart of the Security Strategy and will be a central and consistent theme during our Presidency, including in our dialogue with third countries.
The United Nations is the pivotal actor in the maintenance of global peace and security and we are committed to working ever more closely with the UN to progress our shared interests and values. The European Union and the United Nations are natural partners in carrying out peacekeeping operations and we have already signed a declaration with the UN on cooperation in crisis management. The challenge for our Presidency is to move towards practical implementation of this declaration.
A multilateral approach is also key in countering the threat of proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and in promoting disarmament. This is reflected in the EU Strategy on Weapons of Mass Destruction which has been adopted by the European Council and which, as Presidency, we have been tasked to take forward.
In the area of human rights, we will work towards the adoption of EU Guidelines in support of Human Rights Defenders and the implementation of the EU's Strategy on Children in Armed Conflict.
Conflict Prevention will be an important crosscutting issue in our Presidency.
An element that we want to focus on will be the role of Non Governmental Organisations and civil society in conflict prevention and the interface between CFSP actions and development cooperation activities in preventing conflict. These issues will be the focus of a conference in Dublin in the Spring. Our work on these issues will feed into a report of the Union's progress in implementing the ‘EU Programme for the Prevention of Violent Conflicts' which we will present to the European Council next June.
We also want to mainstream support for conflict prevention into our engagement and dialogue with third countries. This is particularly pertinent in the case of Africa. A major priority in our Presidency will be to push African issues up the EU agenda and to re-vitalise our cooperation with the continent. To this end I will be hosting an EU/Africa Troika Meeting in Dublin in April. We would also like to see the Peace Facility for Africa become operational as soon as possible.
There are 291 million people living below the poverty line in sub-Saharan Africa. An estimated 28 million are infected with HIV/AIDS. Over a dozen conflict situations exacerbate this humanitarian crisis.
It is simply not an option for us to turn our backs. We must engage seriously, coherently and consistently with African partners to find comprehensive solutions to these problems.
We in Ireland have worked especially closely with Africa over the last thirty years. Our over-riding message as Presidency will mirror what our bilateral experience has taught us; that support for African-led initiatives to tackle the enormous challenges the continent faces is key.
An area which will clearly be high on our Presidency agenda is the transatlantic relationship. I have made clear before my view that the EU needs to adhere to the basic foreign policy triangle of a reinforced Common Foreign and Security Policy, a firm attachment to the UN and a strong transatlantic relationship. Summits with both the US and with Canada during our Presidency will provide an opportunity to re-affirm the vitality and importance of the transatlantic relationship.
I said earlier that the Union is a global player with a strong and responsible role in the international arena. We cannot play this role without close and ongoing cooperation with the United States on the broad range of issues, both political and economic, that face us all.
We attach central importance to the Middle East Peace Process. We will continue efforts to promote the implementation of the Road Map as the basis for progress towards just and lasting two-state solution. Close EU-US cooperation in this area will be a pre-requisite for attempts to move the process forward.
We need to continue to support reconstruction and economic development in Iraq and to work towards the early restoration of sovereignty to the Iraqi people. The EU is committed to a central role for the UN in this process. We must also maintain our commitment to seeing Afghanistan's transition to a just and secure society.
Asia is of increasing strategic importance to the European Union. I will host an ASEM Ministerial meeting in Ireland in April and I hope that this will provide an opportunity for EU and Asian Foreign Ministers to review and re-invigorate the EU-Asia relationship.
I will also host a Euromed Mid-Term Ministerial meeting in Dublin in May. As Presidency, we will work hard to make agreed institutional parts of our relationship operational, such as the Euro-Mediterranean Foundation for the Dialogue of Cultures and the Euromed Parliamentary Assembly.
We will continue to develop the Strategic Partnership between the EU and the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region. Dialogue between the two regions will focus in particular on the promotion of peace, democracy, stability and socio-economic progress.
A cross-cutting issue that none of us can afford to ignore is the
fight against global terrorism. An important goal of our Presidency will be to implement the Union's ‘Action Plan against Terrorism'. The issue of combating global terrorism will be an important element of our dialogue with third countries.
The EU is the largest contributor to humanitarian and development assistance in the world and has tremendous potential as a strong force for global development. We intend to highlight and progress the development agenda during our Presidency and to focus on key challenges and opportunities in reducing poverty at global level. We will pursue with determination the fulfilment of the Millennium Development Goals with their strong emphasis on poverty reduction, empowerment of people and sustainable development. The greatest risk to sustainable development and human security is the HIV/Aids pandemic. This will be a key focus of our Presidency and will include a major conference on HIV/Aids in Europe and Central Asia.
In conclusion therefore, it is clear that we have a crowded, varied and complex agenda before us. Our overall aim will be to work with our partners in an open and transparent manner to take forward this agenda in a fair and balanced way on behalf of the Union as a whole.