The EU called on the Israelis and the Palestinians to finally activate the "road map" meant to resolve their conflict after talks between the bloc, nine southern neighbors and the Palestinian Authority on Thursday.
Irish Foreign Minister Cowen: Please activate the Middle East "road map"
Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen said he saw chances for a ceasefire between the Israelis and Palestinians at the European Union-Mediterranean talks in the Irish capital.
Cowen, whose country currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, called on both sides to finally enact the peace plan brokered by the so-called Middle East Quartet made up of the EU, Russia, the United States and the United Nations.
"The Israeli government's position is that it supports the road map. We support the road map. Everyone supports the road map," said Cowen. "Now could we please have some activation on the road map and implementation and some good will demonstrated and not allow the enemies of peace to dictate the agenda process."
Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom
Unlike the United States, however, the European Union plays a secondary role in Middle East peace mediation, something acknowledged by Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom (photo). Shalom attacked the EU behind closed doors, saying the bloc often sided with the Palestinians.
Following Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's failed attempt to get his Likud party to appove his plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, Shalom said the party would alter the plan accordingly.
Despite the fact that the Palestinian chief negotiator refused to meet his Israeli counterpart for discussions, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said the meeting was a success. The European Union was able to hear both the opinions of both Arab states and the Israelis on the conflict.
Partnership a success
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana praised the partnership between Europe and the Mediterranean countries, which started in 1995.
"Even despite the difficulties that in that region continue to take place… We have been able to continue working together and doing things which are very beneficial for the countries of this region," Solana said.
Slow progress was being made to support economic and political reforms, and that the long-term aim remained establishing a free trade zone around the Mediterranean in 2010, EU diplomats said. The EU already has such an agreement with Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan. Altogether, the European Union and the European Investment Bank provide €2 billion ($2.4 billion) for cultural work, educational exchanges and training and reform programs.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer
"It's not a question of whether enough comes back. Instead it's an investment in stability," said Fischer. "The central question for European security in the 21st century is whether the Mediterranean will become a sea of cooperation or confrontation. That is not only for the Mediterranean states of the EU, but for all of us, of paramount importance."
Not too busy for the South
EU foreign policy commissioner Chris Patten countered accusations that the EU was too occupied with its own expansion from 10 to 25 states to look southward.
He said the EU-Med program "enables us to focus more on ways in which people help those countries which wish … to share much more fully in our market and in the way we do things in the Union. It's a direct rebuttal of the proposition that enlargement of the European Union would lead to a 'fortress Europe'."
Besides Libya, all North African states are part of the EU-Mediterranean program. But since Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi's visit to Brussels in late April, the chances have improved for the country, which had observer status at the Dublin talks, to be integrated into the EU's program.
"We aim to become a full member, but that will still take come time and agreement in our own bodies," Libyan Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdul Rahman Shalgan said.
However, since a Libyan court sentenced Bulgarian doctors to death this week for allegedly infecting children with the HIV virus, relations have been put on ice. But Cowen made clear that change will only come if the sentence is rescinded and a solution is found.