First day of the year, it is time for taking stock of the past year and for setting the objectives for the months ahead.
2016 was a very tough year, and 2017 has started with a terrible terrorist attack in Istanbul: this reminds us dramatically that the work we still have to do – to defeat terrorism, but also to end the too many conflicts in the region – is a work we must do together. Together, by trying and building the unity of our communities, every day; and together with our partners, starting with our neighbours.
The year that has just started will not be easy, but there are things we managed to build in 2016 that we can bring with us, to accompany us along the way. These are twelve moments I wish to bring with me, to guide our work through 2017.
A Global Strategy for our foreign policy
We have worked on it for months, and the work ended in a very peculiar moment. The British citizens had just voted to leave the European Union. Some thought it would be better to wait for a better moment. For me, it was important – in those very hours – to set up a common Strategy, for the whole Union, for our foreign and security policy. So, after months of collective work, I presented the Global Strategy to the European Council of June 28th: a clear and shared idea on the path ahead, on our citizens’ needs, on what needs to change but also – and foremost – on our strength, which we must use with more pride and awareness, together, as Europeans. Since June, the Global Strategy has already begun to drive our foreign policy, tangibly.
The migration compacts, a real partnership with Africa
There is only one way to face the drama of migration and to make it sustainable, both for Europe and for the people who leave their homes: we must work with the countries of origin to create growth, fight the traffickers of human beings and save lives. This is what we are finally doing, all together, with the migration compacts. And together we are beginning to see the first results. Just weeks ago in Brussels, together with the President of Niger Mahamadou Issoufou, we announced the first results of our common work: we are building new centres for hosting migrants, including with the International Organisation for Migration; we are training local security forces, also to the respect of human rights, while we also support the local economy. My visit to Senegal in December, the United Nations’ summit on migration, the regular meetings with the Sahel countries: it is a new way, more effective and more humane, to work together on migration.
Our response to terrorism, the work for the future of Syria
The day of the attacks in Brussels, March 22nd, I was travelling in the Middle East. In Jordan. The news of the terrorist attacks – just metres away from my office, and at the airport I go to almost every day – struck me deeply. I will never forget spending those tough hours together with people who face the challenge of terrorism on a daily basis, and manage to preserve the openness and the unity that the terrorists want to hit. This is something I will bring with me not just in the New Year, but for all my life. It was natural, for me, to stick to my previous schedule and to visit the refugee camp in Zaatari. Looking in the eyes of the Syrian children there, I saw the fear of those who survived Daesh, the pain of those who had to flee, but also the smiles of the survivors who still look at life with great hope. For those children, for those smiles, for the smiles of our own children, the European Union’s response to terrorism has Syria at its heart. For these reasons, the European Union is and will remain the leading humanitarian donor for Syria. And for the same reasons, over the last few months I have worked with all regional powers, from Riyad to Tehran and Ankara, to help build the space for negotiations among Syrian on the future of the country.
Towards a European Union of security and defence
In December, six months after I presented the Global Strategy, the Heads of State and government of the European Union approved my proposals to strengthen our cooperation on defence. Twenty-eight countries, all included, by unanimity. In the toughest year in the history of European integration, this is the main building block to relaunch our unity, concretely and fast. We can use the potential of our Treaties, which has never been fully exploited before. Our citizens and our partners need more security, and in today’s world – so complex – none of our Member States can do better alone than we do together. This is particularly true on security and defence. So we are heading towards a real Union of security and defence, spending better, joining forces, coordinating more our military and civilian missions. And together with our partners, starting with the United Nations and NATO.
In Colombia, a friendship for peace
Some good news – something rare in 2016 – came from Colombia. Right after receiving the Nobel Peace Price, the President of Colombia Juan Manuel Santos flew to Brussels. Together we inaugurated the European Union’s Trust Fund to support the peace process. But it was also an important and strong demonstration of the Colombians’ gratitude towards Europe. The European Union accompanied the peace process step by step – with diplomacy, with economic support, and suspending the FARC from the EU list of terrorist groups when a deal was signed. After the first peace agreement, it was an honour for me to receive a copy of it from Juan Manuel’s hands. His friendship – and the close links between the Colombians and Europeans – is a clear sign of the European Union’s role as a force for peace, worldwide.
Some hope for Israel and Palestine
In a sad day for Israel and for all those who believe in peace – the day of Shimon Peres’ funeral – a moment of hope: the handshake between Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the first in many years. It was a small step on the path marked by Peres, who always was a hope-builder. In a tough year, the work for peace never stopped – on the contrary, it speeded up. For the first time in years, the Middle East Quartet – with the European Union, Russia, the United States and the United Nations – found new unity: together with Ban Ki-moon, John Kerry and Sergei Lavrov, we proposed a package of concrete steps forward for both sides, instead of an all-or-nothing alternative for one side or the other. This unity we must preserve, and enlarge. The December UN Security Council resolution, this week’s speech by John Kerry, the work France, Egypt and Russia have done – this shows that peace and security for two peoples require a committed and united international community. United on the principle of two States and on how to get there, with real steps.
Effective diplomacy: the deal with Iran at work
During the negotiations with Iran, we were often told: you’ll never make it. After we signed the nuclear deal, last year, the sceptics said: it’s never going to work. But it has worked. In January 2016 in Vienna, with Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif, we certified for the first time that all sides had implemented the agreement of July 2015. Since then, we have kept meeting regularly – the European Union, which continues to guarantee the agreement, with Iran, the United States, Russia, China, Britain, Germany, France and in constant cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency – to verify the respect of everyone’s commitments. It is diplomacy that delivers, tackling and overcoming the outstanding issues. It is diplomacy that creates new opportunities for our economies, for our citizens, for our region’s security. We bring with us in the New Year our determination to preserve this method. And to preserve an historic deal, serving everyone’s security.
The Balkans’ path towards the Union
The 2016 list of important moments in our relationship with the Balkans is incredibly long. Bosnia and Herzegovina’s application for membership of the European Union. The opening of new chapters for Serbia’s accession negotiations. The first “Association Council” between the European Union and Kosovo. The judicial reform in Albania, passed after months of common work, the opening of a new phase in the country’s path towards the European Union; and the privilege, for me, to address Tirana’s parliament on our relationship. The Balkans lie at the heart of Europe, their future is inside the European Union. Our work goes on – to overcome the enmities of the past, and to answer the call for jobs, unity and openness coming from this region’s youth.
Back to Cuba
This was a year of radical change in the European Union’s relationship with Cuba. In March I was in Havana to conclude the first political dialogue and cooperation agreement between us, a few days before the historic visit by Barack Obama to the island. In December, in Brussels, we signed that deal: an era ended and we entered a new phase of opportunities and exchanges, crucial for both and for the relationship – an ever closer relationship – between the European Union and Latin America.
Europe and the United States, never so close
The night he was elected, in Chicago, Barack Obama talked about “alliances to repair,” starting with the alliance between Europe and the United States. Eight years later, our alliance couldn’t be stronger. I think of the EU-US Summit in Warsaw, where Obama confirmed America’s interest in Europe’s security and in a strong European Union. In the last few years, the European Union and the United Stated have worked side by side on every single dossier, from Syria to climate change, from Ukraine to the Middle East peace process. Such work will continue with the new administration – we are already in touch with the transition team, and myself personally with Vicepresident-elect Mike Pence – based on our interests and principles, which we always shared with the US.
In Eastern Europe, on the side of reforms and of citizens
It was a year of constant work to support reforms, growth, peace, and stability at the Union’s eastern borders. First and foremost in Ukraine, with a great common effort to reform the country, fight corruption, and of course to get to the full implementation of the Minsk agreements, ending the conflict in the country’s east. With Ukraine and Georgia we took important steps towards visa liberalisation. And the work goes on with all our Eastern partners – Moldova, Belarus, Armenia and Azerbaijan – towards the summit dedicated to the Eastern partnership that will take place in Brussels this year. We do this in full respect of the history, the priorities and the political choices of each country and society. This is a partnership for reforms, for our citizens, not a partnership “against” someone – on the contrary, this is an important element towards a larger regional cooperation.
A new possibility for Afghanistan
— EU External Action (@eu_eeas) 3 ottobre 2016
The international Conference we organised in Brussels on Afghanistan opened new possibilities for peace, in a country at war for almost thirty years. The international investments for the next four years are ever greater than those for the last four years. International support to the Afghan women and civil society is even stronger. But if I have to single out one moment from the October conference, that is the dinner I organised with the Afghan government and the main regional powers. For the first time the ministers of the United States and China, Pakistan and India all sat at the same table, to discuss how to support the peace process and reconciliation in Afghanistan. In fact, peace has to be built inside the country but it needs to be supported by the whole region and the whole international community. Although far away geographically, the European Union has the chance and the strength to help different regional actors get closer, because of a common interest in peace and stability.