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European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR)
News article9 February 2021Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations5 min read

Remarks by Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi at the press conference presenting the Joint Communication on the Renewed partnership with the Southern Neighbourhood

I am very glad and happy to present to you the Southern neighbourhood communication we just adopted. As you might recall, last year we have celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Barcelona process, which launched this partnership for the first...

Renewed partnership with the Southern Neighbourhood

I am very glad and happy to present to you the Southern neighbourhood communication we just adopted.

As you might recall, last year we have celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Barcelona process, which launched this partnership for the first time with our Southern neighbours.

This Commission, as you know, considers all its neighbours to be a priority. You have seen us engaging with the Eastern partner countries, the Western Balkans and now we have a very clear and renewed strategy for partnership with the Southern neighbourhood.

It is a renewed partnership and the reason for this is that we are still the most important economic partner of the region, both in terms of trade and investments, and we are still considered the most important political priority and partner for this region. And we want this to remain so, and we want to reinforce this role in the region, with the region.

This will not be the case unless we renew our vows to each other, unless we renew our partnership, especially after and during the COVID-19 crisis. And you have seen that during the COVID crisis we have tried to help this region as much as we could.

We have mobilised significant funding: €2.3 billion have been mobilised to help during the first wave of the economic crisis. But now we need to establish a common strategy. And in doing so, we have been reaching out, ever since the first wave of the pandemic, to the entire region to identify the common challenges and the common interests on which we can build this renewed partnership.

We see that the biggest challenge for the region - and also for us because we are interdependent with this region - is instability. Instability, which has been further aggravated by the COVID crisis, be it social, be it economic or be it security.

In that, of course, we have at least two main areas where we need to concentrate on with our partners; and this is something that we have been developing together with them.

First is the economy, where we need growth in jobs, where we see that their economies are not diverse, where their economies are very reliant on single sectors and which created major economic difficulties and damage during the COVID crisis.

The second area is security, which has been a long-term problem, as we have seen terrorism, organised crime, illegal migration, including smuggler organisations, on the rise.

We have been able to come to a common understanding with our neighbours, our Southern partners, that it is a common interest to stabilise the region. And we are ready to contribute to this, to stabilise the region together and we are ready to contribute to this long-term. I think I need to underline this: we are here for long-term planning, together.

We need to have prosperity in the region and the region is ready to reform itself, but it needs help. It needs to create a diverse economy; it needs to become an attractive investors’ hub.

This is all the more relevant during and after the COVID crisis as we see European companies looking at shortening their value chains that now go even to Asia. Maybe they would be interested to move closer to us, for instance in the Southern neighbourhood?

And with this, we have to create a future, an economic future, also for the youth of this region, the strength of these countries, but also a major vulnerability if the youth cannot have a future in their own countries and with their own economies to which they could contribute.

On security, we are also ready to engage even more to help them to fight terrorism, to help them to crack down on organised crime and on irregular migration, breaking up the business models of the smugglers.

So what do we propose? We propose a new partnership, a new partnership, which is based on ownership, common ownership, meaning serving both the interests of Europe and of our partners in the Southern neighbourhood.

And we are offering also a long-term reliability for both sides when it comes to the future of our relations and when it comes to the deliverables that we would like to achieve through this.

You will see in the communication that we are pragmatic, down to earth, when it comes to the implementation and the content of this partnership.

We have designed the partnership around five priorities. First is the human capital development, good governance, rule of law, where you will find the health sector, the education, which is a big challenge; the second is the economy; third peace and security; fourth migration and the fifth is the Green Deal.

But I would highlight two of the major drives of this proposal. The first is the economic drive. This is the biggest challenge after the COVID crisis. Unless we help to bring a more diverse, a more modern economy to this region, we will continue to see major social difficulties and economic difficulties. There is a common interest to invest directly into the economy and create growth and jobs, directly in the region.

The second is the security drive, the single biggest challenge also since the Arab Spring. This is the moment from which we have seen terrorism on the rise, this is the moment from which we have seen irregular migration on the rise, and this is the moment from where we have seen the new emergence of organised crime.

What to look for in the proposal? You will find in the proposal an Economic and Investment Plan for the entire region. You will also find tailor made proposals for each and every single partner country, tailor made because this is a diverse region with different economic structures, different needs and different social situations. It is for that reason that we wanted to listen to them and front-load those areas they also considered to be the most important but which also fit in our internal agenda.

And lastly, we are implementing the external dimension of the Migration Pact, including the support that we are providing for this region to fight irregular migration. You will see very tangible projects we think will contribute to the emergence of a stronger economy and also a more socially-just economy, meaning that the youth will get the right skills, the right skills for their own economies.

You will see that we want to invest in a public administration that is more reliable and which also creates a more reliable investors’ climate. You will see that we want to invest into more connected economies. You will see that we want to invest into SMEs. You will see that we want to invest in access to financing and you will see that we try to be as relevant as we can in the whole design of the economic recovery after the COVID pandemic.

Thank you.