EU-Arab League Ministerial meeting blog

11th June, 2014

For the fifth time in as many months, I travelled to Greece for a ministerial meeting. This time brought me to Athens for a meeting of the EU-Arab League, which took place on Tuesday and Wednesday, 10th and 11th June.

The Europe Union has always attached the utmost importance, not just politically but economically and culturally to our relationship with the League of Arab States. Meetings, such as the one held in Athens this week, plays a strong role in furthering cooperation between our two regions on issues of mutual concern.

It also provides an opportunity to meet directly with Ministers from the Arab States to discuss matters pertaining to our respective countries. In this regard, I met with the Egyptian Foreign Affairs Minister, Nabil Fahmy, to discuss the continued detention of Irish citizen, Ibrahim Halawa, in Egypt. The meeting was productive with Minister Fahmy acknowledging the situation, committing to relaying the concerns of the Irish Government and expressing hope that the situation can be progressed.

As this was the third Ministerial meeting of theEU-Arab League, the relationship between the two regions continues to grow. As we work together to advance areas such as crisis response, the empowerment of women, electoral observation, legal cooperation, and the promotion of human rights and civil society on a practical level, the lives of those we represent are further enhanced.

With all 28 Member States from the EU represented at the meeting, along with Ministers, Ministers of State and officials from Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen, the views of almost 50 States were expressed acrss the two days on a range of issues.

By keeping the channels of communication open between our two regions we can better address the challenges and opportunities we face. Ireland supports every effort to institute a more regular strategic dialogue between Europe and the Arab world, recognising that this is absolutely the most effective way of achieving that goal.

Not least among these challenges is the horror that is being endured by the people of Syria. Reaffirming the need for all violence and bloodshed to end and for all sides to commit to a political resolution is essential and I am pleased that the Declaration which was adopted today by the EU and the League of Arab States recognises this. Ireland firmly believes that actions that conflict with the principles of the Geneva communiqué run counter to efforts to end the violence and conflict in Syria. The charade of free and fair elections that were held in Syria last week do nothing to instil confidence in the situation.

Since it began, more than three years ago, the Syrian crisis has resulted in the forced movement of half of the population. While this is traumatic beyond comprehension for the people affected, Ireland also recognises the impact this has had on Syria’s neighbouring countries. Ireland has contributed €12 million in humanitarian assistance since the start of this year. We will continue to look at how we can further assist those who have provided refuge for the Syrian people during that time.

On Ireland’s behalf, I also called for the resumption of talks in respect of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Ireland is supportive of a two-State solution, based on the 1967 borders, which can only be achieved through negotiations. To that end, we welcome the recent establishment of the new Palestinian Unity Government and urge Israel to cease its expansion of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem which acts as an impediment to the realisation of a viable Palestinian State.

Dialogue and communication are always the stepping stones to peace and reconciliation. The Declaration adopted today affirms the need for members of the EU and the League of Arab States to continue to work together to promote stability throughout the regions.

The adoption today of a separate statement on the escalating situation in, Iraq which has seen hundreds of thousands of people fleeing their towns and villages under siege, is to be welcomed. I look forward to continued cooperation between the EU and the League of Arab States as we seek the most effective ways of building a more inclusive, a safer and a more stable world for all.

Most of the meetings that I participate in have only EU colleagues in attendance. To hear from a broader variety of countries is always instructive. Similarly,for other countries to hear the Irish view on international issues and topics is of value and important to us. I had the opportunity to have a detailed discussion with a Minister from Iraq. That does not happen often and helped me understand better the challenges and opportunities that they face. To also hear from countries such as Sudan and Libya about their future is valuable and gives an insight into the future agenda for the international community.