Udenrigsminister Lene Espersen mødtes den 14. juni 2011 med det herværende diplomatiske korps. Læs hendes tale her:
Distinguished Ambassadors and Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
A warm welcome to all of you. I am pleased to see that so many have been able to come here today. It is a great pleasure for me to see so many familiar faces. Last year, when we had our first joint meeting here at Eigtveds Pakhus, I said that my ambition as a newly appointed foreign minister was to get to know you and begin an open and regular dialogue with you. I haven’t been able to meet all of you yet, but I can see that I am almost there. I feel fairly certain that I will be able to declare “mission accomplished”, when we meet next year.
And speaking of next year, let me begin today by bringing you up to speed with our preparations for what happens on January first. As you know, on this day, Denmark will assume the Presidency of the European Union. It will be the seventh time that we assume the presidency, since we joined the European Economic Community in 1973. From previous experience, we know that a successful presidency requires a clear sense of purpose, a tremendous amount of diplomatic footwork and an ability to lead from the front in order to achieve the political results that Europe needs. In contrast to last time, when Denmark had the EU Presidency in 2002, there will not be one big, overarching priority this time like the EU enlargement was back then. The Danish Presidency next year will focus on several issues of various scope and importance within a long list of policy areas. But before I go into the priorities for our up-coming Presidency, I have something urgent to tell you. It concerns the customs control agreement that is receiving a lot of media attention at the moment with many misunderstandings.
The agreement was concluded on the 11th of May, and it is part of a larger package of initiatives aimed at combating crime inside Denmark. I would like to use this occasion to underline in the clearest possible terms that this customs control agreement will be implemented in full conformity with Denmark’s obligations under EU law and Schengen. The agreement is not about old-fashioned border control of persons and passports – what could be called “pre-Schengen”. It is solely about customs control and it is narrowly focused on enhancing our surveillance of illegal goods and items such as drugs and weapons. It has nothing to do with the control of persons and passports. I hope that we together will be able to get this message across in the international media more clearly, and if you have any questions regarding the agreement, don’t hesitate to ask them during our Q and A here today after Søren and I have spoken. But let there be no doubt whatsoever that Denmark remains a firm supporter of a strong European co-operation with well-functioning EU institutions. This has been the case since 1973, and it will also be our point of departure for Denmark’s EU Presidency next year.
I would like to mention two of the key priorities for our Presidency. First of all, getting tangible progress towards a budget deal will take up a major part of our agenda. The next multiannual financial framework for the EU will cover a seven year period starting from 2013, so it will be up to the Danish presidency to ensure that sufficient groundwork is made during the first six months of 2012 for a deal to be clinched in the second half of the year. By their nature, budget negotiations in the EU are never easy. This time around, however, we must – and I repeat must - obtain meaningful reform in key areas like the common agricultural policy and cohesion policy. At the same time, I am fully aware that this won’t be easy given the current political context in Europe, where several Member States are facing financial hardship. Needless to say, the Danish Presidency will do everything in its power to pave the way for an EU budget that points to the future. A budget for the future means that we channel more money to areas that can help drive economic growth and create new jobs in Europe. Areas like research, green technologies, energy efficiency and education. Growth and jobs is a matter of urgency for Europe right now, and the Danish Presidency will treat it accordingly.
As our second key priority, the Danish EU Presidency will be relentless in pursuing an agreement among the 27 Member States on modernising the Single Market, while we celebrate its 20 years of success. The Commission has proposed a package of 12 initiatives aimed at creating a better business environment in Europe that will promote innovation and reduce red tape. We need to bring the Single Market firmly into the digital age, and to this end we hope to get agreement on an efficient and user-friendly EU Patent System as well as a legally binding directive concerning consumer rights. We must not forget that a well-functioning internal market is a precondition for a stable euro-system and economic growth in our countries.
These two priorities that I have mentioned – an EU budget for the future and modernisation of the Single Market – are both aimed at reinvigorating economic growth in Europe. Higher growth and more jobs are essential for Europe’s future and even more so, because the competition we face globally today from countries like China, India and Brazil is intensifying. Global competition is forcing Europe to become more efficient, more cost-effective and more determined. This fact of life in the twenty-first century does not only apply in the economic field, but in international politics as well. And for a small country with an open economy like Denmark, it is absolutely vital to embrace this new reality quickly and in an aggressive manner.
That is why the Danish Government a few days ago appointed some very prominent individuals as Denmark’s export ambassadors to certain strategic growth markets, and it is also why I have been spearheading Danish business delegations to three of the four BRIC countries since my appointment as foreign minister last year. I am now planning to visit the so-called second wave of emerging economies. I was in Turkey last month, and I hope to visit several of the high growth markets in Asia and South America in the remaining part of the year. Besides the promotion of Danish exports, I am extremely pleased that we have managed to sign bilateral agreements on closer foreign policy co-operation during these visits.
But what I am not particularly pleased with, are the Danish opt-outs from the European Union. You know Denmark’s four long-standing opt-outs, which among other things excludes us from participating in the euro and in the EU’s defence policy. Let me just say that the Danish Government continues to believe that the op-outs are harmful to Denmark’s interests in Europe, including the handling of our up-coming EU Presidency. Therefore, it is the stated ambition of this government to get rid of the opt-outs. This can, however, only be achieved, when the time is ripe and it is possible to win a referendum backed by a broad majority in the Danish Folketing. We are not there yet. Nevertheless, we will handle the Presidency in the same way as we did in 2002 in these areas.
Chairing the European Union for six months as Denmark will be doing from the first of January - is not only about hard work and good planning. It is also about being able to improvise and respond swiftly to unforeseen events that might high-jack the international agenda. Here in the foreign ministry, we are therefore also zooming in on “the known unknowns”. By “known unknowns”, I am thinking of international hotspots, which are already making headlines, but for reasons yet unknown, might become the defining foreign policy issue during the Danish EU Presidency.
The situation in Libya and the ongoing international efforts to help the country to a new beginning will likely remain a key challenge. Right now, Denmark has a seat in the Contact Group that is trying to foster a political solution to the crisis and we have also established a diplomatic presence in Benghazi. Within the EU, we are currently discussing ways to strengthen the sanctions regime, and I believe that the EU has a positive role to play in relation to Libya. The military campaign is moving in the right direction. The international community is applying the pressure on Gaddafi, and stress symptoms are clearly showing. I am fairly confident that by the time we get to the Danish EU Presidency on January first, Gaddafi will be gone, and our task will have changed to one of supporting reconciliation and a political transition process that will lead to a new, united Libya.
The situation in the wider Middle East – the so-called Arab Spring – will also remain high on the international agenda. At heart, the Arab Spring is a call for democracy and freedom, but it is also a call for jobs and a better life in their own countries.
As you probably know, the American newsmagazine Time runs a cover story each year featuring a “Person of the Year”. According to the magazine, the “Person of the Year” is selected, because he or she for better or for worse has done the most to influence the events of the year. The first one to be awarded the title was the American aviator Charles Lindbergh in 1927. My guess is that Mohammad Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor, who set fire to himself on December the 17th and became the symbol of all the repressed people in the region, could become “Person of the Year” in 2011.
Denmark, the EU and the wider international community must continue supporting the forces of change in the region. Violent clashes in Syria, a tense situation in Egypt, political uncertainty in Morocco and an old, stubborn autocrat hiding out somewhere in Tripoli must not lead the West to disengage or to conclude that the Arab Spring is over. It is not over. The call for freedom and democracy that is being voiced by millions upon millions of brave, young Arabs across the region will not die down. Therefore, we – the international community – must continue to support them vigorously not just in words, but in deeds as well. With more aid, more trade and more investment. In 2012, the Danish EU Presidency will work hard to ensure that Europe does that in way which will help to accelerate and underpin democratic transitions in the Middle East.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it has been said that perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did. In my view, that is a fairly accurate assessment and perseverance has also been a hallmark of Denmark’s presence in Afghanistan. The Danish Government has stated all along that Afghanistan must not be allowed to become a safe haven for terrorists again, and this remains our main objective. It is also the reason why we have put so much effort into training and capacity building of Afghan security forces. In 2014, we intend to hand over the security responsibility to the Afghans, but already next month we will hand over responsibility to the Afghan Army for the Lashkar Gah-area in the Helmand Province, where Danish and British troops are stationed. The international coalition plans to carry out similar provincial handovers in other parts of the country during the course of the year.
One question in relation to Afghanistan today, is whether the death of Osama Bin Laden will have any military effect on the ground. Some observers have called for a speedier withdrawal of coalition forces because of his death, but I would urge these observers to keep cool and take a close look at Al-Qaida today. Bin Laden and Al-Qaida was not playing a major role in Afghanistan when US Navy Seals stormed his compound last month. His terrorist network has only a marginal presence in today’s Afghanistan, and they exert only a very limited influence on the rebel forces that are currently engaged in combat with ISAF. As a consequence, I don’t believe that Bin Laden’s death will have any significant effect on the way the Taleban and other rebel forces carry out their operations in Afghanistan. His death was a symbolic blow to them, but nothing more, and it will not cause Denmark to change the strategy for our presence in the country. We will continue to help the Afghan transition process in moving forward, and we will do so militarily, politically and in terms of reconstruction aid as agreed until 2014.
While the international community is making headway against an elusive and ruthless enemy in Afghanistan, we need to see a stronger international response to other untraditional security threats from non-state actors such as terrorists and international organised crime. One issue of particular importance to Denmark and the international community is the piracy that takes place in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. It is somewhat ironic that this age-old criminal activity can flourish in today’s globalised high-tech world. We are capable of building a space station, creating the World Wide Web and developing ever more sophisticated weapon systems. Yet, we are struggling to make the Indian Ocean safe from pirates. The first recorded incident of piracy happened some 3200 years ago in the Aegean Sea, and today piracy is rampant around the Horn of Africa. Historically speaking, progress in this area hasn’t been impressive!
Being the seventh biggest shipping nation in the world with around 10 percent of the world’s seaborne trade, piracy poses a direct threat to the Danish economy, which we will not accept. As a consequence, we have dispatched a Danish warship to NATO’s ongoing operation “OCEAN SHIELD” and launched a major effort on land aimed at strengthening the local capacity to fight piracy. Our effort will include financial assistance for two new prisons in Somaliland and Puntland and support for coast guards functions in Kenya and Djibouti. In addition, Denmark is chairing an international working group that is tasked with finding legal solutions in relation to piracy. Although the latest figures show that close to 1000 pirates are being prosecuted in 19 states, I would like to see an even more ambitious and robust international approach to this issue in the future. As a means to bring this about and with the aim of fostering a long-term solution to the problem, we recently adopted a national anti-piracy strategy. The strategy will run until 2014, and with a more clever use of the tools at our disposal and with a stronger international co-operation, I am fairly optimistic that we can make real progress against the Somali pirates during the next three years.
Our strategy against piracy forms a key part of Denmark’s broader effort to counter terrorism. And I am pleased to inform you today that Denmark will be joining a brand new multilateral initiative in this context, which is called the Global Counter-Terrorism Forum. It is squarely aimed at strengthening the international fight against terrorism by including more non-Western countries. Currently, 24 countries have signed up, and the focal areas are likely to include the Sahel region, the Horn of Africa, Southern Sudan and South East Asia. I plan to participate in the formal launch of this forum during the Ministerial Week at the UN General Assembly in September.
Ambassadors and Excellencies, I am fully aware that the surest way to bore an audience is to tell them everything and leave nothing out. So, I will not do that. Don’t worry. But let me just mention one more strategic priority for Danish foreign policy and that is the Arctic region. Last month, Denmark’s Chairmanship of the Arctic Council concluded with a successful ministerial meeting in Greenland’s capital Nuuk. The Arctic Council is made up of 8 Member States – the US, Canada, Norway, Russia, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Denmark, and due to the implications of global warming for the Arctic region, the Council has gained in importance and is attracting a lot of international attention.
Fortunately, regional co-operation about Arctic issues is heating up faster than the ice is melting. In Nuuk, we managed to agree on a legally binding Search and Rescue Agreement that will significantly increase the safety for ships sailing in the region. The agreement contains legally binding provisions regarding the responsibility of coastal states to carry out search and rescue operations, when an emergency occurs in their respective areas. The agreement also requires the coastal states to exchange information on their search and rescue capabilities. Furthermore, a consensus was found at the meeting to establish a permanent secretariat for the Arctic Council. It will be placed in the coastal city of Tromsoe in Norway. I am also extremely pleased that we managed to get agreement around the table on criteria, which non-Arctic countries must fulfill, if they want to become observers in the Arctic Council.
So, what does the future look like for the Arctic region? Well, given the fact that global warming will continue, and given the fact that the ice will continue to melt as a consequence, there is little doubt that the region will experience a dramatic activity boom in the years to come. Cruise ships packed with tourists will arrive in numbers to take in the pristine and beautiful scenery. Multinational companies are likely to accelerate their exploration of oil and gas, since the Arctic is believed to contain as much as 30 percent of the world’s unproven gas reserves and 10 percent of the world’s unproven oil reserves. And the search will intensify for precious minerals like gold and diamonds as well as rare earth elements of strategic importance. It could become a new gold rush. If it comes to a gold rush, however, let me just underline one key message here today. Denmark and Greenland will be happy to sell shovels so to speak to international gold diggers, who want to try their luck in the Arctic. We are keen supporters of economic development and foreign investments to the area. But in contrast to the California Gold Rush in 1848, all the international treasure hunters will have to abide by the highest environmental standards, if they want to take part. We will not waiver on this requirement. It is of paramount importance for the governments of Denmark and Greenland that the local communities will benefit from any future activity boom in the regional, and we will not accept that the fragile environment in the Arctic will be put at risk. That much is certain.
Ladies and Gentlemen, let me conclude by saying that I look forward to continuing an open and regular dialogue with you about the issues that matter the most to your home countries and to Denmark. It is our common duty to ensure that the bilateral relationship between our countries is a win-win game. I believe that good communication between you and me is vital in this endeavor, and as I have come to learn in the past year as foreign minister, diplomats are wonderful communicators. Someone once said that a diplomat is a person, who can tell you to go to hell in such a way that you actually look forward to the trip. It has also been said that a diplomat is a person who can juggle a hot potato long enough for it to become a cold issue. Either way, let’s maintain our excellent communication, and I look forward to taking your questions, after Søren has spoken.