I'm delighted to have the opportunity to speak at such a large gathering of staff from delegations and headquarters. You are our eyes and ears on the ground. All of you – and Heads of Delegation will allow me this transgression – are European Ambassadors! Your work is more important than ever given the many crises and challenges we face. I would like to thank you for that!
Despite the many challenges in our host countries, the list of achievements of the last year or more is a credit to you all. I won't go through them one by one but let me start by thanking you for managing the smooth transition to DG NEAR. I am impressed at how quickly DG NEAR in HQ and in the Delegations has united as one team;
Teamwork and cooperation
This is even more critical as we face multiple, overlapping crises (migration, security, economy etc.), which makes our smart and broad toolbox and our portfolio is more important than ever. Let me therefore underline how important it is that we continue to work as a team in HQ and Delegations and continue our very good cooperation with other Commission services and, of course, the EEAS.
Because we are all in this endeavour together. Together, we have no choice but to make our Union a true global actor, and move from being a "global payer" to being also a global "player".
Focus on ENP implementation
The European Neighbourhood Policy is particularly relevant in this regard. At the start of my mandate, President Juncker asked me to carry out a far-reaching review of this policy in the first twelve months. I thank all who worked so hard to deliver the Review which was adopted last November. But adoption is only the beginning. The focus must now be on implementation.
The central objective of this "new ENP" must be stabilisation. We must apply the entire EU toolbox more intelligently to this end, both in the East and South. We must apply a smarter mix of incentives and crisis management together with long-term opportunities for growth and socioeconomic development, energy security and last but not least managed mobility. This stabilisation goal also has to be seen in the context of the migration crisis, which in many ways is the biggest challenge our Union has ever faced. Without addressing the root causes, the instability and conflicts that push migration, we won't get very far. But we also must regain control over our external borders. That is crucial for the Union and the trust our citizens place in us.
Secondly, there will be more differentiation in the new ENP. That means working more pragmatically and effectively with each partner according to its individual aspirations and – very importantly - our own European interests. No more "of the rack" solutions for all of our partners at the same time. And here, you in our Delegations play a key role in designing and tailoring solutions for us and each partner, without of course giving up on our bedrock of values and interests.
The revised ENP is therefore a real opportunity to strengthen our cooperation through an agreed number of joint priorities with partner countries. Partnership priorities should be negotiated with those countries who wish to negotiate them. For example, with Egypt, we have already started discussing Partnership Priorities last week.
Lack of economic opportunities is often at the heart of instability so economic development is a third key priority. We must keep up the emphasis on youth and employability, and more differentiation in our trade and investment offer – again, not least to address one of the roots of instability: the lack of an economic perspective. Related to that, on energy security we should work even more closely with our partners not only on increasing security of supply, but also on managing demand.
Let me be clear on one point: We will continue to uphold and promote EU principles and universal human rights. So a smarter, differentiated ENP is no garage sale of values. But what we need to do – precisely to be more effective – is to recognise differing levels of leverage and engagement with different partners.
Our programming of financial assistance should fully reflect the priorities that we will agree with each of our partners. We will also increase the flexibility of our assistance, to respond better to crises and unforeseen developments. The super-tanker of EU aid must become more flexible!
Enlargement – more relevant than ever!
Turning to our enlargement policy, the multiple crises we face make crystal clear how important the EU's cooperation with the Western Balkan countries and Turkey really is, and how critical a credible accession perspective is.
I would like to thank colleagues for the hard work that lead to the successful adoption of the enlargement package in November. It provides an overarching strategy for the next 4 years and especially introduced a strengthened methodology.
No compromise on the fundamentals
First and foremost, we need to keep the strong focus on the "fundamentals": respect for the rule of law and human rights, economic governance and public administration reform. There can be no compromise on those! If anything, we must push them even harder.
We also need to build on the strengthened dialogue on economic governance and ensure that Economic Reform Programmes (ERPs) are implemented, helping the transformation of our partners into fully functioning and competitive economies.
In the same vein, building and connecting transport and energy infrastructure is another driver of growth and jobs. This is why I'm so keen to see connectivity at the heart of things. The 'next stop' is the Paris summit in July where we will take stock of how the connectivity agenda is moving and present further initiatives.
Refugee crisis by far biggest challenge
Finally, I would like to say a few words about the refugee crisis. Thousands of new migrants (because less than half are Syrians now) arrive in Europe daily, mainly via the Eastern Mediterranean – Western Balkans route.
On the one hand, this shows that enlargement is more important than ever. Ironically, the Western Balkans are already part of the EU when it comes to managing migration. On the other hand, the crisis places a major strain on countries all along the route, and we can be proud that we have helped to cushion this blow.
Key achievements in a very short period of time
Our key achievements include:
- The EU Trust Fund in response to the Syria crisis, which now also covers the Western Balkans;
- The identification of Priority Actions under the European Agenda on Migration;
- The successes at the Eastern Mediterranean - Western Balkans Route Conference (October 2015), Valetta Summit (November 2015) and most recently at the London Conference (February 2016);
- The creation of the EU-Turkey Action Plan and the Facility For Refugees in Turkey;
- The creation of the EUTF for Africa.
All these achievements required a significant amount of work - your work. You can be very proud of these results and I would like to sincerely thank you.
Outlook coming months – Key priorities/challenges
But let's be clear: this crisis is far from over – unfortunately – not when it comes to the driving factors (the war in Syria and economic problems in many countries); not when it comes to the challenges in the countries along the route, from Lebanon and Jordan via Turkey to the Balkans; and not regarding the strain this puts on our Member States and the fabric of the Union as such.
It's obvious: We have a full agenda for 2016 and for the rest of this mandate. Achieving these goals will not be possible without the great team in headquarters and delegations.
We are not going to solve all problems overnight but if we continue to work step by step, we will - all of us, all of you - be able to contribute and make a difference.
I look forward to continuing working with you.