Speech by Commissioner Štefan Füle on behalf of HR/VP Catherine Ashton on the current situation in Mali

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Catherine Ashton

High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission

European Parliament/Strasbourg

13 March 2013

Honourable members,

The last time we discussed, on 15 January, the situation was in full crisis.

I want to explain the progress made since then, the EU’s role in it, the challenges that remain, and what we are doing to support Mali – and the region – in overcoming them so that the people of Mali can live in peace and security and return to the path of development.

Must pay tribute first of all to the efforts and sacrifices of one member state, France, in driving the terrorists out of the cities and regions of the north, taking the battle to their retreats in the northern mountains. Pay tribute also to all those who have provided support to that effort, whether European, African or American, in particular the armed forces of Chad who have made a significant sacrifice.

Thanks to these efforts, the people of northern Mali have been liberated from control by the terrorists, but we must not under-estimate the threat that remains. This requires security forces to remain present and active to head off potential terrorist attacks in the future. But the situation is now very different.

We are today acting on all fronts in a coordinated manner. This is an illustration of what comprehensive approach is all about and how we turn it into concrete actions: since the extraordinary FAC in January, we have convened two Crisis Platforms (with all EU services involved) in order to produce a comprehensive overview of our activities - covering EUTM, our support to AFISMA, and a quick identification of a stabilisation and development package.

We have also immediately deployed on the field an interservice mission to support our delegation in Bamako. This has allowed to identify EU activities in the field of stabilisation and development, but also to start implementing them.

Our work allows liaising the diplomatic activity with the security and the development in policies in a mutually reinforcing way.

On the security side, our long-term objective is to enable the Malian security services and armed forces to protect their own citizens.

This is why we accelerated the planned launch of the EU Training Mission to 18 February. The Force Commander is there and first counselling actions have already taken place. If things go according to plan, training of forces should begin in April. This has required a great effort on the part of the Member States, but there has been real collective will to act.

With this training mission, we aim to help the re-structuring of the armed forces to ensure their effectiveness and we plan to make sure that human rights is part of the training for the Malian troops. UN human rights experts are already in the field and we are also working with the African Union to provide monitors to AFISMA forces. Encouraging that Mali has withdrawn 5 of its troops from Timbuktu following accusations of human rights abuses. This must be taken seriously.

There are still challenges in re-equipping the Malian forces, but we are working on it.

But it will take time for the Malian forces to be ready. The EU is therefore supporting AFISMA (the African-led International Support Mission to Mali) with €50m, committed at the fund-raising meeting hosted by the AU on 29 January. A number of MSs are helping train and equip AFISMA troop contributing countries.

As you know, converting AFISMA into a UN-hatted force would assure future funding. The discussions on such an option are presently going on in New York, where the UN Secretary General should report to the Security Council, before the end of this month.

On the political track, I hosted a meeting in Brussels of the International Follow-up and Support Group on 5 February. The Malian Government presented its Road Map for the Transition back to democratic and constitutional rule. The EU has pledged to support its implementation. I would like to stress two key elements:

Firstly, the establishment of National Commission for Dialogue and Reconciliation on 6 March, which should bring together all the different political forces in the country, including from the north, to discuss how to re-build the country’s political structures on an inclusive basis. Essential that the political structure is free of military influence and inspires the trust of all communities;

Secondly, the holding of presidential elections by end of July 2013, to re-establish a legitimate national government following the coup d’etat a year ago which interrupted the elections planned for April last year. Legislative elections will follow later. We will provide assistance to the electoral process and, as you know, we are examining the possibility of an Electoral Observation Mission.

Finally, on the development and stabilisation track, EU Development Ministers have agreed to gradually resume EU aid to Mali. €250m are available under the EDF for State-Building Contract budget support and specific projects in the field of small irrigation and key infrastructure. An additional, €20m of fast-disbursing assistance is available from the Instrument for Stability to support the restoration of public authorities and services in post-conflict areas, for reconciliation activities and for the first phase of the electoral process.

Honourable members,

We will host two important meetings in the near future to support Mali:

In early April I will co-chair with Mme Bachelet, the UN Women’s Envoy, and Romano Prodi, the UN Special Envoy for the Sahel, a meeting on Women in the Sahel. Their role will be vital in re-establishing a stable and viable future for the region. Women's rights and gender balance must be an integral part of everything we do.

Talent is wasted, wisdom is lost and economic opportunities are missed when a society refuses to break with inequality, whether in North Africa, Europe or the Sahel.

Secondly, in mid May, the EU and France will convene in Brussels a High Level International Conference on Development in Mali, to bring together the key donors to coordinate our support for the reconstruction of the country. The Government of Mali will present its 2013-14 National Action Plan as a basis for our collective action to help restore the economy and government services.

I am conscious that solving Mali’s problems, in development and food resilience as much as in the struggle against terrorism and political exclusion, requires an approach that encompasses the whole Sahel region. That is the principle underlying the EU’s Strategy for Security and Development in the Sahel, which remains as relevant as ever. In the same spirit, a EUSR for the Sahel is to be nominated in the coming days.

The EU will remain heavily engaged and fully committed to Mali and the region. It is in our interests to do so; as instability in the Sahel can threat our own citizens. So we will continue to help the people of Mali in their efforts to re-establish their sovereignty, democracy and prosperity