Statement by Jean-Pierre Reymondet-Commoy the Head of the European Union Delegation in Sierra Leone on the Occasion of the Award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union (10/12/2012)

First of all, I would like to welcome you to the EU Delegation and thank all of you for being here tonight to celebrate the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union. The origin and raison d'être of the EU as a peace process is too often overlooked. This award marks the remarkable achievements of the European project in uniting   nations, which over centuries had almost destroyed each other in dreadful conflicts, and in establishing a Union of democracies that would replace the apparent fatality of conflicts and war - with the logic of cooperation, integration and solidarity.

Peace, democracy and human rights proved to be much more powerful in uniting people than the use of force, threat or brutality. The European Union has now expanded to 27 countries, bringing together more than 500 million people around our common values. While Europe is going through a difficult economic crisis, the Union will be enlarged next year with Croatia. And more countries are waiting to join.

Sadly, it took much too long, too many wars, millions of deaths to realise the obvious: That diversity does not prevent unity, that traditional enemies can be turned into close partners, and that we always have much more interests and values in common than pretexts for divisions. 

This Nobel Peace Prize acknowledges the foresight, intelligence and audacity of all those who changed the course of history by bringing together the nations emerging from the devastations of WWII and extending the area of peace and stability across the continent. It should be received by all from the EU with a sense of duty and obligation to redouble our efforts in defending and promoting the values on which Europe has been peacefully unified: human dignity, solidarity, equality, human rights, fundamental freedoms, democracy, and the rule of law.

It is also a welcome encouragement to step up EU's international engagements for this purpose. Indeed, the benefits of a strong European Union are felt far beyond European borders.

I feel particularly encouraged to say this here in Sierra Leone, a country that knows, better than any, the cost of war, the value of peace, and the journey towards peace and reconciliation. Sierra Leoneans know from experience that peace and stability can not be taken for granted. That constant efforts and commitments are required to build trust, dialogue, and a culture of compromise, to defend and promote human rights and an inclusive democracy, to bring confidence in institutions and to pursue grievances through the rule of law. Peace is an ever ongoing construction…
 
…And Sierra Leoneans are peace building champions. Whilst looking ahead to a more prosperous future, Sierra Leoneans can indeed take pride and confidence in the way they have been able, over the past 10 years, to rebuild harmony and a peaceful, tolerant and friendly society on the ashes of the violence and destructions of the civil war. Sierra Leone is now robustly defending peace and democracy in Africa.  The EU is also a committed partner of the Continent in this effort.

Three weeks ago, the people of Sierra Leone confirmed their strong attachment to democracy, by peacefully participating in such high numbers in the elections of November 17. As a close partner and friend of Sierra Leone, and as a union of democracies ourselves, the EU is of course very pleased by this.  Since some of them are with us tonight, I want to take this opportunity to thank the members of  the EU Electoral Observation Mission that were  deployed throughout the country at the invitation of the Sierra Leone authorities to observe the electoral process,  for their  work.

Progress in building stability, peace and democracy, has now to be sustained through development efforts that can ensure a more prosperous future for all.  Indeed Europe has learned dearly through its history that economic hardship and lack of perspectives for the young generations can undermine the most generous values and principles.

Whilst working together towards a better future, and particularly in tackling poverty, Sierra Leoneans can count on the support of the European Union. Indeed, solidarity is at the core of the EU model. Solidarity within Europe of course, but also solidarity with the rest of the world:  the European Union and EU Member States, collectively, is the major provider of development aid worldwide.

While the crisis has brought real hardship in Europe, this solidarity has not been brought into question by European citizens as long as they remain confident that our support is wisely used as a catalyst for development, with a high impact on poverty reduction. 

Indeed just last week the EU signed with the Government of Sierra Leone a new financing agreement providing a grant of 24.2 million Euros (about 133 billion Leones) to support the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. The key focus of this contribution is to reduce child and maternal mortality, which remains unfortunately amongst the highest in the world.

And just this morning, the European Investment Bank signed in Freetown with the Minister of Finance a very concessional loan agreement of 75 million Euros (about 412 billion Leones) to contribute to the financing of a backbone electrical transmission and interconnection line linking Ivory Coast-Liberia- Sierra Leone-Guinea   with high-voltage substations as connections points for renewable generation and local electrification. This project is symbolic of the potential for mutually advantageous regional integration, also in West Africa, and in the Manor River Union. 
 
Today, and on 10 December every year, Human Rights Day is celebrated in Sierra Leone, as well as in the European Union. I want to take this opportunity to congratulate the Sierra Leone Human Rights Commission for its important role and for its work.  Also, Sierra Leone's recent election to the UN Human Rights Council, a success for Sierra Leone's diplomacy, expresses an important commitment from the Government to the cause of Human Rights. The protection of human rights is at the basis of the European Union's identity and it is a central aspect of our external relations. We look forward to engaging with our Sierra Leone partners, whenever and wherever the universality of Human Rights is challenged.

To conclude I would like to say that the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the European Union for its contribution to peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe is also a useful reminder of  the values and principles that are  very much at the heart of the strong partnership between the European Union and Sierra Leone.