I add my voice to the praise and thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Soley, for giving us the opportunity today to debate his Question for Short Debate on what role the European Union is playing in the wider Middle East peace settlement. I suggest to the noble Lord that the European Union herself is in fact a centre of peace and stability in a turbulent Middle East and north Africa neighbourhood, and that the European Union can look back with pride on a tremendous historic sweep of achievements. She is today the largest donor to Palestine but, at the same time, has been an absolute determinant in ensuring the best possible two- state solution terms.
The European Union runs a constant and well managed European observation set of missions to some of the more difficult countries in the region: Yemen, Lebanon and Egypt, for example. From the European Parliament’s Iraq permanent standing committee, one member of our earlier grouping is now the United Nations representative to Iraq. A second member of the committee is the EAS representative. In Iran, high activity has been taking place recently but in fact that has been going on for very nearly 15 years now. In Egypt, the European Union has a massive influence. It is perhaps the only constant influence in trying to diminish the horrific female genital mutilation. That rose up to 90% according to the EU ambassadors, including that of the UK, and the US ambassador under the unlamented President Morsi.
Who better to promote women’s rights throughout the region, ranging from Morocco right up to Afghanistan, and who has continued to promote them? The European Union has. I suggest that the very basic structure of the European Union—its strength—is enabling some of the southern nations which are member states to cope with these enormous influxes of refugees.
Of course, it should be no surprise to us that the European Union is so powerful in the region. From the beginning, the aim of the EU was to create a peaceful wider neighbourhood. That is well stated in the first preferential agreement with the Maghreb nations in 1969, followed by the global Mediterranean policy of 1972, with bilateral agreements in the region, and leading on to the third agreement for Mediterranean countries and the famous Barcelona process of 1995. The purpose of the Barcelona process is built on the earlier declaration through,
“a comprehensive partnership between the European Union (EU) and twelve countries of the Southern Mediterranean”,
“a common area of peace, stability and prosperity through the reinforcement of political dialogue, security, and economic, financial, social and cultural cooperation”.
The Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly of 2004 adds the democratic dimension, with 280 members embracing more than 40 nations.
The enlargement, of course, of the European Union, has brought us ever closer to Russia, one of the modern main players, and also, from the beginning, to Turkey. I suggest therefore that the impact on the Middle East of the European Union is enormous, but the impact on member states is also large, no longer fighting each other for funding, power and territory in the Middle East, but working together to forge a lasting peace. I urge Her Majesty’s Government to do more in the European Union and to foster the culture of the European Union being the centre of peace.