Last year was a special one for my team and myself. In February 2020, I arrived in London as the first ever EU Ambassador to the UK after its departure from the European Union. As a new Delegation and a diplomatic start-up, we had many plans and ideas for 2020. And although, like many of you, I was not expecting a quiet time, I could have hardly anticipated what the immediate future had in store for us all.
Barely six weeks after we had unveiled the plaque of the EU Delegation in Smith Square, COVID-19 struck in force and we were plunged into a full lockdown. Instead of meeting new people, we had to introduce rules to avoid meeting in person. Like so many across the UK, we were cut off from our families and friends. And tragically, like so many, we lost friends and loved ones to this terrible virus.
We also lived with the rhythm of the EU-UK negotiations, which were in their turn transformed by the pandemic. Instead of the mythical windowless conference rooms, the talks moved into the virtual reality of video-conferencing and back into direct personal contact in Brussels and in London.
As a Delegation, we have had to adapt to this new reality. With the engagement and support of our friends and contacts across the diplomatic, political, parliamentary and policy-making community in the UK, we have still managed to achieve a lot. In the past year, we worked closely with government, parliament, journalists, academia, business leaders, the financial services sector, the scientific community and cultural institutions to lay the foundations of our new relationship with the UK. It was also my privilege to meet with the leaders of the devolved nations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, an engagement I look forward to continuing in 2021.
I am particularly grateful to my colleagues the Ambassadors from the EU27 Embassies and their teams with whom, from the very start, we have had a vibrant exchange of ideas and shared purpose. In particular, we will continue to support and work closely with our EU colleagues on the protection of the rights of EU citizens in the UK.
In normal circumstances, we would have loved to do a lot more, and I am optimistic that 2021 will bring such opportunity. Thanks to the incredible work of scientists across the globe, we now have several vaccines, including one that is the product of European and international cooperation that has always been at the heart of the EU’s approach to research, and another that has been developed by a team from Oxford University. Both the EU Member States and the UK have now started vaccination programmes to protect our people and facilitate a gradual return to normal life. I hope this will make regular contacts possible again in the near future.
2021 will also be a year of opportunity for the new relationship between the EU and the UK. The conclusion of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement has put an end to the uncertainty that people and businesses on both sides of the Channel would have otherwise faced. It also provides us with a platform on which to build our future co-operation - while the nature of the relationship between us has changed, our common values, goals and interests have not, and the UK remains our trusted partner and ally. With my team, I look forward to supporting EU engagement and working alongside the UK, for instance during the upcoming UK G7 and Italian G20 presidencies and the COP26 summit in Glasgow, to deliver on our common goals.
As President von der Leyen stated, quoting the great British poet T.S. Eliot, “To make an end is to make a beginning”. 2020 was an exceptional year, and not in a way that many of us might have wished for. However, in its final weeks and days, it brought with it the hope that we can look forward to a fresh new start in 2021.
I wish you all a safe and peaceful 2021, and look forward to working and engaging with you all in the year ahead.