This year has been momentous for Europe. Today is the first Europe Day on which peoples of countries once divided by the “iron curtain” can travel freely across Europe since the Schengen free travel area was expanded to the east. This year we are also celebrating the 10th anniversary of the European Monetary Union, one of the EU’s strongest symbols. The euro area is set to expand to countries which, less than 20 years ago, were still guided by a totalitarian state-directed economy.
It is by pooling our resources and building ever closer ties within Europe that we have unified our continent in peace; bringing freedom, security and prosperity to our citizens.
Increasingly, our internal achievements have an impact on our place in the world. With a combined population of nearly 500 million and a quarter of the world’s income, the EU now accounts for more than one-fifth of world trade. We provide more than half the world’s development and humanitarian assistance and the euro has become the world’s second-most important international reserve and trade currency, giving major influence to the EU globally.
Growing influence brings growing responsibilities. We are rising to this challenge by seeking to build a global consensus to tackle the issues we all face, be that international terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, organized crime or state failure. Beyond these challenges energy supply and climate change increasingly dictate the demands future generations will face.
Climate change is not only an environmental and economic problem; it is a “threat multiplier” that will increase risks for societies in almost every part of the globe. Climate change will exacerbate water and food scarcity, aggravate poverty, worsen health conditions and potentially generate increased resource competition. If the weakest countries cannot adapt, it may even lead to more forced migration and possibly radicalization and state failure causing internal and external security risks.
The EU is leading by example and has committed itself to reduce greenhouse gases by at least 20 percent. In addition, the EU is increasing to 20 percent the share of renewable energies consumed by 2020. We are also ready to push this reduction further to as much as 30 percent under a new global climate change agreement if other developed countries make comparable efforts.
Living up to its responsibilities the EU has taken the lead in marshaling the global response. We are engaging in intensive “green diplomacy” with our partners worldwide: taking mitigation and adaptation measures on the ground; working closely with the UN to internationalize the response by strengthening effective multilateralism in the run-up to Copenhagen 2009, also under Japan’s G8 presidency; engaging our partner countries in all relevant forums; and mainstreaming climate change into all European Community policies.
The other side of the coin is energy security, which it is vital we address if our response is to be effective. This is a global challenge affecting producer, transit and consumer countries, all of which are heavily interdependent. Producer countries need economically strong and stable markets for their energy products, while consumer and transit countries are looking for a secure and stable energy supply to meet their demands. The EU is playing its part by fostering dialog and cooperation between producer, transit and consumer countries, promoting energy efficiency and encouraging others to use a wider energy mix.
We need to enhance global governance to help meet the global challenges, ensuring the protection and well-being of our citizens and preventing threats from becoming sources of conflict. Putting people at the center of our efforts we need to tackle threats to human security. The vicious cycle of poverty and violence has to be broken and we all have a contribution to make. Therefore, we will continue to promote measures of conflict prevention, peace building, post-conflict reconstruction, democratic governance, human rights protection, socio-economic development and women’s empowerment.
In the era of globalized threats and opportunities we need to fully engage in the fight for mutual respect and understanding. We need to do our utmost to minimize hatred and to maximize reason. Therefore, the EU has designated this year as the European Year of intercultural dialog and encourages a structured dialog through its programs and initiatives, especially in the framework of the European Neighborhood Policy.
Indeed, the EU is constantly evolving, as it seeks to keep pace with the changing demands of its citizens and the changing nature of the world around us. In this regard, the new institutional arrangements that will follow ratification of the Lisbon Treaty are an important step. The EU will become more streamlined, with modern institutions and optimized working methods to tackle both efficiently and effectively the challenges of today’s world.
Benita Ferrero-Waldner is the European commissioner for external relations.
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