Europe Day 2021 Sierra Leone
Speech by EU Ambassador Tom VENS
Check Against Delivery
Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs,
Welcome to this year’s Europe Day celebrations – in adjusted, drastically reduced, format.
As we celebrate Europe Day, it is good we remind ourselves why the EU exists. The Schuman declaration was signed on the 9th of May 1950. In the immediate aftermath of the second world war, it laid the foundations for today’s EU. Let us never forget: at its core, the EU is a peace project! The world may have fundamentally changed in the 71 years since the signing of the Declaration, but the desire for peace as the underlying driver for what we do and aspire for, remains the same, be it back at home or through our partnerships.
Because of COVID, we are celebrating differently this year. COVID continues to have a devastating impact on so many people across the globe and calls for all of us to remain vigilant, act responsibly and be ambassadors for global solidarity and action. I do not want to miss this opportunity to appreciate the remarkable efforts by my team and our many partners to mobilise significant resources in the fight against COVID-19 in Sierra Leone under the umbrella of Team Europe.
But this year we are also celebrating differently because we wanted to bring the EU closer to the people with this year’s Europe Week events. In the past week, the colourful bus that you saw at the entrance brought #TheEUandMe roadshow and photo exhibition to communities across the country, to listen, to engage, to gather ideas and to show our partnership in action. From our support to education, over adding value in agriculture, to empowering women and young people, building quality infrastructure, supporting local governance and building stronger, accountable institutions. We are proud of what we do, what we have done and what we will continue to do as a dependable partner for the people of Sierra Leone.
Our future in Sierra Leone will, in part, also be shaped by today’s global challenges, with climate change and environmental protection at the top of the agenda. Our partnership will therefore also translate in a Green Deal for Sierra Leone, aimed to drastically beef up our efforts to protect the environment, promote the use of renewable energy and support sustainable food systems. More than ever, we will do this hand in hand with our EU partners: in complementarity with our EU Member States and in close cooperation with other EU actors on the ground. This is what Team Europe is about.
Second, we will continue to invest in education. Without a better educated population across the board, development will be patchy at best. We want to continue contributing to the Government’s top priority of providing quality education and preparing youth with the right set of skills that a strong economy needs. This is a longer-term journey and we will continue to be partners in this journey.
And finally, governance: we are witnessing a global trend where democracies are eroding and where accountability is under threat. None of you here present need convincing that this is a recipe for instability and we will continue to work closely with all of you in this journey for more just societies.
This is the substance of what we want to focus on in the coming years and I am very pleased that through consultations over the past months, we received a strong confirmation that these are indeed the right priorities for our future partnership. Our commitment to continue supporting the country’s Development Agenda and, more broadly, the SDGs, will be matched by an ambitious set of resources.
But our ambition is also to rebalance our partnership. This means agreeing on a shared political and policy agenda and reinforcing accountability in delivering against this agenda. When we pursue stability and prosperity, this not only serves Sierra Leone’s interests, but also the EU’s interests.
The plight of youth, women and girls will be central to all of this, as will our efforts to promote more space for a strong private sector to assume a pivotal role in Sierra Leone’s development and in the EU’s partnership with Sierra Leone. This does not just require for the right instruments to be available, but also the creation of a predictable environment and a level playing field that inspires confidence to investors and that allows for a longer-term horizon. This will not just promote sustainable growth with attention for the environment, but also the creation of decent jobs and in doing so a future for a growing number of youth. It is beyond any state institution to directly tackle youth unemployment; this can only be when the conditions are in place for durable investment by the private sector. This is not just a question of social-economic rights but also one of social cohesion and, ultimately, stability.
Excellencies, dear guests, our journey together has not been and will not be one without bumps in the road. I hope none of us here is short of ambition, but all of us are faced with realities and setbacks that may confront us with the limitations of what we can achieve and that can sometimes leave us discouraged or disillusioned. We shouldn’t though. Instead I invite all of us to always stay true to our values and principles and, above all, to constantly explore how we can work together towards our shared goals. It is the only way.
Ladies and gentlemenas all of you here no doubt know, my family and I will soon leave Sierra Leone for the realities of life in Headquarters. So it is time for some reflections:
First, a reflection on how the EU, how Brussels, works: the EU’s decision-making processes and institutional complexities are no doubt a source of bewilderment for many. There is indeed some space for criticism. But what underpins the EU’s functioning and growth is a strong set of principles and core values and a robust capacity for dialogue, engagement and compromise, even in the face of the most challenging questions. My wish is that in Sierra Leone as well, the relentless pursuit of dialogue and compromise can underpin the national development agenda. This is particularly true in the political space.
Second, I am making a call for all of us to be more positive. The propensity to generate negativity, suspicion and slander - including on social media - can be a formidable obstacle to unite and get things done. This is more than unfortunate. If at least some of this energy could be channelled towards delivering quality services and outputs, we would all win big.
Third, and finally, on a daily basis I am critically asked if our intended final beneficiaries, the least privileged ones, are indeed receiving their fair share of what we, as partners in development, intended. This is about our need to relentlessly confront wastage, corruption and greed and make sure that we are truly accountable for the resources we manage.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, in finishing I wish to appreciate the role each and every one of you play in the partnership that unites us. A partnership that will endure and continue to flourish.
I invite you now to all raise your glass and celebrate together.
To the friendship between the EU, Sierra Leone and all our partners,
To the prosperity of every Sierra Leonean,
To the good health of His Excellency the President and the people of Sierra Leone