The EU and Iraq - A framework for engagement

News and Press Release
Originally published
Dr Benita Ferrero-Waldner
European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood policy

European Parliament
Strasbourg, 6 July 2005

President Borrell, Mr Dimitrakopoulos, I would like to thank you for your report which has provided an excellent and timely opportunity for me to update you on the intensive developments that have taken place in the last month with regard to Iraq.

In June, the EU and the US jointly hosted the Iraq International Conference in Brussels which highlighted how far Iraq has progressed since the elections earlier this year. These sorts of contacts are vital to for building our mutual understanding for the future.

Also in the last few weeks, I participated in the troika visit to Iraq which left me with a powerful and lasting impression of the challenges for the future. When Jack and I flew into Baghdad in a British military helicopter, we were most struck by the oppressive insecurity which the Iraqi people and international representatives on the ground face every day of their lives.

In recent days the deplorable hostage-taking of the Egyptian diplomat Ihab al-Sherif has driven home to all of us the conditions under which these people are living.

It is an impossible and unsustainable situation for any country.

That is why I am convinced that ensuring military and civilian security must be the primary priority of the new Iraqi administration. The only way to establish security is to address the underlying causes of the violent attacks carried out by some sections of the Iraqi population.

I see two concrete prerequisites for this: the first is an inclusive and broad-based constitution, and the second is an environment in which reconstruction can bring visible improvements to the daily lives of the Iraqi people.

The new Constitution for Iraq must represent the interests of all Iraqis. It must be the product of an inclusive, broad-based consultation. And the result must be one which all Iraqis feel belongs to them, protects them and guarantees their rights. Inclusion of Sunnis in the main drafting body is a promising start, but of course this process will not be easy - we in Europe know from recent experience the myriad difficulties a constitution can pose! For the Iraqis, the hard work is only just beginning.

Yes, we are ready to provide technical expertise if requested. But we must also be careful that the content of the constitution is determined by the Iraqis themselves. It is the only way to create a genuine sense of pride and identification with the final result.

That said, we rely on the UN to advise the Iraqis on compliance with the principles of international law, and once the constitution has been drafted and elections are scheduled, we intend to offer the Iraqis an Election Observation Mission to oversee them.

Secondly, the Iraqi people need to see concrete improvements in their everyday lives if they are to support the new administration and subscribe to the 'New Iraq'. They have an immediate need for basic sanitation, health, education and jobs. So the second priority is to ensure that support for reconstruction continues.

Of the €200 million committed, we will soon have finalised €145 million to be channelled through the World Bank's International Reconstruction Facility for Iraq to meet basic needs. The forthcoming donor conference in Amman offers the opportunity for the Iraqis to take the lead in setting up a donor co-ordination mechanism that will allow the international community to work with the Iraqi government to direct aid to where it's really needed.

In addition to reconstruction aid, the international Community needs to do more to reduce or reschedule Iraq's debt, and on this the Commission will be pushing EU Member States to lead by example.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Iraq cannot recover on its own. All of these objectives require the involvement of the international community. The Brussels and Amman conferences are important, but conferences are not an end in themselves. Iraq needs long term commitment.

In particular, I believe Iraq's own neighbourhood should play a central role in its development. The new order in Iraq has shifted the balance in the region, and we need to ensure that those countries nearby do not feel threatened. They need to see the new Iraq as part of the common future of their region.

But the Commission will also do its part and as Jack has said, we will open a delegation in Baghdad in the coming months. I can tell you that this is not an easy step for us to take, but I am convinced that the time is right for us to send this strong signal of our lasting commitment to the region.

Honourable Members,

Iraq is an extraordinary country with a turbulent past, but it is now the inspiration for a new era of international co-operation.

The agenda I have set out is ambitious, but we can deliver. The Iraqi people have shown tremendous courage and resilience, particularly in turning out in such large numbers to vote, but also on an everyday basis as they live their lives against a background of violence and intimidation. We owe it to them to show compassion and solidarity in return -- with financial assistance but also with moral and political support. They are looking to us to help them make the transition to democracy and security. We must not disappoint them.