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#Gaza faces dire power crisis, health services deteriorate, untreated sewage pouring into the sea

27/05/2017 Leave a comment

On May 26th I briefed the UN Security Council on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question. This is a regular monthly briefing, which updates the Security Council on what has been happening on the ground in the past month. Last month it was focused on a broader overview of developments in the region. This month most of it was focused on the situation in Gaza, where we are walking into another crisis with our eyes wide open. I warned the Security Council that unless urgent measures are taken to de-escalate, the crisis risks spiraling out of control with devastating consequences for Palestinians and Israelis alike.

Since Hamas established an Administrative Committee in March, a parallel institution to run governmental affairs in Gaza,

the intra-Palestinian political tug-of-war has led to a significant deterioration in relations between Fatah and Hamas.

The result is a significant worsening of the humanitarian crisis which risks exploding into another conflict that can only begin to be resolved by compromise, by the implementation of intra-Palestinian agreements and an ending of the closures.

In April, the Palestinian Government upheld its decision to reduce salary allowances to nearly 60,000 public sector employees in Gaza. While the Government needs to ensure its fiscal sustainability under increasingly difficult economic conditions, it is important that reforms or decisions to reduce expenditures are fairly distributed and made with consideration to the harsh conditions in Gaza.

Gaza is also in the midst of an unprecedented energy crisis. The power plant, that supplies 30 per cent of Gaza’s electricity, stopped functioning on 16 April, due to a dispute between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas over taxation on fuel.

The lines supplying power from Egypt into Gaza are often down for technical reasons. This leaves Israeli power lines, which provide some 60 per cent of Gaza’s electricity, as the only reliable energy source. Meanwhile the Palestinian Government has decided to cap its purchase of electricity from Israel for Gaza. If implemented, this decision will further reduce electricity supply to Gaza by some 30per cent, plunging its population into a spiral of a humanitarian catastrophe.

Since April, the majority of Palestinians in Gaza are receiving about four hours of electricity per day. How long do you think they can survive if this is further reduced to two hours of electricity per day? Who will pay the price of the ensuing violence and escalation? It will certainly not be those who live a life of exemptions and privilege.

The price will be paid by poor Palestinians, by women and children, by people already traumatized by conflict, who have been held hostage for a decade now. They are the ones who will not have access to electricity, to water, to health services and sanitation.

No one has interest in another conflict in Gaza.

And everyone has a responsibility to avoid it. For months, the UN has warned that without addressing the structural problems of Gaza’s electricity supply we would face a humanitarian crisis. Those warnings are now a reality. I illustrated what that reality looks like.

Hospitals are now forced to postpone elective surgeries and have already reduced 80 per cent of cleaning, catering and sterilization services. Had it not been for the timely UN humanitarian intervention on April 27 to provide emergency fuel for generators some 51 surgical and obstetric operation theaters, five hemodialysis centers and a number of emergency departments would have had to close.

Since mid-April desalination plants are functioning at 15% of their capacity and drinking water is supplied for a few hours every 2-4 days.

100,000 cubic meters of raw sewage are discharged into the Mediterranean Sea on a daily basis. This is the equivalent of 40 Olympic-size swimming pools of sewage. Untreated. Daily. An environmental disaster for Israel, for Egypt and Gaza is in the making.

Food prices are soaring as the price of water for irrigation has gone up by 65per cent. The manufacturing sector is grinding to a halt and over half of private industry workers have been suspended.

The UN is working determinedly to mitigate the humanitarian impact of this crisis.

A UN-managed emergency fuel operation is delivering fuel to essential services for water, health and sanitation – but our reserves will run-out in the coming weeks. It can only temporarily alleviate the suffering of the most vulnerable, but is no substitute for a sustainable solution. Defusing the current energy crisis will require compromise on all sides, including tax concessions on fuel for the power plant and a profound reform of how energy is supplied in Gaza.

The Palestinian Authority, Hamas – which has controlled Gaza for a decade – and Israel, all have obligations for the welfare of Gaza’s residents and must live up to their responsibilities to address the crisis and overcome political impasse.

Over the past weeks, I have engaged with the parties and our international partners to find both a solution to the immediate electricity challenges, but also to address the broader political challenge of returning Gaza to the control of the legitimate Palestinian authorities.

In another troubling development, allow me to join the High Commissioner for Human Rights in condemning yesterday’s executions of three men in Gaza in contravention of international law. These executions bring to 28 the number of death sentences carried out since the Hamas takeover in 2007, with nine just in the last year.

Turning to the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I noted that in recent weeks we have seen more tragic examples of the human toll that this conflict inflicting, with 6 Palestinians killed in various acts of violence.

I expressed my concern at the ongoing hunger strike by Palestinian detainees protesting against their conditions in Israeli jails, which, on the eve of the Ramadan, has now entered its 40th day. According to reports, the Israel Prison Service has evacuated at least 60 hunger-striking prisoners to hospitals because their medical condition had worsened, while another close to 600 prisoners have been moved to infirmaries set up in the prisons.

Reports of punitive measures against the hunger strikers, including restricted access to lawyers and the denial of family visits, are alarming. The right of detainees to access a lawyer is a right that should never be curtailed.

I am glad that a day after my briefing to the Security Council,

it was confirmed by the ICRC that the hunger strike has ended.

On 4 May the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee met in Brussels to discuss the key socio-economic challenges faced by the Palestinian Authority. Regrettably, a number of key issues remained unresolved between the parties on access and movement, energy, water and fiscal sustainability. While many of the solutions are technical, ultimately, the decisions to implement them are political.

I encouraged that in recent weeks the Israeli and Palestinian Ministers of Finance have come together in an effort to move these issues forward. Their fruitful consultations, the first meeting of the Joint Water Committee in seven years and the progress in the implementation of last year’s landmark Electricity Agreement are positive steps that need to be encouraged and supported.

I also took note of recently announced Israeli measures designed to help the Palestinian economy in the West Bank. These steps reportedly include the proposed zoning of land in Area C adjacent to several Palestinian cities, for their residential, industrial and agricultural use; development of industrial zones in Tarkumiya and Hebron; as well as expanding the hours of operation of the Allenby Bridge Crossing. These are positive steps that also need to be substantially expanded if they are to achieve the desired effect.

Before closing, I turned very briefly to Lebanon and the Golan. Regrettably,

the Lebanese Parliament has not yet reconvened

following its one-month adjournment of 12 April. Agreement on an electoral law remains elusive, less than a month before Parliament’s tenure ends on 20 June. Hopefully negotiations can be finalized in time to avoid institutional instability and to allow for the holding of elections in accordance with the Constitution.

In the Golan, the ceasefire between Israel and the Syrian Arab Republic has been maintained, albeit in a volatile environment attributable to the ongoing conflict in Syria and against the backdrop of continued military activity across the ceasefire line. This has included incidents of spillover and retaliatory fire as well as Israeli air strikes in Syria targeting Hizbullah.

Both Israel and the Syrian Arab Republic have stated their continued commitment to the Disengagement of Forces Agreement and support for the full return of UNDOF to the area of separation, conditions permitting.

In closing, I said a few words on efforts to advance the prospects for peace. As the conflict has ebbed and flowed, the key messages to both sides from the United Nations, including through its role in the Quartet, and the broader international community, have remained clear, consistent and firm.

Above all, Israel’s almost 50-year occupation and settlement enterprise are untenable and must end through meaningful negotiations that address all final status issues. Their perpetuation is sending an unmistakable message to another generation of Palestinians that their dream of statehood is destined to remain just that, a dream, and to Israelis that their desire for peace, security and regional recognition also remains unattainable.

Still, much can and must be done. Israel can undertake transformative steps to improve the daily lives of Palestinians, to empower the Palestinian leadership, and to move meaningfully towards a negotiated resolution of the conflict, in accordance with international law and Security Council resolutions.

Palestinians, too, should heed the repeated calls to combat violence and incitement. Internally, they must also rise to the challenge of forging a genuine reconciliation – critical to advancing peace and fulfilling their national aspirations.

This summer will mark ten years since the 2007 Hamas violent take-over of the Gaza Strip. The past decade has seenGaza’s infrastructure, its basic services and private sector gradually debilitated, its economy weakened with real GDP per capita and employment decreasing, and the gender gap continuing to grow. Gaza faces a downward spiral of de-development. The widening socio-economic gap between Gaza and the West Bank further highlights the need to end the drivers of this inhumane and volatile situation. Deteriorating conditions only fuel anger and instability, strengthen extremists and undermine chances for a serious political process.

If Israelis and Palestinians hope to extract themselves from the immeasurable burden this conflict has wrought, they must be willing to take the painful steps that will ultimately lead to peace. Neither side can afford another missed opportunity.

You can read the remarks as delivered here

UN News Centre summary here

As #Gaza electricty crisis grows, urgent measures needed. The poorest #Palestinians pay the price for the privileges of a few #UN

19/04/2017 Leave a comment

I am following with great concern the tense situation in Gaza, where a new energy crisis is now unfolding. 

Reform of the Gaza Electricity Distribution Company (GEDCO) is essential to improve revenue collection and transparency in line with international standards. The defacto authorities in Gaza must ensure that collection rates are improved and that revenue collected in Gaza is returned to the legitimate Palestinian authorities in order to keep fuel and electricity supply flowing. All in Gaza must share the burden by paying their bills. 

It is the poorest Palestinians in Gaza who pay the price for exceptions and privileges that others enjoy.

This reform, as well as the necessary investments in reducing electricity losses and upgrading the grid in Gaza, should be financed and supported by the international community but it cannot do it alone. It must go hand-in-hand with the Palestinian Government facilitating the purchase of fuel for the Gaza Power Plant (GPP) under conditions that temporarily alleviate or substantially reduce relevant fuel taxes.

Israel also has a significant responsibility to assist by facilitating the entry of materials for repairs and maintenance of the grid and power plant. Egyptian power lines to Gaza also need to be repaired and upgraded.

The social, economic and political consequences of this impending energy crisis should not be underestimated. Palestinians in Gaza, who live in a protracted humanitarian crisis, can no longer be held hostage by disagreements, divisions and closures.

I call on all parties, including the international community, to come together and ensure this vital issue of energy for Gaza is resolved once and for all. The United Nations stands ready to provide its support in achieving this vital goal.

The UN’s man in Baghdad

03/04/2015 Leave a comment

maldenov-largeOriginally published by the Fletcher Forum of World Affairs.

FLETCHER FORUM: How did your experience as the Bulgarian Foreign Minister, and even further back, as a staff member with the Open Society Foundation and National Democratic Institute (NDI), shape your view of your time in Iraq

NIKOLAY MLADENOV: It all started in 2006, when I went to Iraq for the first time. I was working with NDI on what looked like a short-term project to the newly elected Council of Representatives set up their parliamentary committees. We really started from scratch. We started from zero.

I borrowed heavily on my own experience from back home. Between 2001 and 2005 I was a Member of Bulgaria’s Parliament, I had been a young MP who had gone through training too. It was fascinating to work with the Iraqis, they were all eager to learn. I ended up writing two booklets on committee works and the role of MPs. Both, I think, were used extensively later by NDI and reprinted.

The year 2006 was probably the worst time in Iraq. We had twenty to thirty rockets per day targeting the parts of Baghdad and the Green Zone every day. It was really unsafe. The difficult time however brought us all together and I started developing strong relationships with many Iraqis. The people I worked with were inspiring. They braved the security threats and day after day came to work to build their new country. Some, if not all, were not sure if they would get back to their families at the end of the day. It was a tough time.

After leaving my Iraq project I went home and delved back into Bulgarian politics. In early 2007 I was elected to the European Parliament, but Iraq stayed with me. I joined up with fellow MEPs and we set up the Iraq Group in the European Parliament.

I think what all of this has really taught me, and I’ve tried to use it now with the UN, is that you have to always be very practical and very specific when looking how to help a country in transition. Stay away from generalities, broad analysis and guidance but try to identify actionable items and specific policies. I guess when you speak from your own experience, having gone from dictatorship to democracy, that gives you more credibility to have that type of a discussion.

I’ve tried very much in the UN to be practical. Iraq faces massive problems, but because of the violence and the difficulties of transition, people don’t often enough look beyond their own plate. Many other countries have gone through great difficulties and been able to come through. Maybe somewhere out there, there’s a solution that they ought to consider. For me, one of the roles the UN can play is to bring that international experience, knowledge to people in Iraq. One of our roles should be exactly that — to help Iraq see that its not alone, that there is knowledge and experience out there in dealing with the tough problems of today and to help people use that to their own benefit.

FLETCHER FORUM: Where were you last summer on the day when you heard that fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIL) had taken Mosul?

MLADENOV: In the Prime Minister’s office telling him that ISIL would take over Mosul. On the 9th of June, in the morning.

We had been monitoring Mosul and Nineveh for a long time, and it was very clear that ISIL had been for months “harvesting” the city: kidnappings, assassinations of government officials and local council members. Nineveh is the only province in Iraq where practically every single elected official throughout the whole province had been kidnapped, killed, or chased away from their offices in some way.

The whole government infrastructure had been challenged at every single level by ISIL. At the end of May, early June, it was very clear that large numbers of fighters were coming across from the border of Syria and that they would make a push for Mosul. Our security analysis was that the city would not hold and would collapse under this pressure.

On the morning of the ninth of June, I went to see Prime Minister Maliki with a very big map saying, ‘look, this is our security analysis. The city will fall.” What we could not have foreseen was what would happen after that. What we believed would happen was a fight that might last for a few days and then perhaps the city would fall, like Falujjar earlier in the year. But we had no way of seeing that the Iraqi Army between Mosul and Baghdad, within 48 hours would melt away effectively without a fight.

My advice to the government was to strengthen the Iraqi army, but as an immediate priority to begin cooperating with the Kurdish Peshmerga. We could have helped find an arrangement to guarantee that the disputed territories would not be taken over by one side or the other. This cooperation was vital however if Mosul were to stand a chance. We had shared this analysis with the Kurds before, and they had also been in touch with the Prime Minister before the fall of Mosul to warn him too.

The Prime Minister saw things differently. I think it was about 3 A.M. on the 10th of June when I got a call saying, “it’s happening. The city has fallen, hundreds of thousands of people are fleeing, and the Kurds are moving in to get involved.” By the next morning we could see this meltdown of the Iraqi Army all the way to Baghdad. After that things unfolded very quickly, we had to relocate most of the UN staff from Baghdad to other places because we didn’t know whether Baghdad would hold and I urgently briefed the Security Council on the situation on the ground.

FLETCHER FORUM: What was your initial reaction? What was Prime Minister Maliki’s reaction to the both the initial meeting and the 3 A.M. phone call?

MLADENOV: That 3 A.M. phone call came from the Iraqi security forces, but I think at that point they were scrambling to do whatever they could to hold on to Baghdad and to protect Samarra, which was the next city exposed to ISIL and the location of a big Shia shrine. If Samarra had fallen, or a big fight had occurred there, then it would have really been a sectarian conflict. Thankfully, Baghdad and the south of the country were preserved.

In that meltdown however ISIL gained not only territory, but access to vast amounts of weapons, old and cash. According to Government sources the Central Bank in Mosul had some $450 million in their coffers. They had control of almost the entire border between Iraq and Syria so that they could easily transfer people to Anbar, Nineveh. The myth that ISIL is invincible however was created not by their victories on the ground, but by the meltdown of the Iraqi Army. ISIL didn’t battle their way to the gates of Baghdad, they walked their way down to Baghdad.

FLETCHER FORUM: Not long after ISIL’s advance, negotiations over the formation of a new government in Iraq kicked into high gear. Here in the U.S. there were a lot of news reports about the haggling and whether or not Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki would step down. Could you walk us through those weeks and tell us what the environment was like? What were people thinking? What were you thinking?

MLADENOV: If you go back to before the elections, there was speculation that the election would not take place. People were saying [Maliki] would postpone the election or find a way to not hold it. In fact he always adamantly denied such accusations and to his credit, he never tried to stop the election. When the election results came in, I think everyone was surprised for different reasons.

To me the election results had two pieces of good news in it. One, you had over sixty-two percent of Iraqis come out to vote, which is a pretty high turnout given the security environment. Secondly, no political party was even close to a majority. The message from the electorate was clear: ‘We are not going to give one person or one group the full mandate to run the country, we want you all to coalesce and save the country together.’

To me that was the reading of the election results. What followed was a typical debate about what happens next. Should they do what they did in 2009, when the spent almost a year negotiating a grand deal for the formation of a government? There were people saying that Iraq needed a grand deal. That they need to agree on who will be the Prime Minister, the President, the Speaker of Parliament, and once we have that done, they we can take it to a vote in Parliament and move forward.

Then there were others, and this was the UN line, that said ‘no, you have a Constitution and you have to base everything you do on it and its timeframe. If you do this grand deal thing you’re not really acting according to the Constitution, as it has clear timeline. You have to convene Parliament, elect a Speaker, elect a President and he should nominate a Prime Minister’.

I’ll admit that we pushed very hard with everybody trying to convince them that this is the way to go forward. And the logic behind it was that in an environment in which you have ISIL on the doorstep and the Army collapsing, people need to see the institutions of state working. Sticking to the constitutional timeline is the best option. If they had failed to do that, the message would have been one of complete chaos. People would have seen politicians squabbling over positions while the country is in a free fall. Abiding by the constitutional timelines was the legitimate response.

Thankfully, most agreed with this approach and the first session of the newly elected parliament was held on time with only a couple of days delay. Then the Speaker was elected, then the President was elected. Once that had been put in place the question came to who will the Prime Minister. Then there was another internal debate about who would constitute the largest group in Parliament, because the largest group gets to nominate the Prime Minister. This was an important step before the nomination of Mr. Abadi. Once he was nominated by the President, it was clear that the goal would be to have a government of national unity.

FLETCHER FORUM: Going back to this idea of national unity, when the Iraqi electorate is indicating that they don’t want any one segment of Iraq to take over, what is the role of leadership in this situation to create a more inclusive process?

MLADENOV: Leadership is extremely important. It’s not just political leadership. In all my statement I always referred to political, religious and civil leaders as they all had a role to play to bring the country together.

In Iraq, and Iraq is not unique in this sense, you have different authorities. You have the political authorities—the people that have their parties and lead their followers, define their platforms. You have the religious leaders, more specifically in Iraq and particularly within the Shia community, you have the Marja in Najaf that have a very strong moral guiding function within the Shia community. And then you have local tribes and leaders.

For agreement to be reached you need all of these leaders together on the same message. Before the elections it was quite common to see the Prime Minister talk about one thing, the President talk about something else, and the Speaker of Parliament talk about a third thing. And then the religious authorities would also get lost in this cacophony.

Now, I think one of the most encouraging developments is that you see all of these people coalesce around a similar message. Yes, they all still have their differences, but the message that they need to be united, to stand up to this terrorist threat, to rebuild their country, that they cannot have one community dominate everything and there needs to be a balance. This is the core of the political message that can hep save and rebuild the country.

In Iraq the leadership of Ayatollah Sistani is extremely important for the Shia community, I can’t overstate how important it is. Then with the tribal leaders you need to be careful because there are many different tribal elders and you need to work with a broader number of people. On the political side you have a very different picture.

If you look the Kurdish side of the equation, you know who the leaders of the parties are, you know the power that they wield within their community and understand how that works. Within the Shia community you can also see the political leadership. But the really tough challenge is the leadership within the Sunni community, because over the years it has broken into different groups and then with ISIL taking over their provinces, many of these Sunni political leaders in Baghdad really struggle because they are put between a rock and a hard place. Their constituency is gone because it’s under ISIL’s control, yet they have to fight for that constituency in Parliament. There is a leadership issue there that needs to be addressed somehow.

FLETCHER FORUM: In the lead up to ISIL’s advances in Iraq, there was a lot of dissatisfaction within the Iraqi Army. How do you think the difficulties of creating inclusive institutions to strengthening the Iraqi Army today?

MLADENOV: That’s one of the most fascinating topics and a very long discussion. If you go back to the very beginning in 2003, everyone focuses on Paul Bremer’s decision to dissolve the army and police. That was the wrong decision and we all pretty much accept that, but after that there was a period of time that the Sunni Iraqi community was refusing to be a part of the new democratic political establishment in Iraq. They were boycotting politics and staying away. That to some extent prevented Sunnis from joining the new Iraqi Army, the political process, or the institutions.

This helped create the environment in which the Shia from the south started dominating the rank and file of the army. They themselves had been oppressed under Saddam Hussein and they saw democracy as a tool to guarantee that they will never be in a position of weakness again. Some of the militias, Badr’s in particular, were integrated into the police or the army. The end result today is that Iraqi Sunnis have a leadership problem, while the state institutions dealing with security in particular, are dominated by the Shia community.  There needs to be a balance if Iraq is to live in peace.

Then you had the de-Baathification laws. The affected all members of Saddam’s Baath party, including military officers. Over time some have been brought back in, however the process reeked of favoritism and lacked transparency. Coming back to Mosul, you had a big disconnect between the servicemen in the army—mostly Shia from the South, and officers and generals who had either joined the army recently or beloved to Saddam’s regime and had ‘adapted’ to the new reality. Not a very bright picture, right?

Ideologically the Iraqi army never developed a strong national base of what they were fighting for or what they were defending. Loyalty to the community, to the tribe was stronger than loyalty to the state. Corruption was everywhere. Money was getting lost and weapons were not being delivered. Living conditions for the soldiers were appalling. All of this had a demoralizing effect on the rank and file. And then when you see the enemy across the river and coming for you, and you see your generals say, “I’m going home,” everybody just left. That is what happens when you don’t have a strong esprit de corps holding the armed forces together.

The big challenge now is not to reconstruct the Iraqi army in the old way, but to reconstruct it on a truly national basis. This will take time, it will be slow and difficult. To succeed you need to go back to politics and prove that the government is inclusive, that is doing the right things and is engaging everybody and communities are not feeling marginalized. That message from the top of the country will inevitably get down to the rank and file and people will feel safe to join that army. But it will take time.

FLETCHER FORUM: What is the most important lesson on state building from your time in Iraq that you would impart to the person who takes on that role next for the UN?

MLADENOV: Many, many lessons. Where do I start? Its not your country, you can help, but you can’t do it for them. If you try and take decisions instead of allowing local people to take decisions, even when you know they are wrong, you will mess things up. Advise, help, give options, argue, encourage… but don’t try to do it for them. It’s their country and their ways. All we can do is help, but they have to take responsibility. This is the really big lesson.

The second thing is to bring in as much international experience as you can. At the end of the day, you are dealing with people who have for generations lived in some sort of war and dictatorship: Saddam Hussein, 1979, war with Iran, Kuwait, the first Gulf War, sanctions, the second Gulf War, terrorism, sectarianism, etc. Generations have grown up in this environment. You really need to help open people’s minds and show them the experience of other places and what’s been done elsewhere.

When you think about any issue related to minorities in Iraq, leave aside ISIL, you can just look Europe and you’ve got thousands of examples from country to country. And if you look into the details, you will find something that might work. Or at least it will give them ideas to look into, how about this or how about that?

Innovation and growth are key to economic revival in Europe

16/04/2012 Leave a comment

As we meet in London today, the European economy remains weak. Growth has stalled across the continent. Unemployment is high. After several years of crisis, our citizens and businesses are still uncertain whether the future offers prosperity or stagnation. William Hague and I outlined some ideas on how to bring growth back into the European economy and published them in The Telegraph. This is how it looks when you see it from Sofia and London…

As well as responding to the immediate debt crises, we believe that Europe must focus more on growth. We outline here a programme of reforms which Europe needs to undertake to remain competitive and confident.

Neither of our countries is in the euro, but it is in our national interest that the currency should succeed. We have a major stake in a stable and growing eurozone. A large share of our exports goes to this area and its volatility has a chilling effect on both economies.

As well as the fiscal compact, markets must be assured that the eurozone firewall is big enough; that Europe’s banks are being adequately recapitalised; and that the problems in countries like Greece have been properly dealt with.

At national level, the UK and Bulgaria are working hard to address the problem of government debt. We have put forward an aggressive set of plans to get our economies back on their feet. We are reforming our welfare and pension systems, restraining public sector pay, and streamlining our public administrations.

By taking bold decisions, we have shown it is possible to earn credibility in international markets.
Beneath the surface of the recent crises is a bigger and more important challenge for Europe. A fundamental shift in the global balance of economic power is under way – from West to East and from North to South.

This is about competitiveness. The European Commission’s 2012 Annual Growth Survey observed that “long before the current crisis, overall EU performance has been weaker than key competitors”.
The only long-term solution is to encourage and promote growth. In our meeting in London we are discussing a number of ways to do this: extending the single market, promoting free trade, reducing red tape and using the EU’s budget to promote innovation and competitiveness.

First, to complete the single market we must widen its remit to focus on the digital economy, on energy, low carbon development, defence, and further liberalisation of the services sector. One of the reasons major companies invest in Bulgaria and the UK is because they want access to the single market. But in some crucial areas, internal trade is still obstructed.

The single market has not kept up with the shift to services and changes in technology. Further liberalisation of services and the creation of a digital single market could bring over €800bn (£660bn) to the European economy.

Second, promoting free trade. The EU has had a good track record of promoting international trade but we must do more. We’d like to make 2012 the year of EU trade deals, by concluding negotiations with India, Canada and Singapore, launching negotiations with Japan by the summer, and injecting momentum into EU-US economic integration.

The deals currently on the table could add €90bn to EU GDP. Above all, we must reject the temptation to seek self-defeating protectionism in trade relations.

Third, reducing the burdens on businesses. The average cost of starting a business is higher in the EU than in our major competitors. It costs €644 to set up a business in the US compared with €2,285 in the EU. Big businesses say EU regulation is having a negative effect too.

We have made some advances in Europe on reducing regulatory burdens for small businesses. This is a step in the right direction, but we will push for a more ambitious EU programme to reduce overall burdens, specific measures to help small businesses and new sectoral targets to benefit industry.

Fourth, Europe needs to focus more on innovation and infrastructure for a modern economy. Connecting Europe’s energy grids is one milestone. In addition, we should make EU research and investment funds more flexible and simpler to use.

As President Rosen Plevneliev of Bulgaria said in his inauguration speech, innovation is at the heart of growth. Europe must create the best environment for entrepreneurs and innovators to turn their ideas into commercial projects, and thus create jobs.

Finally, we wish to stress the transformational power of EU enlargement. The process of accession has helped to entrench democracy, the rule of law and human rights across the continent. It has also increased investor confidence. We believe membership of the EU should be open to any European country that wants to join and meets the rigorous accession criteria.

End of Violence and Free Elections Only Way Out of Crisis in Syria

15/11/2011 Leave a comment

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На вчерашното заседание на Съвета по външни работи на ЕС взехме решение за поредно разширяване на санкциите спрямо Сирия. В тях са включени лица, свързани с репресиите на управляващия режим, както и замразяване на заемите, предоставяни от Европейската инвестиционна банка.

Тези действия ще продължат, докато в Сирия не се прекрати насилието, за което виновните трябва да понесат отговорност. Изходът от тежката криза в Сирия е само в незабавно спиране на насилието и провеждане на свободни избори под международно наблюдение, в които сирийският народ сам да избере пътя, по който страната да се развива.

България категорично осъжда факта, че сирийските власти допуснаха да бъдат извършени нападения срещу дипломатическите мисии на Саудитска арабия, Катар, Турция и Франция в страната.

България заедно с другите държави от ЕС подкрепя продължаващите усилия на Лигата на арабските държави за намиране на изход от кризата, включително чрез засилване на международната изолация на режима в Дамаск.

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