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Press conference launching the German EU Council Presidency

19.12.2006 - Speech

Federal Foreign Minister Steinmeier presented Germany's EU Presidency plans in a press conference in Brussels on 19 December.

Introductory remarks by Federal Foreign Minister Steinmeier

I would like to thank the Finnish Council Presidency for its outstanding work, which we intend to build on in the next six months. We too have made intensive preparations for our Council Presidency. Expectations are high and we are aware of this. The German Presidency is ready to take on this responsibility, and looks forward to the creative influence which the role brings.

It is clear that no Presidency can start from scratch – or would indeed wish to. We see it as our duty to take on the working programme set out in Brussels calendars. Where possible, we will also try, in our capacity as Presidency, to make our own contributions to advancing the European project.

We are all aware that this is not an easy time for Europe. And this is, paradoxically – if you will allow me the comment – a result of the successes of European integration.

The peace, prosperity and stability we enjoy today would be unimaginable without the EU. On the other hand, we are seeing that traditional justifications alone, whilst still valid, are no longer sufficient. The EU is – or is at least largely perceived to be – in crisis, and many do not believe it capable of tackling the new challenges posed by globalization.

I strongly believe that we have both an opportunity and a duty to win back some of the trust which has been lost.

We hold three keys to achieving this:

  1. We must succeed in bringing forward the issue of the constitution – currently a symbol of Europe's self-imposed inertia.
  2. We, the European people, must speak with one voice with regard to the numerous conflicts in the world, and take unanimous action.
  3. Europe must formulate policies for the future. We must come up with answers now to the question of where we want to be in 2020. This applies particularly to the security of our energy supply and environmental protection – two issues which are inextricably linked.

We must make it clear that we, the European Union, can find efficient solutions to global challenges. Together, Europe is strong. This is the idea behind the German Presidency's motto, "Europe – succeeding together."

External relations

In foreign policy in particular, we know what can be planned for. But we also know that the issues which may concern us most will arise unexpectedly. Take, for example, the escalation of the Lebanon crisis at the beginning of the Finnish Presidency or the gas dispute between the Ukraine and Russia at the beginning of the Austrian Presidency. Nobody could have "predicted" these developments.

Remaining with the issues which we can expect to encounter during our Presidency, the following topics are likely to be particularly significant:

Turkey: In the General Affairs Council last week we found a solution which reaffirms our expectations of Turkey while leaving the door to negotiations open. We made it clear to the Turkish Government that it must fulfil its obligations. But we also sent out a signal that negotiations will be continued, even if to a limited degree. A vital task for the near future is to unblock economic development in northern Cyprus and take steps towards relaunching the UN process. Here we intend to build on the efforts of the Finnish Presidency and we remain in close contact with our Finnish colleagues, the Commission and the Republic of Cyprus.

We will also be confronted early in the new year with the subject of Kosovo. Following the elections in Serbia on 21 January, President Ahtisaari will propose a compromise solution to the status issue. Close cooperation within both the EU and the contact group are of vital importance throughout the whole process. We will support the status settlement with the largest civilian ESDP mission to date.

We also face difficult tasks in the Middle East, a fact highlighted by current developments. In Lebanon, our challenge is to help stabilize the situation. This also means promoting the national dialogue so urgently required. In the Palestinian territories, the internal situation is growing ever more acute. Our priority is to support President Abbas in his efforts to secure national unity on the basis of the Quartet's criteria. This was also the gist of the telephone conversation I had with him yesterday.

During our Presidency we will advocate direct Israeli-Palestinian talks aimed at consolidating and extending the ceasefire, and make determined efforts to revitalize the Middle East Quartet. I have held preliminary talks in the region and in Washington to this effect. It will also be a topic of my talks in Moscow the day after tomorrow.

On the whole, the German Presidency wishes to live up to the EU's major – and ever increasing – role in foreign affairs. A great deal of credit for the EU's successes in this area to date must be given to the High Representative for the CFSP, Javier Solana. We intend to work very closely with him and further strengthen his role during our Presidency. Mr Solana will thus take on the chair of a number of important meetings with partner countries and organizations.

With regard to current events, I would like to comment on the sentence passed against the Bulgarian nurses in Libya today. I was in Libya myself just a few weeks ago and highlighted our expectations in all of the talks held. The decision to uphold the death sentence against the Bulgarian nurses and the Palestinian doctor thus fills me with particular dismay.

The accusations cannot be sustained, and I would like to emphasize once again what I said in Tripoli: we urgently need a humane resolution to this tragic case. This is also of great importance for the development of the EU's relations with Libya.

Relations with Europe's neighbours

The accession of Romania and Bulgaria on 1 January will bring Europe new neighbours. We will be directly bordering the Black Sea region. This too provides an opportunity to review relations with our eastern neighbours and create a better basis for these.

What is clear is that we will continue to pursue a single overarching neighbourhood policy. We will work in close coordination with the succeeding Portuguese Presidency. I would expressly like to once again thank the Commission for the positive cooperation in this area. Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner is an outstanding partner to us in these matters, too. I look forward to working closely with her.

Together, we want to give impetus to the further development of the neighbourhood policy. Up to now, the policy has made an important contribution to intensifying relations with partners in immediate proximity to the EU. But I believe we must do more here – for all of the EU's neighbours, in the East as in the South. This means greater cooperation in individual sectors, possible participation in the internal market and more scientific and cultural exchange.

We will also have to look at Central Asia, a region of considerable strategic importance expressing an urgent desire for more contact with the EU. The focus here is on regional development and regional stability in a complex neighbouring territory, but it is also on cooperation in the energy sector. We intend to fulfil the mandate of the last European Council and launch a coherent strategy for the region. In doing so, it is vital that we discuss issues of human rights, the rule of law and basic democratic principles clearly and openly.

EU-Russian relations will also be of fundamental importance. It is in our very best interests to create long-term ties between the EU and Russia. I hope that a consensus can soon be reached within the EU to negotiate the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. Tomorrow I will travel to Russia for two days where I will encourage our Russian partners to seek a compromise solution.

The talks offer a good opportunity to establish a new basis for relations between the EU and Russia in all important fields.

What I believe is vital is our strategic approach. We do not stand by and watch developments in Russia uncritically. On the contrary, questions must be raised in several areas. But we can only help steer Russia's development towards the rule of law and democracy in the long term by seeking a cooperative partnership – and this includes exercising criticism where necessary. Yet we will not be able to influence things our way through criticism alone. Rather we need to have something to offer Russia where common interests are at stake.

A key area in this respect is energy cooperation, for which we must create a new basis and ensure that important fundamental principles are laid down in the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. These include: mutual access to markets; acceptance of the strict EU regulations imposed on all companies active in the EU with regard to competition; and a stable and reliable legal framework on both sides.

Energy and climate

The focus of the spring summit will be energy. We will consider how our dependency on imports can be controlled and how we can secure a reliable energy supply that is both commercially and environmentally sound. Foreign energy policy plays an essential role here.

For this reason, we are working towards an EU action plan on energy issues, based on the package of proposals to be presented by the Commission on 10 January.

Closely connected to the issue of energy is climate policy. We must rigorously maintain the EU's leading role in climate protection, particularly in formulating post-Kyoto objectives. Another priority will be further developing emissions trading.

A secure energy supply and climate protection have a productive relationship with one another. The effects of climate change often affect particularly poor countries. The renewable energies which we are developing are giving many people access to electricity for the first time, thereby lowering the ever more serious costs of imported energy.

Developments which benefit the climate thus also make a significant contribution to reducing poverty and improving security. Security of energy supply, climate protection, development and peace-keeping must not be, and indeed are not, incompatible.

Energy and climate are also the topics that are closely connected to the G8 process. A similar connection can be seen in the topics of Kosovo or Africa.

Constitutional process

The stuttering constitutional process is hindering our efforts in substantive areas. Moreover, institutional changes will be needed after the accession of Romania and Bulgaria at the latest. The constitutional process has become a warning sign of Europe's paralysis. We must make determined efforts to overcome this. Germany's position on the Constitution is well known, shared by more than two thirds of the Member States. We welcome all initiatives which can give fresh impetus to the constitutional project.

As the Presidency, however, we have a duty to act as a faithful intermediary between all Member States, communicating all of their interests. We will take this task very seriously.

Our first action will thus be to listen and ask questions. Two representatives of the Federal Government will hold talks to that end with all Member States and the Commission.

These will be followed by two strings of discussion:

On the one hand, we intend to make a Berlin Summit Declaration on 24/25th March, explaining in words that everyone will understand the reason behind the European project, why we believe that there is no alternative to this, and which challenges we must overcome together in future.

On the other hand, we will make a proposal at the European Council in June 2007 as to how the constitutional process can be continued. This will not – as all of you here know – involve a new constitutional text. It will concern, more realistically, an agreed roadmap for the process to come, which we intend to supplement with the outline of a solution. This alone will be an extremely difficult job, but I am confident it will be one we can manage.

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