George A. Papandreou (born June 16, 1952) is Former Prime Minister of Greece, current President of Socialist International, a Member of the Hellenic Parliament and former President of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK). He served as the 11th Prime Minister of Greece from October 6, 2009 - November 11, 2011, after PASOK’s victory in the October 2009 national elections.

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“Sharing the benefits of EU enlargement” – By George A. Papandreou and Chris Patten

Kathimerini newspaper

When Winston Churchill announced in September 1946: «I am now going to say something that will astonish you: The first step to re-create the European family must be a partnership between France and Germany,» he was pointing to the future foundations of the European Community. The Community became a Union, and with the historic decision last December to admit 10 new members, the EU will extend across the whole of Europe, realizing the ambitions of its founding fathers to build an ever closer Union for all the peoples of our continent.

But with success come responsibilities. So we will not astonish you if we say that when the 25 foreign ministers of the wider EU meet with their 10 colleagues from North Africa and the Middle East in Crete today, their most important task will be to ensure that the benefits of European enlargement are shared by all our neighbors in the Mediterranean.

We need to help our Mediterranean partners overcome the problems they face and find stability, peace and prosperity. To do so, the countries of the Mediterranean and Middle East need to continue their efforts on three major transitions.

Transition to democracy

First and most important is the transition to democracy. As a recent UNDP report on Human Development in the Arab World (a report written by Arabs for the Arab world) has highlighted, delayed democracies and postponed reforms have failed to meet the aspirations of younger generations in Mediterranean countries. The influence of the international community on this has not always been straightforward: fears that open elections would give the power in some countries to fundamentalist leaders have stalled the prospects for pluralism. Progress toward democratic institutions with full respect of human rights has to come from within Mediterranean countries themselves. Some countries have already made considerable progress in this regard; others are lagging behind. Europe is helping to develop a freer civil society, and can continue to do so. We have no intention of giving recipes for dishes we are neither going to cook nor eat. But our experience, in particular the recent political transition of acceding European Union countries, is something we are proud of and we are ready to share with our partners.

The second transition concerns the economy. Every year, millions of job seekers enter the labor market in Mediterranean countries. Better education and sustained economic growth are fundamental conditions to give those job seekers greater opportunities in their own lands. Otherwise, migration will be the only alternative for thousands of citizens who risk their lives to cross the Mediterranean in search of a better future for themselves and their families.

The eleven Agreements concluded between the European Union and our partners set a framework for privileged relationships between the two sides of the Mediterranean. Only Syria is still negotiating an Association Agreement with the EU. We hope that we will soon be able to reach common ground and that the Syrian leadership will confirm its commitment to speed up political and economic reforms in a country of great importance for the Middle East Peace Process and the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership.

Free trade and more open investment in the framework of these Agreements should soon produce positive results. Private investment should gradually play a leading role. The newly established Investment Facility run by the European Investment Bank will contribute to creating the 40 million new jobs needed in the coming decade. But better economic governance, improved and increasingly accountable institutions, and stable and open regulatory frameworks are also essential for solid and sufficiently broad economic growth. This is why, in its recent Communication on Wider Europe, the European Commission offers the new neighbors of the enlarged European Union gradual access to the benefits of the European Single Market, in parallel to progress made on political and economic reform.

Society and culture

The third major transition is social and cultural. On both sides of the Mediterranean, we know very little about each other’s cultures, histories and religions. A major effort is needed to close this gap in understanding and perceptions. One year ago, we agreed to set up a Euro-Mediterranean Foundation for the dialogue of cultures and civilizations. Only a few weeks ago, we proposed the foundation of a Parliamentary Assembly of Euro-Mediterranean countries. Both institutions should increase the impact, visibility, and networking opportunities of the valuable but dispersed initiatives already underway throughout the region.

Muslim, Jewish and Christian traditions and cultures converge in the Mediterranean. The Euro-Mediterranean Foundation and Parliamentary Assembly will contribute to developing this convergence into productive dialogue and enriching tolerance.

Fundamental to the long term success of this ambitious reform agenda is progress toward peace and stability in the region. War and conflict have too often been the undesirable engines of change in the Middle East and the Mediterranean. But these changes have not brought stability, as too often they rely on force. European history provides many examples of how precarious an order can be, if it is not based on compromise and consensus. Our experience has also shown the benefits of peaceful and democratic cooperation.

Ministers will meet in Crete against the background of war in Iraq and continued violence in Israel and Palestine and elsewhere in the region, including Morocco and Riyadh, where terrorism struck dramatically less than a fortnight ago. We will need to put divisions and differences behind us to work together in an international framework to promote security, stability and co-operation throughout the region.

The presentation of the Road Map toward peace in the Middle East, sponsored by the European Union, the United States, Russia and the United Nations, provides a realistic opportunity to collectively help achieve the objective of two states, Israel and Palestine, living peacefully side by side. Only then can we achieve the full potential of co-operation in the Mediterranean region, taking full advantage of its rich history and great diversity.

The ambition of Europe in the Mediterranean is to turn its former power into positive influence, to help build trust among all countries, to share our experience of consolidating peace through economic co-operation. These are the same instruments that shaped the European continent. So we are confident that these instruments will also serve to gradually achieve stability and prosperity in Euro-Mediterranean relations, while bringing our societies closer. The current international background of insecurity and instability makes it imperative that we make substantial progress in this direction at the Crete Ministerial meeting today.

*George A. Papandreou is the President in office of the EU Council of Ministers and Greek Foreign Minister. Chris Patten is the European Commissioner for External Relations.

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