HELGA SCHMID, EUROPEAN UNION DEPUTY SECRETARY GENERAL, BRUSSELS: Well, the opinion is certainly impacted by the crisis, like many other countries are. But we shouldn't forget itís a sovereign debt crisis and our heads of states and government have actually taken us on the path of recovery.
Also, the European Union is a very active global actor, and just to tell you that currently we have 12 missions deployed worldwide, military missions, civilian missions; we help and provide stability. With 5,000 people deployed on the ground, we are currently preparing new missions. One mission that will help and support the countries of the Horn of Africa in terms of maritime capacity building. We are actively engaged and leading the negotiations on Iran. We are actively engaged in the Middle East peace process. So this shows we are not bystanders and weíre certainly taking our responsibilities very seriously.
JIM MIDDLETON: What about this then Barack Obama has admitted that the United States paid too little attention to developments in Asia until quite recently. Is that also the case for Europe?
HELGA SCHMID: I would say that the Asia Pacific region is a key region and our relations have grown in the last years, economically but also politically. And Cathy Ashton, the high representative, has been attending the Asian Regional Forum; she has been travelling to some of the countries there and she is going to Asia frequently.
JIM MIDDLETON: One of the big issues at the ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) foreign ministers meeting in Cambodia was the unresolved territorial disputes in the South China Sea. How worried is Europe about that issue given that itís slap bang in the middle of one of the world's most important international trade routes?
HELGA SCHMID: This is an important issue, and we raise it in many of the dialogues we are having. Cathy Ashton just spent long hours in China discussing many issues and we feel that this is an issue which we need to tackle together with many countries in the region have an interest there.
JIM MIDDLETON: Is there any sense within the EU that Europe's future prosperity now depends on economic developments in Asia rather than Asia's wellbeing being a function of the health of the economies of Europe?
HELGA SCHMID: Well the Asia Pacific region is key, itís one of the fastest growing economic regions, probably the fastest growing economic regions of the world and the European Union is still the biggest trading bloc and we are the major investor in Asia. We are also the biggest development donor of development aid by the way. We still are. And we have a very important economic relationship with many of these countries. So we definitely have an interest on the economic level.
In the 21st century and particularly also with globalisation which has had tremendously positive effects and has lifted millions out of poverty but it is still also led to a situation where threats and challenges are certainly more interdependent and do not stop at borders. And this has an impact on our economy and wellbeing. This is why we need to work together.
JIM MIDDLETON: You have been deeply involved in the question of Iran's nuclear program. Youíve got a meeting with your Iranian counterpart. Can that meeting do more than simply keep the lines of communication open?
HELGA SCHMID: This is an area where the European Union is very much engaged. We are actually leading the process which includes three European countries, China, Russia and the US. We very much believe that we need to see an urgent diplomatic negotiated solution to the Iranian nuclear problem. We have had a round of negotiations. Itís difficult but we are engaging and the other side is engaging. And our objective is to move forward and to narrow the gaps that still exist, and the gaps are still considerable.
JIM MIDDLETON: What is Europe's minimum requirement for an end to its oil embargo?
HELGA SCHMID: We have put the embargo in place. This is part of our dual track approach which means sanctions as a way to bring the Iranians back to the negotiating table but also engagement.
And in order to move forward, we have presented an initial proposal package for confidence building which addresses the main problem we are facing with the Iranian program, and this is the 20 per cent enrichment. And in return, we have offered some quite substantial cooperation in many areas, for example, light water reactors. This is the package we are working on and we hope that we will make progress soon.
JIM MIDDLETON: Is there any level of uranium enrichment by Iran which is acceptable to the EU and if so, on what terms?
HELGA SCHMID: Let's say we are focusing on the most urgent problems and this is the 20 per cent enrichment because there is neither a civilian nor an economic logic to enriching up to 20 per cent. This is the area where we are focusing on.
JIM MIDDLETON: So if Iran were prepared to agree to enrichment at a lower level than 20 per cent, it is possible that that would be acceptable to the EU?
HELGA SCHMID: This is part of the negotiations and we have said already in 2008 that once the Iranians are in full compliance with Security Council resolutions and the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) resolutions, they will be treated like any other member of the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty)
JIM MIDDLETON: Helga Schmid, thank you very much.
HELGA SCHMID: Thank you very much, bye-bye.