The European Union aims for a "more strategic and political" relationship with Timor-Leste, while at the same time strengthening the cooperation agenda through a new funding mechanism, the new European Union ambassador in Dili told Lusa.
"Our relationship with Timor-Leste has to be increasingly strategic and political", said Andrew Jacobs in his first interview since he presented credentials in Dili.
"We will continue to be a development cooperation partner, but we want to strengthen dialogue within the UN, for example, because we share principles of human rights, democracy, and concerns about climate change," he said.
Andrew Jacobs, who presented credentials as ambassador on 15 October, was previously ambassador to the Pacific (based in Fiji), having been deployed in Vietnam and Thailand where he was responsible for European cooperation with the region. He arrives in Dili in the final phase of the current cooperation framework and when negotiations are under way on the future of European assistance which, he anticipates, will be strengthened.
The European support programme for Timor-Leste, under the 11th European Development Fund (2014-2020), totals 95 million euros, of which 15 million euros this year, divided essentially between the sector of good governance (30 million euros), rural development (57 million euros) and support programmes (eight million euros).
The EU, he said, is currently analysing with the Timorese government the make-up and priorities of the next budget cycle, seeking to consolidate the work done so far, especially in sectors where the EU has "added value", such as good governance and rural development.
Jacobs said that the EU "has a preference for direct budget support", which is already part of the assistance to Timor-Leste, whereby funds are channelled and released directly to the Treasury once previously agreed benchmarks are reached.
A model that will continue and that allows dialogue "to focus more on policies, particularly for the sectors of nutrition and public finance management".
"We are happy with the way things are going. We are able to work at another level, on policies, talking to our partners about the challenges that remain and what can be done," he said.
"But I don't think there will come a time when we will just do budget support. For example, we want to strengthen our cooperation with civil society, which plays a very important role in developing and achieving the goals of sustainable development, human rights or combating gender-based violence," he said.
Until now, Timor-Leste was one of the signatories of the Cotonou Agreement, the framework programme for European cooperation with Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific that ends in the next one and which, according to Jacobs, will be succeeded by a new agreement, with "separate pillars for the three regions, reflecting the specific priorities and challenges of those regions".
However, if the European Commission's proposal is accepted by the member states, there will no longer be a development fund directly linked to the new Cotonou agreement and there will be "a global budget for all EU cooperation worldwide".
"Currently, Timor-Leste is a beneficiary of the European Development Fund which is linked to the Cotonou Agreement. But cooperation with Indonesia, for example, comes from a different 'cake'," he said.
"It's difficult to involve Timor-Leste in programmes aimed at Southeast Asia because there are different rules and different funds," he noted.
With a global instrument, Dili can have access to both Pacific and Asian programmes, which "is important in terms of Timor-Leste's ambitions in ASEAN".
Overall, he said, the European Commission asked for €89.2 billion for this global 'cake' from the Neighbourhood Development and International Cooperation Programme, of which €10 billion will go to Asia and the Pacific.
"This will give us more flexibility in the way we work with Timor-Leste," he said.
The diplomat explained that the aim is to ensure "effective communication and visibility of what the EU is doing", reinforcing the role that Europe can play as a "force for stability and continuity".
"We favour multilateralism, working with partners like Timor-Leste to sustain respect for international law. We need to speak very loudly about our ambitions and concerns," he said.
The new European financing instrument will also include a commitment to improving the conditions for doing business and boosting investment.
"There are challenges in Timor-Leste that do not make it very attractive for investors, and we want to support this sector. It will be an important part of our cooperation with different countries in the world to help correct some of the problems we may have in terms of regulation on business creation or other aspects, he said.
Jacobs expressed satisfaction with delegated cooperation, including an ongoing partnership with Camões, and explained that it was hoped to strengthen cooperation with civil society.
"Civil society has a crucial role to play in advocacy, to hold government to account and to ensure reforms take place. For this reason we work to help reinforce the capacity of civil society to hold effective dialogue with government on key issues", he said.