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Europe Day on 9 May is the occasion for Europeans to celebrate peace and unity. As you know, this date marks the anniversary of the Schuman Declaration of 1950, which is considered the beginning of European integration.
This year is a particular one as in a few days; Europeans are called to exercise their democratic rights by electing the Members of the European Parliament.
It's true that the governance of the European Union is not easily understandable, but all institutions have their role to play. Parliament for instance asserts its institutional role in the European policy-making by exercising its various functions, notably in the legislative process, by exercising its budgetary and control powers, and by being involved in treaty revision. The Parliament also intervenes in its own right before the European Court of Justice which enables it to uphold democratic principles at the European level.
With these elections starts also a new cycle that will bring along a new Commission as well as other nominations for higher positions.
Despite all the difficulties that the Union has gone through over the last years, from the debt to the migration crisis, not to mention Brexit, the general public is, according to the latest polls, still very much in favour of the European project. Even those who pester against the Union as a bureaucracy led by unelected technocrats realise that opting out is not an option and feel the urge to come together … at the European level!
But nothing is perfect and reforms will be necessary to keep this unparalleled peace project alive. All Europeans need to stand together to defend and promote it.
The EU is a global multilateral player. We are the biggest provider of Foreign Aid, Foreign Direct Investment not to mention our trade volume. We engage with all countries, big and small, around the world and maintain meanwhile 140 Delegations, including those accredited to global and regional organisations.
This year alone the EU has ratified with Japan an Economic Partnership Agreement and the Free Trade Agreement and Investment Protection Agreement with Singapore has received its consent of the EP. This latter agreement is of course considered one of the precursors of a larger Agreement with ASEAN.
The EU plays also an increasing important role as a security actor, especially if we not only consider the narrower, military-oriented approach to security but also look into areas such as climate change, health, migration as elements that have a considerable impact on international and national security.
We attach a particular importance to the UN and highly value the three pillars it is built on, namely peace, development and human rights. No one expressed better than the late Kofi Annan how these are linked: there is no peace without development, there is no development without peace, there is no peace and development without human rights.
Multilateralism is however only effective if it is based on strong bilateral relations
Our relations with Laos are based on true partnership that cannot be limited to the assistance that we provide. More important are the open and frank exchanges and discussions that we manage to conduct on a regular basis and that go beyond our cultural differences. They are based on mutual respect and the universal values that we subscribe to. It is no secret to anyone that I would love to see more exchanges at the higher level between our political leaders and I promise to keep working on that.
Together with the Government and the people of Laos we work for sustainable growth that reflects the need of the multi-ethnic people of this unique country.
We know of the challenges that Laos faces in its quest for graduation from LDC status and we take these issues to heart. Through the Joint Programming with the Member States and Switzerland we have gained a deeper understanding of the development agenda of Laos and we hope to make a meaningful contribution in the context of aid effectiveness. Together we contribute in many areas and sectors, such as agriculture and nutrition, education and vocational training, public financial management, diversification of the economy, and last but not least in the field of governance and the establishment of the rule of Law. We align our assistance to the NSEDP which itself is embedded in the agenda 2030.
I would also like to mention that we cherish the good cooperation in the context of our budget support which is to me the best proof of trust and confidence in the capacity and the policies of the Government. On the other hand we also allocate a minor portion of our funds to the development of civil society, which in our view is an important component of a lively society. Let me reiterate that the Government of the Lao PDR can count on us to be a reliable, predictable and constructive partner.
Bilateral relations are of course also based on people-to-people relations, and I hope to see more students from Laos benefiting from the ERASMUS Plus scholarships to Europe.
Please allow me to seize this occasion to congratulate Mr. Phoukhong Sisoulath who will be the next ambassador of the Lao PDR to the European Union. I am very pleased to have a knowledgeable counterpart, colleague and friend in Brussels with whom we will build even stronger ties.
To close I would like to say a few words of our cooperation in the cultural field. First of all let me thank the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism for their valued support.
Over the last year we have undertaken some activities under the theme of education and cultural heritage preservation. We know, acknowledge and appreciate the wealth of the Lao culture and we want to contribute to its preservation. In the context of the BEQUAL project, that the EU is pleased to co-fund together with Australia, the Lanten community in Luang Namtha gains greater access to education. We are in the process of finalising a documentary that will help to disseminate and preserve their traditions. We hope to bring this documentary to you very soon.
We showed the meanwhile classical movie « Chang » and had the « Puppets from Champassak » perform on the banks of the Mekong River, on the same day that we presented the Document "Larger than Tigers" on the challenges regarding Illegal Wildlife Trafficking.
We also count on the support of the relevant authorities to bring back a European film festival later this year.
Last but not least, the Delegation was happy to partner and actively participate with many other Embassies in Vientiane at the 5th Edition of the International Jazz Festival that took place just days ago. If music is considered a universal language, there is none like jazz that combines different cultures and times and is therefore fundamentally human.
I consider that all these activities not only stress the wealth of culture as such, but are also an importance component that inspire our curiosity and contribute to our mutual understanding.
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