The relationship between the Maldives and the European Union has heighted during the past two years, with increased high-level exchanges and cooperation initiatives. This includes Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid’s visit to Brussels in June 2019 and the visit of former High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini to the Maldives in August 2019, making it the highest-level visit by the European Union to the Maldives. Foreign Minister Shahid has also held bilateral discussions with the new High Representative of the European Union, Josep Borell Fontelles twice in 2020. On 9 February 2020, the Maldives and the European Union also held its first Senior Officials Meeting, which is a new mechanism for consultations established to enhance cooperation between Maldives and the European Union through yearly exchanges at the level of senior officials.
The discussions were open and constructive covering a wide array of thematic areas, including democracy and governance, strengthening of the justice sector, promotion and protection of human rights, advancing the rights of vulnerable groups, security cooperation, cooperation in the fisheries sector, economic sector, trade, investment and economic policy, financial policy, climate change and environment.
The Maldives shared its action plan on a resilient post Covid-19 recovery, formulated to ensure sustainability and achieving meaningful socio-economic development. The Maldives also conveyed gratitude to the European Union for the continued assistance towards socio-economic development of the country and particularly noted the support extended for the Government’s efforts to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.
The European Union has provided EUR 1 million to strengthen the Maldives health sector response and EUR 2 million for tourism sector recovery, with a special focus on smaller businesses. The European Union has also extended EUR 20 million through the European Investment Bank (EIB) to support the economic recovery efforts of the Maldives, by assisting local businesses and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) operating in the tourism and industry sectors.
The Maldives further reaffirmed its strong commitment to consolidate democracy, ensure good governance, and promote respect for human rights, including gender equality. The European Union provided an update on the EUR 1 million technical assistance project that will further enhance the independence, accountability and transparency of the judiciary, prevent and fight against corruption, enhance good governance and strengthen the justice professional associations, civil society and media. Both the Maldives and the European Union agreed to explore additional opportunities to collaborate on judicial reform and the fight against corruption. This includes opportunities to strengthen the judicial system and the rule of law in the Maldives, including respect for civil and political rights.
The Maldives reaffirmed its commitment to strengthen business ties and explore additional investment opportunities for European businesses in the Maldives and to continue dialogue through the existing Business Roundtable Initiative. The European Union member states noted the fruitful discussions held during the first business roundtable in October 2019.
The Maldives further reiterated on the request to consider granting duty free access to the European Union for its fisheries products, and briefed on its participation at the online public consultations on a new regulation establishing the EU GSP. The European Union member states expressed their interest to remain engaged on exploring opportunities for Maldivian fisheries products.
During the ensuing discussions, the European Union member states acknowledged the positive efforts of the Maldives to fight illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU), particularly through the recent reforms brought to the respective domestic legislation. The European Union highlighted the need for continued cooperation in this area.
The European Union member states also took note of the request by Maldives to explore the means of facilitating the Schengen Visa process in the Maldives. The Maldives expressed gratitude to the Governments of Germany, Czech Republic, and Austria in particular for starting to provide visa facilitation services in the Maldives.
The Maldives and the European Union member states underscored the importance of furthering cooperation on issues relating to climate change and environmental degradation. The Maldives expressed appreciation to the European Union for the continued support in this sector and highlighted the renewable energy projects currently ongoing in the atolls. The Maldives and the European Union signed a EUR 5 million Financing Agreement to support implementation of Nationally Determined Contributions, and a EUR 45 million loan from the European Investment Bank (EIB) to support renewable energy projects in 2019. The European Union members further reaffirmed their commitment to step up cooperation and work with the Maldives to tackle the challenges posed by climate change. The European Union and the Maldives also agreed on the need to put in place green and resilient post-COVID-19 recovery strategies.
Both the Maldives and the European Union also agreed to expand cooperation on issues ranging from strengthening maritime security, counter terrorism, prevention of violent extremism and ensuring peace and stability in the region. The European Union launched a new project earlier this year to support the Maldives in its efforts to counter-terrorism and prevent violent extremism, under the EUR 2.5 million allocated for EU-Maldives security cooperation. The European Union provided an update on these ongoing efforts, and the Maldives reviewed and expressed satisfaction on the progress of these projects implemented by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, INTERPOL, United Nations Development Programme and local stakeholders. The Maldives also expressed interest to further strengthen cooperation in this sector with the European Union.
The Maldives delegation was led by Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Abdulla Shahid. The Maldives delegation comprised of members of the Cabinet which includes the Minister of Finance, Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture, Minister of Environment, Minister of Tourism, Minister of Health, Acting Minister of Gender, Family and Social Services, and senior officials from the President’s Office, Attorney General’s Office, Ministry of Economic Development, Maldives Police Service and the National Counter Terrorism Centre.
The delegation comprising of European Heads of Mission were led by Mr. Denis Chaibi, Ambassador of the European Union to the Maldives. The European Union delegation consisted of Heads of Mission from France, Italy, Germany, Finland, Czech Republic, Ireland, Hungary, Netherlands, Belgium, Greece, Austria, Poland, Slovakia, Portugal, Denmark, and Sweden.