Statement by the Minister for Foreign Affairs at the EU Conference on Conflict Prevention
Minister Lindh, Assistant Secretary-General Turk, fellow Ministers, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
I am delighted to have been asked to speak at this important Conference and I thank our Swedish hosts for their initiative in providing a forum for views to be exchanged on the centrally important subject of Conflict Prevention.
I have been struck by the range of backgrounds and by the depth of knowledge and expertise here in Helsingborg over the next two days - Anna and her colleagues have proved most adept at ensuring a good turnout ! I look forward to hearing and learning from many different views and insights.
This panel discussion is devoted to the question of common values and on this subject at least I do not expect to hear an enormous divergence of views. From previous discussions at the UN and at EU level, as well as in other international fora, I believe that there is much agreement throughout the international community on certain key fundamental principles which must constitute the framework for proper and thorough debate on Conflict Prevention issues. We have seen in recent years a growing synergy between the EU's work and the work of the UN in conflict prevention. The fostering of a “culture of prevention” recommended to us by Secretary-General Annan is at the heart of the EU's approach.
These principles are well captured in the EU Programme for the Prevention of Violent Conflicts, the product of much hard work by the previous Swedish EU Presidency, but also complementing key UN, OSCE and Council of Europe texts. These reflect a clear and almost universal desire on the part of the international community for peace and security, justice and democracy and equitable and sustainable economic development.
These are our common values.
We may have arrived at them by different routes according to our historical perspectives and experiences, but they have been hard won and are no less cherished for all that. I believe that it is our clear duty to consider how we can give practical expression to these values through the prevention of conflict.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The timing of this Conference is significant in that it occurs as we approach the first anniversary of the terrible attacks perpetrated last year against the United States of America and its people. Many other nationalities represented here today, including Ireland, also suffered loss of life and injuries.
In the aftermath of the attacks, there was also much discussion as to how such terrorist attacks could be prevented from ever happening again.
We also heard talk of “a clash of civilisations”. I was wary of such talk then and I remain so. Not only it is unduly simplistic but more significantly, it implies that are certain conflict situations which are just too intractable and too difficult to solve. It is also ill becoming of our common values and fundamental responsibilities to each other as members of the human race.
The challenge that faces us, and one which is particularly important in the context of seeking to prevent conflict, is to show respect for diversity and differing cultural outlooks, while at the same time continuing to assert the universality of the fundamental values which bind us all.
I note also that recently there have been further claims of divergence in the values espoused by Europe and the United States. The relationship between us has been sometimes seen in terms of our respective strengths and weaknesses. From an Irish perspective, I would point out that such claims are contradicted by our experience of the peace process in Northern Ireland.
Key contributions have been made throughout this process by both the United States and Europe. While these contributions have brought different perspectives, they are mutually reinforcing and they derive from common values. They have illustrated a common appreciation of the desire for peace in Northern Ireland which has been so long sought after by the vast majority of our peoples.
That is not to pretend that Europe and the US do not have views on other matters that differ in certain respects. The specific instances have become well known, including in the post-11 September context, and in some cases, our differences of opinion and emphasis remain ongoing. Sometimes these give rise to fears that our interests are set either on a collision course or, perhaps even worse, heading in entirely opposite directions.
But let us not get any differences out of proportion. Our common values are too strong to permit this and despite any tensions between us, they remain solid at the core. But these values must certainly be nurtured and protected to ensure that they remain so. They require patient and determined reinforcement through dialogue but also through concrete action.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In the EU context, work has been taken forward since the endorsement of the Programme for the Prevention of Violent Conflicts by the Gothenburg European Council. I express particular thanks to the outgoing Spanish Presidency for brokering agreement on proposals for a more systematic approach to conflict prevention. These will help to ensure that a clearer Conflict Prevention perspective is brought to bear on the day-to-day business of the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP).
I also acknowledge the initiatives and internal reorganisation undertaken to date by the European Commission. I feel that much stands to be gained through building on the already fruitful cooperation between the Commission and Member States in the area of Conflict Prevention, particularly in the development cooperation sphere.
The links between short- and long-term prevention have been clearly established. The UN Summit on Sustainable Development, which is currently underway in Johannesburg, is the latest in a series of important development conferences which seek to address the long term needs of the developing world.
Development cooperation focussed on poverty eradication is the most important instrument which we have available to address the long-term root causes of conflict. In this context, I consider that the Cotonou Agreement holds great potential for integration of trade, aid and a comprehensive political dialogue which will make an important contribution to conflict prevention in the ACP region.
One basic challenge facing conflict prevention activities at EU level, as in our national administrations, is that it traverses different pillars and competences. Another is effective prioritization and implementation of activities. A further challenge concerns ‘mainstreaming', whereby conflict prevention should inform and involve military as well as civil, diplomatic, humanitarian and economic tools and approaches. I look forward to seeing these challenges addressed as we make progress on CFSP and ESDP.
Against this background, it is important for the EU that conflict prevention is not seen as separate from CFSP and ESDP tools. What, after all, are the conflict prevention capabilities available to the Union?
They are in fact the application of EU policies, especially the CFSP and the ESDP. What in practical terms is needed is an enhanced resource base to better assist EU Presidencies in carrying forward Conflict Prevention priorities. I propose that a specific inventory or catalogue of conflict prevention tools and resources should be drawn up so as to provide a clear picture of the facilities and experiences which Member States, the Commission and the Council Secretariat can apply in the service of Conflict Prevention. This should help to ensure coherence of Conflict Prevention efforts across all areas of Union business.
Conflict prevention is deeply constitutive of CFSP and ESDP, particularly since the Laeken European Council's declaration that the Union has become “operational” in these fields. The Rapid Reaction Force is an important conflict prevention capability, but is of course only one of a number of such capabilities at the Union's disposal. It is simply one albeit important tool in the large and well stocked conflict prevention tool-box available to the Union.
I welcome that the first two EU crisis management missions are clearly conflict prevention in scope. The Police Mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina is to be a mixture of conflict prevention and post-conflict institution building. Moreover, the anticipated EU takeover of the current Task Force Fox mission in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia will effectively be the heir of the UN Preventive Deployment Force in that region.
These are excellent examples of the preventive potential of peace-keeping operations. We have all seen the benefit of preventive deployment - as well as the cost involved when the international community either fails to deploy preventively, or when it withdraws or winds up a successful ongoing operation.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
There is real urgency attaching to the task of conflict prevention. While we might ask ourselves whether we can afford to act, we would do well also to ask whether we can afford not to do so when international peace and security come under threat.
Implicit in this is the need for sustained interest by the international community. Our respective political systems are often not conducive to meeting this challenge and nor, it might be said, are our institutions. Media pressures play their part in this. But do we wait for conflicts to fit into our frameworks, or should not our frameworks be able to adapt to meet the needs of the situation?
I look forward to hearing views expressed on these and other issues during the remainder of our Conference. The ongoing and very important dialogue between European regional organisations and the UN should continue to develop. Our common values demand no less than that the prevention of death, destruction and misery should become an absolute priority for us all.Top