Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council
Atlantic-community.org member Dean Carroll interviewed the President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy about the Arab spring, Poland's emergence as a serious player, nuclear power and supporting the spread of democracy across the globe.
Are you happy with the EU's response to the revolutions and protests we are seeing in North Africa and the Arab world; there has been a lot of criticism about the lack of direction from the External Action Service and the failure of the union to speak with one voice when it comes to international diplomacy?
The European Union intends to continue to play a key role in the historical developments, which are taking place in Northern Africa and the Middle East. Without Europe, there would have been an Arab Spring, but without us there will be no Arab summer.
We have witnessed positive and negative developments. On the positive side, in addition to the democratic transformation in Tunisia and Egypt this spring, we see constitutional reform in Morocco; renewed commitment for political reforms in Jordan; and a lifting of the state of emergency and planned constitutional reforms in Algeria.
The EU wants to contribute to these changes. We offer a new Partnership to the countries in the region, promoting both democratic reforms and economic reforms to the benefit of the citizens. We will build on individual assessments of partners' performance and needs: "less for less", and "more for more".
What new developments are you hoping to see from the Polish presidency of the Council?
Poland will play an important role in chairing one of the EU institutions, the council. Economic issues will continue to dominate the European debate over the next six months. We will work on ideas to enhance growth, we will prepare the next G20 summit in Cannes and we will discuss financial regulation.
One of their major tasks will be to launch the debate on the new multi-annual financial framework for the years 2014 to 2020. The upcoming negotiations on the European Budget, within the council and with the European Parliament will be intensive and complex. The debate will focus not only on "how much money should be available for whom" or "who is paying", but also on "where" the money should be spent. In other words, which will be the political priorities of the EU for the coming years. A debate, hopefully, without slogans and one-sided views.
Regarding enlargement, Croatia's accession negotiations were formally concluded at the end of June. This is a milestone. The signing of the Accession Treaty will take place under the Polish Presidency. This will give momentum to the European perspective of the whole Western Balkans. Some important decisions can be expected from the European Council in December, provided that these countries vigorously continue the reforms. I count on the Polish Presidency of the Council of the European Union to move us forward in the construction of Europe. I wish them a very successful Presidency.
Do you see you role now as a "chairman" of the EU or does the President's remit reach beyond such limitations - and, how would you describe your own personal style of leadership and management?
The European Council sets the strategic agenda of the EU. This vital task requires consensus among the heads of state or government and the European Commission President. The building of such consensus requires careful preparation, consulting all concerned and constructing acceptable solutions. Now that we are 27 member states, this needs time that only a full time and stable President can give.
If Europe rejects nuclear power following the Japanese disaster, are green technologies advanced enough to bridge the gap?
We are drawing lessons from the tragic events in Japan. This should give an impetus to a common comprehensive approach to nuclear safety in the EU. This is in the interest of our citizens, the policy-makers and industry.
The choice of whether to use nuclear energy is a national one, but we have a common interest in safety standards in the countries that do use it. Indeed, nuclear safety has always been and remains an absolute priority for the European Union. The common safety framework should be based on the highest safety standards, not only in the EU - but also worldwide. We also hope that neighbouring countries will conduct nuclear tests. Nuclear safety has no borders.
Concerning green technologies, the EU offers support in the G8 for the green growth strategy as developed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. This strategy blends economic and environmental thinking and concepts in a much needed way. This work is fully in synchronisation with the EU 2020 strategy and various concrete initiatives to promote a more resource-efficient and low carbon economy.
Now that a precedent has been set for intervention in Libya, can atrocities in other anti-democratic states like Bahrain, Yemen and Saudi Arabia continue to be ignored by the international community - including the United Nations and EU?
Both the situations in each country and our ability to intervene vary. As mentioned before, we are pleased about the democratic wave in our Southern Neighbourhood, but at the same time we witnessed negative developments. Regarding Libya, we keep military pressure and sanctions as long as Khadafi stays. We are also preparing with international partners the post-Khadafi democratic transition.
Regarding Yemen, we reiterate the urgency of an orderly and inclusive transition. The EU has repeatedly called on the Syrian regime to stop using violence and repression against its own citizens. We have expressed condolences to the families of the victims and saluted the courage of the Syrian people who are expressing their legitimate aspirations.
We have asked the authorities to allow immediate and unhindered human rights monitors and independent and international media. All these requests have been refused and so has our call to end the unacceptable violence against the civilian populations. We have, therefore, adopted restrictive measures and we are prepared to expand them further. Our aim is to change the Syrian policy.
The EU is also lending its full support to ensure that the UN Security Council can assume its responsibility and give and adequate response to the situation in Syria. The Syrian people and the international community are expecting deeds. Time for announcements and promises is over. The two situations of Syria and Libya are very different, but the EU has a consistent line on the need for governments to stop the violence against their people and the need for democracy.
Finally, the Arab spring is also an invitation to redouble our efforts for progress on the Middle East peace process. Only the resumption of direct negotiations could provide a realistic chance of improving the situation on the ground, leading to a lasting and comprehensive solution. The European Council fully supports the High Representative's urgent call for the Quartet to create a credible perspective for the re-launching of the peace process. We also support the French initiative to call for a donor conference in Paris.