The EuroNews interview on this occasion is with EU External Relations Commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner on the European Union’s Neighbourhood Policy. She is a former Austrian foreign minister and diplomat who is keen to boost the role of that policy . It is designed to build on bilateral commitments linking the EU and its eastern and southern neighbours and strengthen prosperity, stability and security. But Moscow has refused to take part in the Neighbourhood Policy and it was about recent events in Russia that we first questioned the Commissioner.
Sergio Cantone – Brussels Correspondent, EuroNews: Commissioner, welcome to EuroNews. Have you any concern about the situation in Russia, the current situation?
Benita Ferrero-Waldner – EU Commissioner for External Relations: Well, let me say the following, I think I have made very clear after the election that the whole process has always to be considered; and in the process we have seen that the right of assembly and also the media freedom was not always completely there and this, indeed, has been confirmed by the Council of Europe and also by the assembly of the OSCE that have spoken out against that.
EuroNews: And what about the allegations of ballot manipulation and electoral abuses?
Benita Ferrero-Waldner: Well, I can only of course read what these observers have said and they have said that both in the process and also on the electoral day there were really negative elements; like, for instance, the arrest of opposition politicians, of NGOs and also some sort of fraud.
EuroNews: Europe doesn’t seem to have a unified position on how to deal with this situation, as a commissioner?
Benita Ferrero-Waldner: Well, first of all I would like to say that we, as EU institutions have reacted with the same message and I think this is very important. And second, I think Russia remains a very important partner for us and also a neighbour; Russia is a strategic partner for us, so we are working with Russia, but I think that what we would like to see, for instance, would be that the presidential elections could now be observed by the OSCE in a really appropriate manner.
EuroNews: If we look at a map, the area of the European Neighbourhood Policy corresponds to what Russians used to refer to as the “near abroad.
Benita Ferrero-Waldner: Well, this is the eastern part of our Neighbourhood Policy, but you know the Neighbourhood Policy is a policy to all the neighbours of the enlarged European Union that means there5;s also a southern part, which is the southern Mediterranean, except for the candidate country, Turkey.
EuroNews: What do you think about the Mediterranean Union proposed by the President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, do you think that it could be complementary to the Neighbourhood Policy?
Benita Ferrero-Waldner: I think, we can be favourable to this project as long as the ‘acquis’, that means what we already have achieved, remains and that is the Barcelona Process, this is the Neighbourhood Policy and complementarily to that, we will see what else can be done to reinforce our policies or to give added value.
EuroNews: Why is 2008 going to be important, fundamental, for the Neighbourhood Policy?
Benita Ferrero-Waldner: I think it will be very important because we really want to make it a reality for everyday citizens of the partner countries, but we want also to show to our own citizens that to have more stability, more prosperity, more security can only be brought about if we are working together. Think of migration, I mean, if we help our neighbouring countries then of course they will certainly rather want to stay in their own countries, create jobs there, get possibilities to really bring up their families, instead of coming here, and therefore, for instance the migration issue is very closely linked to the issue of better trade relationships with these countries.
EuroNews: Is this a sort of second circle of a future two speed Europe?
Benita Ferrero-Waldner: I think what we wanted to avoid is dividing lines in Europe and also with our immediate neighbours. What we want to do is create this ring of friends around us, but friends that are on the same line, that are on the same level and therefore we have to help them to really come to the same level.
EuroNews: My final question, is this the European Union trying to not look like a fortress?
Benita Ferrero-Waldner: Absolutely, not only that we don’t want to look like a fortress; we are no fortress. Indeed we want to see where the bridges can be built, and Neighbourhood Policy I think is a very large and very firm steadfast bridge to our immediate neighbours.