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WHAT WE DO - Public Policy

A historic speech at the European Parliament - March 2013
Report by Nuno Wahnon Martins
March 13, 2013


Israel's President Shimon Peres' visit to the institutions of the European Union ended with a historic speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg where he addressed a plenary session of the House. He concentrated on three main issues: Hezbollah and Iran, the agreements between Israel and the European Union and the need for global enterprises to invest in the Middle East to create lasting developments.

During last week's visit Peres started his European Union programme in the European Parliament where he was the keynote speaker at a ceremony commemorating the saving of Bulgarian Jews. Not only did he praise the Bulgarian people, but he also praised the moral importance of their action which should stand as an example to others.

At the European Commission, Shimon Peres delivered a speech during the conference "Building Bridges" along with the President of the European Commission Mr. J. M. Barroso. The Conference recognised the essential role of global companies in promoting development in the Middle East. President Peres mentioned EU integration as an example of peace: "The EU is a dream that ended in a miracle, and despite all those who criticized it, it is still the best example of how to turn a state of war into 70 years of peace." In the "Building Bridges" Conference both  Peres and Barroso noted the success of bilateral cooperation and partnership in scientific research and innovation, and mentioned the current Israeli request to be involved with the next EU "Horizon 20/20 Programme". During his visit Peres met several Members of the European Parliament, including President of the EP Schultz and President of the European Council Van Rompuy.

Between Brussels and Strasbourg, President Peres went to Paris where, during the meeting at the OECD Headquarters, he and the secretary - general of the OECD presented a plan for the creation of an economic organization, made up of global companies and world leaders, whose aim would be to increase investment in the Middle East. Global corporations would participate in this initiative thus assisting in the economic development of the countries of the Middle East.

The highlight of the visit was the historic speech delivered at the European Parliament. It was the first time that an Israeli President addressed the European Parliament in its current format with representatives from 27 Member States. The main themes of his speech had already been aired at previous meetings. They were three key aspects: geopolitical problems with Hezbollah and Iran, the role of global companies in the economic development of the Middle East and the examples of the EU integration and the State of Israel to achieve peace and prosperity. (You may listen to the whole speech by going to the website http://www.europarl.europa.eu/ep-live/en/plenary/video?debate=1363086106583). The visit ended with an official lunch at the European Parliament hosted by President Schulz.

From a European perspective, the Peres visit was very significant. He is certainly seen in Europe as the most recognisable and well regarded Israeli politician. Both right-wing and left-wing European leaders consider him as a man of peace and wisdom. Ideologically, President Peres belongs to the same political family as the President of the European Parliament, President Schultz, and this might be seen as an opportunity to use the role of out-of-fashion political families. The narrative used by President Peres, both on geopolitical and economical issues, like the role of global companies - a subject that  can be difficult for left-wing politicians - was not only accepted by the European officials but also praised by members of the European intelligentsia who see Peres as a person of high moral status. Praising European integration as an example to be followed by others, or, as Peres calls it a "modern miracle", is the type of statement welcomed by European ears, especially in times of crisis. Shimon Peres' message of optimism, of hope and of potential solutions was positively received by his audience. I would even say that he turned the word "crisis" into something positive, where opportunities will overcome the current challenges.

The Israeli President's visit touched on three principal objectives: the need to list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, to stop Iran's nuclear programme, and the question of the peace process with the Palestinians. This latter subject was dealt with in such a manner that it should not be seen as a major objective. President Peres avoided unnecessary conflicts with certain European representatives which might have damaged the cooperative dialogue and crucial discussions on Israel's security issues

This historic visit has perhaps created a stronger bond with those EU officials who deal with relations with Israel and has possibly prepared the way for stronger cooperation between the two "miracles." Cooperation between Israel and the European Union can help to resolve some of Europe's current economic and financial problems. This visit created the momentum to strengthen this cooperation. History will show the role played by Shimon Peres in achieving this.