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Anförande vid Istanbul Bilgi University

Anförande i Istanbul, Turkiet

It is always a pleasure to come to Istanbul - and even more so when there is an opportunity like this to engage in a dialogue on the different challenges we face.

I have come here after having spent most of the past two weeks in Egypt, Jordan, Palestine and Israel.

Indeed, on Tuesday, I was standing before an audience - much like this one today - at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, discussing some of the very same issues I will be addressing today.

Obviously, much of our political attention these days is focused on what is happening in this wider region. We are living in truly transformational times and witnessing transformational events.

But let me start with the even larger perspective.

A couple of years ago, the European Council decided to set up a high-level group to reflect on the challenges the European Union was likely to face in the coming two decades or so; the time horizon was 2030.

Chaired by former Prime Minister of Spain Felipe Gonzalez, the Reflection Group, as it was called, was unlucky in that its report was published in the midst of the Greek financial crisis in late spring last year.

Few paid much attention. Crisis management was the order of the day. The future had to wait.

But the report deserves to be read and discussed. The issues of the day are certainly important, but the issues of the day can hardly be handled in the best possible way if there is no perspective for the future.

We must know where we want to go. It's as simple as that. Globalisation is the megatrend of our age.

And the global financial crisis of the last few years, which international coordination made it possible for us to recover from, accelerated our entry into the phase of globalisation more and more shaped by the return of the Asian economies to the relative position they had before the ascendancy of Europe a couple of centuries ago, followed by the domination of America thereafter.

I belong to those who are convinced that globalisation is paving the way for a better world.

It is not only the hundreds and hundreds of millions of people who are given the opportunity to leave poverty behind - and the dramatic increase in life expectancy and life quality that we can witness - that speak so clearly in favour of an open world and an open world economy.

It is also the fact that an open world and an open world economy gradually break down barriers, penetrate prejudices, disrupt dictatorships and set people and nations free.

The dramatic events of the last few months have demonstrated this again.

Globalisation means change - within societies and economies as well as between societies and economies. And success in the age of globalisation is to a large extent determined by the ability of nations and economies to change.

This has been true for the last few decades. And I believe it will be even truer in the decades to come.

The story of European integration, which began more than half a century ago, is a story of near-miraculous success.

After having nearly destroyed itself in two devastating wars that spread across the globe, the nations of Europe - step by step - decided to come together to try to build peace not primarily by militarily deterring each other, but by integrating their economies and societies ever more.

It certainly wasn't easy all the time, and it certainly isn't easy now either.

But immense hurdles have been overcome. An evil circle of divisions and conflicts has been broken, and we see a good circle of integration and reconciliation more and more shaping our part of the world.

It started between Germany and France and the other four founding original members. But it soon ran into crisis.

Suddenly, one could not accept decisions taken by majority vote, although that was in the treaties. Suddenly, there was a huge resistance to new members coming in, although that was clearly foreseen in the treaties.

But history has moved on.

A smaller or larger body of opinion has opposed every new enlargement of the Union.

But every new enlargement of the Union has, in retrospect, been seen as an unqualified success.

And every new enlargement of the Union has also led to a further deepening of integration between the Member States.

To put it in 'Brusselese': widening has been driving deepening.

This has been the way in the past, and I am convinced it will remain the way in the future.

The enlargements when Britain and the Nordic countries joined undoubtedly gave new economic and political vitality to the Union.

The membership of Greece, Spain and Portugal undoubtedly stabilised democracy in Southern Europe.

And the great enlargement of the last decade - 100 million people in 10 countries - brought Europe together again, secured peace and provided stability to democracy and the rule of law.

Not to forget the other countries that have joined our Union. But enlargement will continue.

I am not the one to underestimate the challenge facing the 100 million people of Southeastern Europe - the Western Balkans and Turkey - now seeking to reform so as to be able to become full members of our Union.

Our Union is a demanding union. And I certainly want it to remain a quality union with quality members.

To dilute the requirements of membership is at the same time to reduce the advantages of membership. This should be in no one's interest.

But Turkey can serve as an illustration of the benefits of changing to meet the requirements of membership. There is little doubt that the Turkish economy has benefited hugely from having a customs union with the EU.

Indeed, there is a close interrelationship between European integration, domestic reform and the global success of the transformation of Turkey over the past decade or so.

But the advantages of European integration go well beyond this.

Gradually, we see the countries of the Western Balkans setting their sights even more firmly on the European Union.

And with all of them moving in the same direction, the forces of integration have become stronger than the forces of disintegration in a region only recently torn apart by war and conflict.

The advantages of this, for all of Europe, should be obvious to us all. And enlargement is not only a question of Southeastern Europe.

Today, Iceland is negotiating membership, having been a member of the European Economic Area - the integrated single market - for two decades.

And in much the same way as membership for the Western Balkans and Turkey would strengthen the position of Europe in a direction of greater geostrategic importance, Iceland's membership will strengthen our Union towards the increasingly important Arctic area.

And to the East of our Union, there is a vast region with its 12 very different countries between us and the borders of China: the 80 million people of the six Eastern Partnership countries, the 140 million people of Russia and the nearly 60 million people of the five countries of Central Asia.

Some of them seek a very close association with us, aiming also at membership in the future. Moldova and Ukraine are very clear in their orientations in this regard, and Georgia continues its very clear course of reform.

Today, our attention is focused on what is happening to our South.

In speeches I have given over the last few years about strategic tasks ahead of us, I have highlighted the challenges we face in this region.

"The countries of North Africa and the Middle East will see a rise in population that will equal two Egypts - approximately 160 million people - over the next two decades or so.

With their young populations, they will experience either a huge demographic dividend as they open up their societies and economies, creating huge opportunities for all of Europe, or they will risk despair and destruction if these new millions don't see any hope for their future.

We have a tremendous stake in their future - and we must engage more deeply with each of them in trying to shape it."

Today we are asking ourselves whether we did enough in these respects in these years that have passed.

There was not a lack of initiatives - the Barcelona process, launched in 1995, or the Union of the Mediterranean, launched in 2008 - but there was obviously a lack of results.

The region-wide free trade area by 2010 that was envisaged in 1995 has clearly not come about, although important steps have been taken.

I mentioned earlier how the process of globalisation breaks down barriers, penetrates prejudices, disrupts dictatorships and sets people and nations free.

What we have seen over the past few months has clearly illustrated this.

A decade ago, a religious fanatic tried to set the world ablaze with a message of hatred and violence. His message was fundamentally opposed to everything that our open societies stand for.

Some regimes responded by becoming even harder and even more closed.

Although there was a discussion on the need to reform and open up societies, particularly in the Arab world, reality often went in the opposite direction.

And the result was regimes that were seen as stagnating and declining, unable to meet the expectations of their growing and increasingly educated young populations.

But it was not the message and methods of the fanatic in the cave that started to bring change to this region. It was the peaceful demands for dignity, democracy and decency that caused the dictatorships to crumble and fall.

The greatest losers of these events have not really been the dictators that have fallen.

The greatest loser has been the lonely fanatic in the distant cave because his message has been ignored, his methods have been despised and his future perhaps reduced to trying to set up a Twitter account to rally the remaining.

But what we have seen in the Arab world in the past few months is only the beginning of a transformation that will be demanding and difficult for years to come.

The transformation of Central and Eastern Europe until democracies were truly secured, the rule of law firmly established, and economies truly began to compete took almost a decade - and then both the magnetism and the model of the European Union helped tremendously along the way.

The Gonzalez Report I mentioned earlier rightly emphasises the importance of our policies towards our neighbours.

It states that the partnerships with the countries in our neighbourhood "should be used to create a regional space of democracy, human rights, development and free trade", and that "they should also offer fair access to the EU market and ultimately a space for the free movement of people to the benefit of the EU and its partners."

This must clearly be our aim.

To this end, we must urgently revive the efforts to create the free trade area envisaged back in 1995.

But we must also consider the possibility of offering 'Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements' of the sort we are now negotiating with some of the Eastern Partnership countries.

And we should certainly not exclude the possibility, also, of a custom union arrangement of the sort that has been such a success with Turkey.

But this can only happen if there is a true commitment to genuine reforms to open up not only their political systems, but also their economic systems.

And their economic systems have often been almost as closed as their political systems, to the obvious disadvantage of their growth prospects.

Recently there have been calls for some type of new Marshall Plan to help the Arab economies with the challenges they are facing.

But money alone will not help. In some cases, the lack of money is hardly the issue.

It's a question of liberalising and opening up their economies. Of truly joining the world of accelerating globalisation.

Look at the challenges that are there.

And I would put the necessity of generating employment on top of them.

At about 15 per cent, average unemployment rates across Arab countries are among the highest in the developing world.

And some 40 per cent of high school and university graduates between the ages of 15 and 25 cannot find work when they enter the job market.

There is a clear trend towards high unemployment rates among the educated. No wonder young people feel frustrated and demand changes.

Accelerating economic growth will be critical in tackling the high levels of unemployment. The task is huge.

The economies in the region would have to grow at a minimum annual rate of five per cent to absorb the currently unemployed, and provide jobs for new labour-market entrants.

Population growth is adding about six million labour-market entrants every year - a flow that is proportionately greater than in any other region.

Since the unemployment rate is also one of the highest among all regions, the task of job creation is probably more formidable in the Arab region than in any other.

Three primary factors are usually cited in accounting for the Arab countries slumping employment trends. First. The rather suffocating effect of a large public sector, which employs more than a third of the workforce. It is the legacy of a multilayered past, with decades of so-called Arab socialism only the most recent of culprits. Second. The limited size, hobbled performance and weak job-generating capacity of the private sector.

It has never been truly liberated from the controlling hand of the bureaucracies, the states and the power structures.

Third. The quality and type of education generally provided, which does not encourage technical or vocational skills in demand.

Just one example: there are 50 technicians per one million people in the Arab world; in the developed economies, the figure is 1 000 technicians per one million people.

It makes a difference.

In the period ahead, we must obviously give these countries and the wider region the assistance required to build the institutions of representative government, establish the rule of law, create political parties able to freely contest free elections - and in many other respects.

But if this does not go hand in hand with a profound commitment to opening up their economies - thus

generating growth, jobs and opportunities - I fear it might all fail a few years down the road. That this is in the profound interest of Europe goes without saying.

We have a profound stake in the development of all the countries to our South, our Southeast and also to our East.

It's a question of security. It's a question of economic opportunities.

But more fundamentally, it's about our responsibility for developments in our part of the world - and thus also about the place and role of Europe in the world of tomorrow.

After half a century of consolidation, through both deepening and widening, the European Union faces a fundamental choice.

The Gonzalez Report puts it quite bluntly.

We could be at "the beginning of a new phase for the EU and the next 50 years could be about Europe's role as an assertive global actor or, alternatively, the Union and its Member States could slide into marginalisation, becoming an increasingly irrelevant western peninsula of the Asian continent."

And in this context, the accession of Turkey to our Union would naturally be of the greatest importance.

A Union that also includes the demographic dynamism and economic potential of Turkey would be a stronger Union. And a Union that can truly demonstrate that it is committed to overcoming all the obstacles of the past and the prejudices of the present will be a significantly more credible voice in the rest of the world.

And this is certainly something that we - and the world around us - now need.

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