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6th Aug 2021

EU 'not marginal' on world stage, Ashton says

  • Ashton is working on a "bigger" and "bolder" strategy for Europe's southern neighbourhood (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Tuesday (17 May) said the bloc's response to events unfolding in the southern neighbourhood is not at all "a marginal activity", citing evacuations from Libya, the opening of an office in Benghazi and humanitarian aid.

Speaking alongside US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, Ashton stressed the need to keep "remembering what the European Union is and what it is not, and it's bringing together the 27 member states to support action and activities in a recognition of the principles that we hold dear."

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"It doesn't mean that on every issue all 27 countries start or end in the same place. What it does mean is we try and build a common view of where we can make a difference," she explained to US media.

She pointed to the upcoming opening of an EU office in Benghazi, the fact that the Union is the biggest supplier of humanitarian aid - €100 million - in Libya, and the help in evacuating 55,000 people. "I don't think for one moment that that's a marginal activity."

Ashton also explained that she is working on a new strategy to support the southern neighbourhood, based on "three Ms" : money, market access and mobility.

"It's new, it's bigger, it's bolder. It will, I hope, be a recognition that the European Union takes its responsibilities in its neighbourhood seriously. And as I said I think in my second week in this job, Europe should be judged by its effectiveness in its own neighbourhood, and I firmly believe that," Ashton stressed.

As for Clinton, she thanked "Cathy for her friendship and (...) Lady Ashton for her leadership and all of the work that she doing around the world."

"As always, Cathy and I had a lot to talk about because there is so much happening around the world at a time when people are standing up for their rights and demanding a say in their own futures. And both the European Union and the United States are very committed to advancing democratic values," she said.

The crackdown in Syria, met with co-ordinated sanctions from the US and the EU was one of the topics, with "additional steps" envisaged to "increase pressure and further isolate the Asad regime."

On Libya, Clinton said that she is working with the EU to support the main opposition group, the Transitional National Council. "We welcome the EU's decision to open an office in Benghazi and the ongoing EU support for humanitarian assistance. And for our part, we are working with our Congress to redirect some of Gaddafi's seized assets toward immediate humanitarian needs."

Belarus and Bosnia are also a matter of concern for Washington, with Clinton repeating calls on the leader in Minsk to release all political prisoners.

"I also raised concerns regarding the political deadlock in Bosnia and Herzegovina and any efforts that could undermine the Dayton Peace Accords and the stability of the country," the US official added.

The two officials also signed an agreement providing the legal basis for US civilians to participate in EU missions such as the justice and rule of law mission in Kosovo (Eulex) and the security reform mission in Congo (Eusec). The deal eliminates the need to negotiate entirely new agreements for the US' future participation in EU missions.

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