European Union Delegation to Singapore

Speech by President Charles Michel at the sixth summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) in Mexico

México, 19/09/2021 - 00:00, UNIQUE ID: 210923_15
Remarks

President López Obrador, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a very great pleasure for me to be here with you.

I would like to begin by adding my own congratulations on 200 years of independence, on this bicentenary, and by adding my own thanks to you, President López Obrador, for your personal involvement, for your commitment, together with your diplomatic team and especially with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, to make progress on specific projects within the CELAC framework.

It is clear that with pragmatism, with good will, as you have just shown, we can agree on ways of cooperating in the field of vaccines, in the field of medicines, and I will come back to this by highlighting how the European Union can perhaps also strengthen operational cooperation with you. In any case, bravo for the first results of this sixth CELAC summit.

As I said, it is a privilege and an honour for me, and it is also emotional, to address you on behalf of the European Union.

As you know – and you have each said it with your words, with your lived experiences of events – our generation is facing a moment in the history of humanity which is not a banal moment, which is not an insignificant moment. Firstly, climate change is an existential challenge. Many have underlined this by highlighting the impact of climate change in your countries, for your people and throughout the world. No continent escapes the tragic consequences of climate change.

But you have also said that there are solutions in this region of the world. We know that forests and oceans act as lungs and are intrinsically linked, through their biodiversity, to the climate as a system. These are levers that we must be able to pull.

Another challenge facing us is the digital revolution, this transformation which is changing our ways of doing business, our social and interpersonal interactions, and which is raising many issues in connection with economic development.

And, as you have all mentioned, the pandemic, which has hit the whole world and which demonstrates the fragility of our humanity and the need to respond together. These three things – climate change, the digital revolution, the pandemic – highlight, from my point of view, from our European point of view, a key issue which you are currently discussing face to face: cooperation.

International cooperation is indispensable; it is necessary. And cooperation is never a weakness. On the contrary, cooperation is the sovereign choice of governments, representing their people, to roll up their sleeves together to try to find solutions, to try to build fairer, stronger, more robust societies. To give our citizens a better future.

As you know, and as several of you have mentioned, what moved me as a young European, a 12-hour flight away from Mexico, is that the European Union is an unprecedented political project in the history of humanity. Because just over seventy years ago, in the last century, after two tragic, devastating world wars which revealed the worst of humanity, a number of visionary, courageous political leaders, despite belonging to different countries and to generations that had waged brutal wars, wanted to build a project for peace, prosperity and stability.

So for seventy years, has this process been easy? No, it has not. There have often been tensions. There have often been difficult discussions. But year after year there have been steps forward, with respect for Europe’s diversity. Just think: 24 official languages in the European Union for 27 countries. Just think: a year ago, in July, when we met with the 27 heads of state or government in Brussels over four days and four nights to negotiate the economic recovery budget for the European Union... Four days and four nights in Brussels, for debates that I had the honour of chairing, which ultimately resulted, despite the different views at the outset, in the capacity being made available to give a major financial boost, the priorities being climate change, the digital revolution and the desire to be equal to the challenges of the post-COVID world, to build the better society that we want.

Together with, it’s true, I would like to emphasise this, a very strong conviction that we have at European level, a conviction I have heard is shared by many of you around this table, that there is a compass: the rule of law, human rights, protection of the rights of women and girls, protection of the rights of minorities, freedom of expression, press freedom, democratic institutions, electoral legitimacy, representative elections, free and fair elections. These are the compasses and frameworks. That does not mean that these debates are easy. At European level we are therefore having these debates on an ongoing basis, to see how we can make progress on these issues which concern fundamental rights, the rule of law and governance.

Finally, I would now like to briefly touch on some more specific issues if I may: climate and biodiversity. All of us, whatever countries we come from, more developed countries or developing countries, are in fact facing a transformation of our economic and social development paradigm. And it is true that there are responsibilities. It is true, as many around the table have said, that countries that are currently perhaps more developed industrially and have played a bigger role in using natural resources, emitting emissions that have polluted the world, have a responsibility. And that is why, in 2009, at one of the COP meetings, it was decided that $100 billion should be mobilised each year to support the most vulnerable countries with climate finance.

We have to deliver, and the European Union has the ambition to deliver. You know that last year the European Union mobilised $26 billion of the 100 billion, far more than our planned contribution. And soon we are going to announce further increases in financing in order to support all countries to address climate change and the consequences of climate change. We have seen that financing is an important issue, and we want to be up to the task as regards that too.

This paradigm shift is also of importance in the field of biodiversity. Your countries contain biodiversity riches, which must be supported and protected; and innovation and economic capacities should be developed which are respectful of natural resources. This too seems to us an important topic. And you can count on us to support such approaches – with modesty and humility, but also with sincerity and loyalty – where they are part of a will to protect the climate, but also to innovate in order to boost prosperity.

And then there is another point that many people have mentioned, namely the issue of COVID-19, with the presentation just now of your ambition to reinforce capacities in the pharmaceutical sector, vaccines and medicines. I would like to share some information with you about this. When we too in Europe were all hit by COVID-19, the 27 heads of state or government immediately wanted to mobilise all possible means for investing in research. Trust in science and in reason is also an important issue. And the world has succeeded, in less than a year, in developing vaccines that are effective against COVID, and different technologies, despite the fact that on average it takes ten years to develop a vaccine.

The second thing I want to share with you is this: once the first vaccines had been developed, the European Union immediately decided to export half of the vaccines produced within the European Union. I wanted to highlight this. Not every country in the world made the same decision. But the 27 European countries decided to export half the vaccines produced. This sometimes led to tensions at European level. Sometimes European citizens did not understand why half of the vaccines produced in Europe were being exported to other countries. And yet, I am proud that this decision was taken, because we are not safe until the whole world is safe.

The third thing is this: the European Union, with others, as has already been mentioned, contributed to the launch of the COVAX initiative to support all countries. €3 billion have been mobilised. But there is one point I do recognise, which has been brought up by many of you, as we are looking at things in the same way in Brussels and Europe: we must be sure that the financial resources for COVAX translate into vaccine doses administered around the world. And yes, work needs to be done there to speed things up. This is why it is important to increase production capacity worldwide in order to be sure that COVAX can deliver vaccine doses and that countries can administer them. To put this in figures, the amounts mobilised by the European Union account for 230 million doses in 139 countries through the COVAX initiative. And if I take exports of doses to the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, there were 40 million exported from the European Union.

These are the few points I wanted to share with you. And I wanted to say, in conclusion, that what we hope for and what every one of us wants is inclusive societies. Societies that push back injustices, that push back inequalities. Societies that put the dignity of every human being – whatever their origin, whatever their political beliefs, whatever their gender – at the centre of decisions taken to improve the quality and conditions of life. Education and access to healthcare are part of these compassionate societies we want to build. And the conviction I want to share with you is that together we, CELAC, Latin America – the countries of America and the Caribbean – and the European Union, represent one third of the United Nations. Almost one billion people are represented by our countries. There are already very close links between European and CELAC countries today. I hope that this moment, this summit will be an opportunity, in an operational, practical and concrete way, and based on principles and values, to reflect on how to strengthen this capacity to work together. Not only for reasons of economic partnership, which is important, not only for reasons of political partnership, which is also important, but beyond that, for the interpersonal links, for the intercultural links that bring together your societies in your countries and our societies in European countries.

I wanted to finish by telling you my own personal experience of intercultural links. Thirty years ago, when I was still at school, 12 hours away from Mexico by plane, in a small provincial school south of Brussels, one of my teachers introduced me to a poet called Pablo Neruda, who opened up my cultural horizon, to beauty and the meaning of poetry. I would like to conclude with these words of Pablo Neruda: ‘All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are.’ And this idea of conveying ourselves to each other is, more than ever I believe, an idea that must inspire us to build together societies characterised by progress, freedom and personal dignity.

Thank you.

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