Honourable Ministers, Distinguished Government officials, members of the Diplomatic Corps, Esteemed guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends,
A very warm welcome to all of you and our heartfelt thanks for being here with us to celebrate Europe Day 2017. I also extend this welcome to you on behalf of the Embassies of the Member States of the European Union accredited to The Gambia.
Every year on the 9th May we celebrate Europe Day. This year the European Union has turned sixty: sixty years of peace, of protection for our workers, of opportunities for our business, of liberty and rights. Since Robert Schuman called on the nations of Europe to unite on the 9th May 1950, our Union has grown from six members in 1957 to twenty-eight, with 500 million citizens.
I am proud that Europe is the first donor for humanitarian and development aid in the world. This is why we need Europe day: to be proud of what we have achieved, to keep in mind that we cannot take it for granted, and to realise that the world is a better place with a strong European Union.
But the future of Europe is not something we inherit from our founding fathers and mothers. As anyone who follows international news knows, the European Union faces considerable challenges, and I do not wish to overlook these. In her video-message for Europe Day, Federica Mogherini, our High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, notes that the future of the European Union is a choice – a choice that belongs to every European citizen.
In the current global environment, our friends around the world look at the European Union as a reliable superpower for peace and human development – perhaps the only one.
At the same time, the EU has to look forward at how it will carve a vision for its own future at 27. The current global situation shows that peace and security require hard work, commitment to diplomacy and the ability to build bridges.
The peaceful democratic change in The Gambia is the result of the determination of the Gambian people, as well as the regional and international coordinated efforts of ECOWAS and the African Union. Gambians have shown commendable resolve, patience and courage during a period of high tension.
Over the years the EU has remained a partner for The Gambia, helping to deliver important development goals, including the paving of nearly 50% of the Gambian road network.
We are committed to be a privileged partner of The New Gambia. Dear Gambians present here tonight, you have my personal commitment that I, and my team, will work to the best of our abilities for The Gambia. In addition to the €75 million package of immediate support signed last February, the EU Delegation is working on the €150 million package, which focuses on employment, agriculture, climate change and on enhancing the Gambian state’s capacity to provide its citizens with services.
Development assistance to this country will continue over the years to come.
Furthermore, a variety of dialogues between the EU and The Gambia in support of reform of areas such as energy, human rights and peace and security are underway.
As important as aid is, trade and investment remain crucial for a better future for all Gambians. Trade and investment relations between The Gambia and the EU are ready to grow. To further strengthen trade and investment, the EU and ECOWAS (+Mauritania) have agreed on an Economic Partnership Agreement which will improve access to the EU’s market of more than 500 million consumers.
Economic Partnership Agreements are one of the building pillars of the Cotonou Agreement, and as such an instrument for development. As EU Ambassador, I wish to reaffirm the engagement of the European Commission of making the Economic Partnership Agreement an instrument to improve the prospects of the whole population in The Gambia.
There is much work to do. Jobs will need to be created, growth will need to be increased, peace and security will need to be enhanced dramatically and, possibly above all, the EU and The Gambia will need to stand shoulder to shoulder to work towards a world in which people are no longer so desperate, that they trust their lives to criminals to cross seas, desserts and borders in a too often disastrous attempt to provide their children with a better future.
This year marks an extraordinary year for Gambians. While the EU is glad to see The Gambia reopening to the region and the international community, we do fully recognise that to maintain the social fabric of this nation, a national vision is crucial.
The Gambia’s arable agricultural land, the young population, a rising middle class are among the factors that could see The Gambia emerging as a motor for economic growth in West Africa. The Gambia must not underrate itself or its bargaining strength. The Gambia has an obligation to itself to protect its own destiny, through hard work and an overall strategic vision. Gambian leaders have the responsibility to determine the country’s path not only for the present, but for the future generations to come.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is a great privilege to live and work in this beautiful country in this fascinating period of its history. And it is also a great privilege to have here today with us [H.E The PRESIDENT]. No need to fall back on diplomatic niceties; it is the President’s commitment and engagement that has allowed future generations to live in a peaceful Gambia.
We are here to celebrate as we mark the 60th anniversary of the EU. May I invite you to lift your glasses for a toast to his Excellency the President of the Republic of The Gambia. I once more thank you all for being here with us to celebrate Europe Day and to pay our deep respect to The Gambia’s democracy. It is now my great honour to ask President Barrow to address us.
Thank you very much.