I am delighted to meet this committee. I shall begin with the motions dealing with the Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreements with Egypt, Algeria and Lebanon. It is important at this time of enlargement and change in the European Union that we continue to deepen our relations with our southern neighbours on the Mediterranean rim. The Barcelona process, which began in 1995, is the instrument on which EU co-operation with 12 Mediterranean partners is based. The agreements before us today have been negotiated in the framework of this process. The partnership between the EU and the Mediterranean countries involved has three main objectives; the establishment of a common Euro-Mediterranean area of peace and stability, based on respect for human rights and democratic principles; the creation of an area of shared prosperity through the progressive establishment of a free trade area between the EU and the Mediterranean partners; and the encouragement and promotion of closer links between the peoples of the region through social, cultural and other exchanges.
Each of these objectives is essential to the overall relationship. All are reflected in both the formal agreements and in the informal dialogue that is part of the Barcelona process. The Euro-Mediterranean partnership includes two complementary dimensions: a bilateral dimension that involves structured co-operation between the EU and each of the Mediterranean partners - the agreements before us today are examples of this type of co-operation; and a multilateral dimension involving greater regional co-operation and dialogue both between the regions and within the Mediterranean region. An example of the latter is the Agadir process, where Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan have agreed to establish a free trade area between them, an aim the EU encourages and will assist to the extent possible.
The EuroMed partners share a commitment to make progress towards creating a Euro-Mediterranean free trade area by 2010. For the Mediterranean partners this process will make a crucial contribution towards the modernisation of their economic and social systems. For the EU countries, it will help to create greater stability in the region and contribute towards the liberalisation of trade. An essential step in this strategy is the conclusion of Euro-Mediterranean Association agreements between the EU and each of the Mediterranean partners. Agreements are already in force with Tunisia, Morocco, Israel and Jordan. An interim agreement with the Palestinian Authority is being applied. Agreements with Egypt, Algeria and Lebanon, the subject of the motions we are dealing with today, are awaiting ratification. An agreement with Syria is under negotiation and when this is in place the series of association agreements will be complete. I should mention that Libya is not yet a partner in the Barcelona process although it is usually invited to attend meetings as an observer and has accepted invitations to do so in recent years.
The Euro-Mediterranean Association agreements between the EU, the member states and Egypt, Algeria and Lebanon involve mixed competence. They include certain matters in the area of justice and home affairs, which are outside the exclusive competence of the European Union, for example, immigration controls and asylum. This means that each member state and the community must ratify these agreements in accordance with its respective internal procedures.
Each agreement was negotiated separately with the countries involved and, while differing on some of the detail, contains core aspects in common. As I have already stated, in the first place the agreements are based on respect for human rights and democratic principles. They are comprehensive in scope. As well as providing for political dialogue, they include provisions covering the promotion of trade in agricultural and industrial goods, trade in services, transport, payments, competition, environment, co-operation on customs matters, co-operation in the social and cultural fields, co-operation in the field of justice and home affairs, including migration questions, combating organised crime, the prevention of trafficking in people and trafficking in illegal drugs.
Following the terrorist attacks in the US in September 2001, co-operation in combating international terrorism is now an important feature of relations with the Euro-Mediterranean partners. Unlike earlier Euro-Mediterranean Association agreements, the agreement with Algeria signed in April 2002 includes an article - article 90 - providing for co-operation in combating terrorism. This was included at the request of the Algerian authorities.
The agreement with Lebanon, signed on 17 June 2002, does not contain a specific anti-terrorism clause. However, there has been an exchange of letters between the EU and Lebanon in which both sides reaffirmed the importance of the fight against terrorism and, in accordance with international conventions, relevant UN resolutions and their respective legislation and regulations, agreed to co-operate in the prevention and suppression of acts of terrorism.
There is no reference to the fight against terrorism in the agreement with Egypt as it was signed in June 2001. However, the Egyptian authorities attach great importance to the international effort to combat terrorism and co-operation between them and the member states of the European Union is close.
Political dialogue is, of course, a major element of the process. This encompasses both dialogue between the European Union and the southern Mediterranean partners and exchanges among the Mediterranean partners. The dialogue aims at advancing the fundamental aims set out at Barcelona. There have been significant exchanges on the varied perspectives from which the participating states approach these issues. Within the framework of the Barcelona process, considerable support has been given to the work of research institutes on both sides of the Mediterranean examining questions of security, human rights and democratic developments from a number of national and regional perspectives.
Inevitably, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Israel's unresolved disputes with Syria and Lebanon have affected the climate for dialogue. This has been reflected in discussion of these matters within the Barcelona process. Eventually, it is hoped that the political dialogue within the Barcelona process will lead to the adoption of a Mediterranean charter on peace and security, comparable to the Helsinki charter which led to the establishment of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
We cannot underestimate the importance of people-to-people contacts and intercultural dialogue. The significance of this aspect of the relationship and the need for greater awareness and understanding of diversity has gained much greater priority since 11 September 2001. There are plans to set up a Euro-Mediterranean parliamentary assembly and a EuroMed cultural foundation and these can only contribute positively to this interaction.
I hope the agreements with Egypt, Algeria and Lebanon can enter into force at the earliest possible date. I commend the agreements for the approval of the committee.