Thank you Mr Speaker (of the Majlis, Mohamed Nasheed).
Friends and colleagues, for me it is really a special honour to receive this invitation and to be able to address you today in your parliament.
I have started my political career in my own national parliament quite some years ago now and I always feel very emotional whenever I have the honour to be able to even enter a hemicycle again or address a parliament, because this is the house of democracy and I know how important the work that you do every single day for your country, for your people, for your constituencies, is.
So, I am very thankful, first and foremost, for the honour you give me to address this honourable parliament. I think that it is the very first time that I have this honour outside of Europe, so it is an even more special opportunity for me. I really – from the bottom of my heart – thank you for this honour you give me of being able to address you today.
This is one of my final official visits in my capacity as High Representative of the European Union [for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the Commission]. I still have a few months to go, but I wanted to pay this visit before the end of my mandate and, in particular, to have the honour to address this chamber, as I said.
I would also like to thank every single one of you, but also the Government for the very warm welcome I have received here today.
We have many things in common: much more than one could realise. We share many of the same priorities and I believe that we have often found ourselves on the same side of the global debate when it comes to the most pressing issues of our times.
You mentioned, Mr Speaker, climate change. I believe this is the most obvious and clear example - and maybe even the most important one - of how much we share in terms of priorities and also convictions when it comes to our global action. It took too long for the world to understand, but I am proud that together, for instance, we managed to build the global consensus that led to the Paris Agreement against climate change.
Here in the Maldives, even landing at your airport, no one can deny the devastating impact of man-made global warming. At the same time, climate change is not just a threat to your country. To your country, it is self-evident, but Europe also feels it on an everyday basis. If you think of European cities that remind me so much of your own capital city – think of Venice or Amsterdam where water is part of the city - we face a similar threat. So, your engagement against climate change is a service that not only you do to your people and country, but also to the entire global community, to the whole of humanity and it is a common engagement that we share. This is something that we can only tackle together as a global community where everyone accepts their own responsibility and contributes to the common cause. In Europe, there has probably never been such an acute awareness of the urgency to address this issue actively. So you can count on us to be always at your side in this fight.
Last June the European Union signed a Financing Agreement worth €5 million with the Government of the Maldives, and last month the European Investment Bank signed a €45million loan, to assist renewable energy projects. We Europeans are together the biggest contributor of public climate finance to developing countries. This will not change. I can guarantee you that this is a commitment we have for the long term.
We have put climate action at the core of our domestic policies back home, but also of our foreign policy – because this is a vital European interest as much as it is a vital interest of the Maldives. We are in this together, and we will continue I believe to work together, both bilaterally and in all multilateral frameworks, starting from the very important summits we will have in New York in September and where we will be once again on the same side.
Global warming is not the only common challenge that we have. Tensions have risen around maritime routes, not only in this part of the world, but also in this part of the world. This is something that we, as Europeans, cannot underestimate.
One fifth of our trade with the world goes through the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. For us it is both a matter of European interests and also of shared principles and values. We believe that the governance of our oceans must be peaceful, cooperative, and based on the multilateral law that we have all agreed to. A peaceful Indian Ocean is yet another common challenge and common interest that we share.
The same goes for our work against terrorism – we still have the images of the Easter attacks in Sri Lanka, not so far away from here. I have had the opportunity to personally thank your Minister of Defence [of the Maldives, Mariya Ahmed Didi] for your commitment to step up and coordinate together with us the prevention of terrorist attacks and radicalisation. Today, I am pleased to announce that we have prepared a European Union package of €2.5 million in support of the work against terrorism that the Maldives is undertaking. We are also together with you in this.
The agenda for our cooperation is long, and I would not mention all the different elements that compose this agenda. But it is not only about common challenges. It is also about the great potential of our friendship that is creating new opportunities for the people of the Maldives and for Europeans alike. I believe that both of us want to strengthen the connections between our countries, making sure that connectivity brings real benefits to workers and local communities alike.
Precisely to explore these opportunities, we decided that a Business Roundtable will be organised in the coming months to enhance trade and investment between Europe and the Maldives. We need to explore this big potential, including also the private sector, much more.
I am here today in a very faraway place. I think that I am the only European to spend only a few hours - and only for work - in this beautiful place, but I will come back for tourism once. I am here today because the Maldives and the European Union have entered a new phase of our relations.
The Speaker mentioned that since the inauguration of your new government, clearly our relations have become closer. We value your commitment to democracy, including the role of this parliament. We value your commitment to a more inclusive political environment, to the rule of law and the respect of human rights. History tells us that only a strong democracy, an inclusive democracy, an open society, can bring real human growth to the people of any country and also a really sustainable security. One of the things that I discussed with the Defence Minister and with the Foreign Minister who is present here with us today is also this: one thing we share is the need to fight terrorism, keeping our human rights standards high. And I believe we can lead the way together in this respect.
So for all these reasons, we have decided to revoke the restrictive measures that the European Union had adopted last year. You recently held a peaceful and democratic vote that elected this very Parliament. And we Europeans want to be with you as you make your democracy stronger and more resilient.
This is what I told today to the President [of the Maldives, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih] in an excellent meeting we had this morning and the government and this is what I tell you. We want to accompany your agenda for good governance and against corruption, including the reform of the judiciary. And we will support you in every step you want to take, to help you deliver on your citizens’ demands and aspirations.
I know there are some issues on which we might require more work. I am very much aware of how important fisheries is for this country and for its people, and I know we have to work intensively now to find sustainable solutions on both sides. I am afraid that I cannot commit to a positive result of that, but what I can commit to is to go back to Brussels and discuss with my colleagues sustainable ways forward to address this is issue in a way that can benefit the people of the Maldives as they deserve. But this is a common commitment that we share. We will need to find creative manners to have a way forward. As you graduated as a country, which is a good news in itself, we need to find other ways to support your exports and your economic activities. Again, I cannot commit today to a solution for that - and I do not want to raise expectations that are then difficult to manage -, but I can commit to with my team in Brussels and with the upcoming new European Commission that will take up its functions as of November, I will pass the message that it would only make sense to work together with you, together with the authorities, to find ways to address this issue that is so important for the people and for the economy of the Maldives.
For us the Maldives is not just a far-away paradise – even if I can testify that it is, just as more than 500,000 European tourists witness every year. For us, you are most of all a partner in a challenging world. I know that in this part of the world and being a series of islands, you might be tempted to feel apart from the rest of the world sometimes, when actually looking at the map that the Speaker had shared with me, you are at the very crossroads of many different strategic routes and also of probably many geopolitical games or tensions. We understand that very well. The European Union does not have any hidden agenda. We do not play geopolitical games. Our logic is never a logic of spheres of influence. We never ask our friends or partners to be only our friends or partners. We want to build a network of partnerships based on values and on shared interests, because we believe that developing win-win solutions and cooperative approaches in the world of today is the only effective manner of tackling problems that we all share. So this is the message with which I come to you.
I know that this is the highest visit from the European Union that has happened in history; I hope this visit can mark the beginning of a new chapter in our friendship. A chapter of friendship where it is clear from our side that in your work, in you efforts, in your fight to build a stronger democracy, in your fight in a complicated environment from both a natural and geopolitical point of view, we are partners. We are partners and we are sharing the same path that we want to walk together.
So thank you very much for your hospitality, thank you very much for the honour of this invitation. I wish us all a very fruitful and successful way forward as we turn this page and we completely re-normalise relations between the European Union and the Maldives, opening the way for even stronger cooperation between us.
Thank you very much.
Link to the video: https://youtu.be/icl9cGEbe_s?t=2667