London, 4 February 2016
Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
Millions desperately waiting for a political settlement
Millions of Syrians wait desperately for a political settlement to end their suffering. This must remain the priority for us all. Meanwhile, almost half the population is displaced either within Syria or in neighbouring countries. Thousands are continuing their arduous journey towards Europe.
We have seen the images of the human suffering being endured: death, illness, malnutrition, winter conditions. There is another side to that suffering: human dignity, which demands, among others, access to predictable living conditions and, very importantly, the possibility to work and earn a living. We cannot ignore this, even as we are called upon to react to emergency situations.
5 billion euros mobilised & commitment to increase
A great deal has been done, even if we cannot rest on our laurels. The European Union has led the way with more than 5 billion Euros from the European Union budget and EU Member States.
We are responding to the call for increased pledges by mobilising over 2 billion Euros from the EU budget for the next 2 years, doubling the pledge made last year in Kuwait.
These funds will notably be used to provide education, create jobs and promote economic development for refugees and their host communities.
In the past 10 days, I visited Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon to discuss with our partners how the EU can best contribute to this objective.
In Jordan, for instance, I visited the very impressive Luminus campus, which offers vocational training to Jordanian and Syrian youths. I learnt that there is a great demand in the labour market of Jordan and Lebanon for technical skills. The EU intends to invest more in this sector, which I believe is the key to the economic development and eventually the peace and stability of the region.
We welcome the Jordan Response Plan and the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan. The EU is committed to contribute actively to their implementation.
This is why we are preparing comprehensive response packages with both countries. These "Compacts" will go beyond traditional assistance, using the full range of EU policies (cooperation, trade, mobility, energy, etc.) to promote host country economies and to help create jobs in exchange for commitments on social and economic inclusion of Syrian refugees. This ties in with the new approach of the revised European Neighbourhood Policy. We have listened to our partners and our cooperation will be more adapted to the specific needs of each one.
This is why, for instance, we are responding to a Jordanian request to grant a special arrangement on Rules of Origin, which we hope can help to provide new jobs for Jordanians and Syrian refugees alike. We understand that in order to attract serious investment, a time perspective of 10 years is a reasonable one. This is why the European Commission will propose an arrangement with a mid-term review after 5 years
It is also why we are studying, with the Lebanese authorities, ways in which to enhance the provision of second-shift schooling for Syrian refugees, with an eye on improving the public educational system to the benefit of Lebanese pupils.
The EU-Turkey Joint Action Plan and the Refugee Facility for Turkey have given new momentum to our relations with this important partner. The EU and our Member States are committed to provide 3 billion Euros in 2016 and 2017 to support refugees in Turkey.
Support for job/ economic integration
These proposals substantially increase the volume and scope of our support, aiming to help host countries to benefit from the refugee presence, providing economic opportunities to both refugees and host populations. A bigger but equally necessary challenge is to support the livelihoods of those remaining inside Syria so that they can live in dignity and don’t have to flee their country.
That is why I want to acknowledge the recent positive signals from host countries on their willingness to increase the social and economic inclusion of refugees from Syria, notably by facilitating access to labour markets.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Allow me to conclude by making three final comments:
First of all, in addressing the massive needs of Syrian refugees, let us not forget the continuing plight of Palestinian refugees who were living in Syria; many of them have been displaced yet again by the conflict;
Secondly, I am grateful to the co-hosts not only for the initiative of organising this conference, but especially for introducing the novel approach of multi-annual pledging: this is particularly important in the case of investments in the economic and education sectors.
And the last word must be to applaud the enormous efforts undertaken by Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey – you can count on my commitment to keep working closely with you.