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Europe Day 9 May 2019
Statement by EU Ambassador Tom VENS
Freetown, Sierra Leone
Today we are all Europeans!
Thank you for joining me tonight to celebrate the power of unity, cooperation and dialogue in Europe and around the world.
As we celebrate Europe Day in our 28 Member States and in the 140 locations where the EU has a diplomatic representation, we once more follow the steps of French foreign minister Robert Schuman, who now almost 70 years ago, shaped the project that has become today's EU; an economic and political project that has delivered on its promise to bring peace and prosperity, and to anchor shared values and solidarity amongst the people of Europe. We continue nurturing this vision and these values every day – in Europe and through our partnership with the rest of the world.
This year, Europe Day also coincides with the Summit of Heads of State and Heads of Government of the European Union on the future of the European Union, which took place today in Sibiu in the context of the Romanian Presidency and on the eve of the European elections taking place in a few weeks. It was EU President Juncker who proposed to organise this special summit in order to shape the future of the European continent and to chart the direction for a more united, a stronger and a more democratic European Union by 2025.
When I stood here, exactly a year ago, as the elections had been concluded, Freetown was abuzz and the excitement and hope was very palpable. As EU we invested in a credible election process. I want to congratulate President Bio's team for putting human capital development at the heart of the Government's priorities; for making progress to strengthen Sierra Leone's public finance and macro-economic management; for stepping up the fight against corruption; for the promotion of transparency and for creating opportunities to promote innovation and technology as a means to provide better services and better governance. I see these as important anchors to deliver on a reform agenda that should bring prosperity to all Sierra Leoneans and that will provide the foundation for strong partnerships.
As EU we have embraced this agenda. This message was also underlined when President Bio visited Brussels in November last year. The Government's agenda is fully compatible with the Africa-Europe Alliance for sustainable investment and jobs proposed by President Juncker.
We are partnering to deliver on the Government's promise to provide Free Quality School Education for all. The EU's budget support operation has been instrumental to operationalise the Teacher Service Commission and preparations are underway for the rehabilitation of about 100 junior secondary schools. In partnership with GIZ we are also supporting demand driven skills development and the creation of the World Bank managed multi-donor Trust Fund will be a key tool towards well-coordinated quality delivery.
We also share the Government’s vision that the path to sustainable development, based on growth and creation of decent jobs, relies on improved and more efficient agricultural production. Hence, several of our programmes target agricultural development and agro-processing. We want to do more in this area, also with the aim to attract more private investment for this sector and create good jobs.
As EU we believe that connecting people and places is paramount to promote growth, but also to cultivate peaceful relations with our neighbours. I am, therefore, pleased to announce that in the next weeks you will be able to cross the Waanji, Sewa and Moa rivers on the road from Bandajuma to the Liberian border over three impressive double lane bridges. The road works are expected to be fully completed next year.
EU support to improved Governance has continued throughout the year. A resilient state requires strong institutions and we will continue to invest in Public Service Reform, the Electoral Commission, Parliament, the National Civil Registry Authority and in an institutional framework that supports effective Decentralisation. Our budget support operations are a means to promote policy reforms in education and agriculture and contribute to strong results in public finance management.
This is just a snapshot of our cooperation activities in Sierra Leone.
Overall, the EU and its Member States remain the largest provider of official development assistance here in Sierra Leone and in the world. We do this with and through the Government, with our multilateral and NGO partners and, increasingly our private sector partners.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Before I conclude, I want to highlight a few points to which I attach particular importance:
1. I already referred to the events of just a year ago here in Sierra Leone. The electoral process was credible and its outcome reflected the will of the people. For the first time the elections delivered a dominant opposition in Parliament which created a unique opportunity for cooperation around a constructive agenda. Strengthening the democratic process now requires us to continue building capacities and resilient institutions that allow for the implementation of a longer term vision. It also requires a capacity to embrace diversity and readiness to compromise and build alliances across parties and opinions.
Let me quote President Juncker today on the importance of compromise: Democracy cannot function without compromise. Democracy is about compromise and “the right compromise makes winners out of everyone.”
2. Secondly, partnership and cooperation are part of the EU's DNA. In the case of Sierra Leone, this partnership goes back more than 40 years and we are here to stay. A mature partnership relies on an open and constructive dialogue on policy matters and issues of shared concern. We will therefore continue to invest in an open and sincere dialogue to achieve our shared goals. What we want is what you want: a Sierra Leone that is resilient, prosperous, and that cares for all its citizens. CSOs and NGOs, who have been indispensable in the delivery of services and as an independent voice to promote accountability, have the same desire to work with the Government of Sierra Leone on the basis of a consensual partnership. We are fully supportive of their aspiration.
3. Thirdly, while we will remain here as development partners, real transformation will ultimately depend on the space that is being created for credible investment and the creation of decent jobs, especially for the youth. As EU we are stepping up our support and engagement to make this happen. I welcome the decision to create an Investment Board to systematically address the obstacles that investors face. Meaningfully tackling these requires a structured dialogue with the investors who are already here. This is not an agenda that will benefit just EU investors but a healthy business and investment climate is of benefit to all.
4. Fourth, as EU we stand for multilateralism. We can simply not tackle today's global challenges such as climate change, insecurity and transnational crime, migration, … if we do not work together. I look forward to further deepen the strong partnership we already enjoy with Sierra Leone, and with many of you, in these areas where we need to deliver concrete results.
5. Fifth, and importantly, I want to underscore once more that we will not make meaningful progress if we do not redouble our efforts to give women and girls, and other vulnerable groups, their rightful place in society. We are stepping up our engagement in this area.
Ladies and gentlemen, I want to conclude with a reflection. It is true that at times we may get discouraged. Discouraged by indiscipline, corruption and selfishness that seem to drive the actions of people around us; discouraged by narrowmindedness and short-sightedness; discouraged by populistic agendas and autocratic tendencies; discouraged by incompetence and destructive attitudes. But rather I chose to be encouraged by people who are an inspiration and who deliver hope and give reason to be optimistic. Many of you do so. I hope many more will join.
Finally, I wish to thank the Government of Sierra Leone, the EU Member States, our many partners and my dear colleagues for the excellent cooperation and hard work to realise our partnership. I also wish to recognise the contribution of our generous sponsors for tonight's event: Bolloré, the British International School, Brussels Airlines, CMA-CGM, Orange, Sierra Leone Breweries Corporation, Sierra Lighthouse, Gigi Bonta and AVSI, Total, the French Honorary Consulate, Mrs Yvette Jones from Events Planning and Zoom. Without your generous support we would not have been able to welcome you here in such large numbers.
I wish you all a Happy Europe Day!