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Let me start by saying that I am impressed because I have never seen any room in the European Parliament so full. It is the first time ever - I wish even one tenth of these numbers were in plenary in Strasbourg during one of my debates. That would be great.
I welcome very much the presence of so many of you, Members of Parliament and friends from outside of the Parliament. I think this really tells us a lot about the mood and the need for keeping our work on development and even increasing it very much. This is to start with; it is not entertainment but it is rather looking at the real priorities that we have.
Thank you, not only for this opportunity, not only for this wonderful full room - by the way in the Alcide de Gasperi room, which is an honour for me -, but also for linking development cooperation and innovation, because I think this is and can be the key to the future of our investments in development.
Let me start from numbers, to mention that, once again, last year the European Union and its Member States have invested more in development cooperation than the rest of the world combined, which is over 50 percent of global official development assistance that comes from Europe. This means in real numbers, in real terms €20 billion every year in Africa alone. These are mostly grants, not loans, so they do not become a burden on future generations.
I start with these numbers to start realising the magnitude of what we put in it and also to explain that we do this because we believe it is in our own interest. It is not a waste of money as some might have thought – I do not think anybody thinks that now. It is not even charity; we are not doing this because we are nice people and kind to others. We are also like that, hopefully, but we believe it is the smartest investment we can make in our own security, in our own stability, in our own human development.
At the same time, we see challenges and we see that the best way to protect the idea of development cooperation and to promote it further is to make our development cooperation more effective than it is today. We see that the world is changing fast and a lot and we cannot simply continue to do things as they have always been done. We have to do it but in the meantime we have the responsibility of thinking about what is coming next.
In these months and years we have explored in the European Union new ways of doing development cooperation, following the compass of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). You know that for us partnership with the United Nations and the United Nations system is the compass of all our foreign policy and this is even more true when it comes to development cooperation.
The starting point for us is to change the way we work, first of all, as the European Union. Normally you point fingers at others, we start with reflecting on how we do our own work. With this objective in mind, we have agreed on a European Consensus on Development, inspired by the 2030 Agenda [for Sustainable Development] so that all European Union Member States and all European Union institutions coordinate their action on the ground. This might be extremely natural and easy but those of you that know Member States and European Union institutions know that this might be the most challenging thing to do.
If you think about numbers again: we invest in development cooperation more than the rest of the world combined. The potential impact of our action is unparalleled, if we all focus together, as Europeans, on the same set of targets in a coordinated manner - with joint programming, which for me is an obsession, increasing the joint programming we do everywhere in the world - but also mobilising other tools such as trade preferences or security cooperation. Putting together in a coordinated manner all the instruments we have as European institutions and Member States is the real game changer when it comes to development.
We are changing the way we do things inside the European Union, we are also changing the way in which we work with our partners. First, we are bringing our cooperation with the United Nations to a different level. Second, we are partnering with other regional organisations more than ever before. Third, we are agreeing our priorities together with our local partners – this should also go without saying but it has not always been the case – as we are trying to move away from the traditional donor-recipient approach and develop real partnerships where we listen before we act. Finally, we are engaging in a new manner with the private sector which - I also believe - is crucial.
Let me quickly go through these changes.
First, on the partnership with United Nations. On the work with the United Nations: the best way to defend the multilateral system – which for us as I said, compass our action – is for us to make it more effective. So, at the [United Nations] General Assembly just a few weeks ago, we agreed to modernise our partnership with the United Nations on development. We are changing the way we work on the ground, at all corners of the world.
We are trying to make sure that when we launch a new programme, as European Union, we never duplicate what is already being done for instance by some UN agencies, but we reinforce their action. We have agreed that our – EU and UN - teams on the ground, in each and every country, will coordinate even more than they are doing now, always working together with the local partners.
Second, on the regional organisations. One of the most innovative initiatives we have taken, together with the UN, for instance, is our [trilateral] cooperation European Union-United Nations-African Union. We have realised that we share the same interests, and the most rational thing to do is to join forces. It is a partnership that started around the need to manage migration jointly, in a human and respectful manner, and it is now moving towards other sectors such as development, humanitarian aid but also security.
The potential of our common work with the African Union is immense. I believe this is the key partnership for the European Union for the future. In these years, I have seen a change of attitudes both in Europe and in Africa. Our African partners are appreciating the work we are doing on development, humanitarian aid and also the traditional work we are doing on peace and security, but what they are really asking for and what they are really interested in today, is investments and jobs, partnerships in terms of political dialogue. And we Europeans have finally realised that indeed what we need to do is not charity, but common projects, common work.
I have to tell you frankly, I think it was in this very same room where I had my hearing four years ago before I became High Representative. I remember that when I mentioned Africa among the key priorities for the following five years, people were looking at me in a very sceptical manner, saying "in all geopolitical games you are facing, come on, Africa, it is development". And today, probably, allow me the cynical reference, "thanks to" the migration crisis, everybody in Europe in realising that our partnership with Africa is the best and most needed investment for all of Europe that we need to have.
We know that today a lot of international actors want to invest in Africa. We also know that some actors in the world see investment in Africa only as a way to either expand their influence or/and to exploit local resources. For us, Europeans, investing in Africa is a way to strengthen Africa’s societies, giving opportunities, starting from young people and women, investing in human growth and investing in rule of law, good governance and human rights.
Investing in Africa for us Europeans is first and foremost helping the local economies diversify, respect their natural environment and natural resources, try to raise standards – be them environmental, labour, human rights standards - and investing so that peace can stand the test of time because you can have any peace agreement in the world, but without the societies fully behind them, there is no way in which they can survive. In brief, our investment in Africa is fully driven by the Sustainable Development Goals, all of them.
On the ground, we have a global compass to drive our action, and then we have the local compass of cooperation with each of the partner countries. Already today, almost 95 per cent of development cooperation from the European Union and its Member States is aligned with national priorities set by our partner countries. We now want to make this relationship even stronger, and we are working to include in the new budget of the European Union incentives for joint programming with our local partners. This must become the new normal: all development cooperation should be agreed together, in line with the SDGs and in a spirit of partnership.
Coming to the budget, we have proposed a budget that is 30% higher than the previous one on external action, with the lion share on Africa. 30% more in times of Brexit and budgetary restraints is a revolution. It is not a progression, it is a revolution. Now this proposal comes to the Parliament and the Council. Take your time, but take the right decision – that is my message. Obviously, the proposal is the proposal we tabled, so you can expect us to back it. But I guess Bill [Gates] will say a few words on that as well. But be sure that this is the most needed and most intelligent investment we can make. And it is the area where only acting as European Union, has a real difference on the ground, because the size of it – €20 billion every year only for Africa – tells you that no Member State alone can get to this kind of numbers.
Final point, on how we are changing the work with the private sector. We do understand that public resources will never be sufficient to fully implement the Sustainable Development Goals. This is why we need the private sector to get on board and we are exploring new ways to create incentives for private investors to contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
I will make two examples: first is our External Investment Plan for Africa, but also for our neighbourhood. The idea is to attract private investments to the regions that need it the most – the most fragile ones - which are also the most difficult for the private sector to invest in, because of security reasons, because of bureaucracies, because of the difficulties of going through the various channels of the administration locally, but also because in some countries – for instance - national embassies are not present and we have European Union delegations everywhere in Africa.
We can also accompany this work locally to ease and to facilitate the presence of the private sector where it is most needed – but not just private investments, private investments that would contribute to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. If the risk to invest in a certain area is too high, we put our money to provide a guarantee for the investment and the plan is only in its early days, but we are well on track to achieve our objective, which is to mobilise €44 billion in investment by 2020, which is a massive amount of money.
Second, we are also exploring a new kind of partnership with tech companies through an initiative called Global Tech Panel – Microsoft is closely involved in this work. One of the first projects we are working on aims at providing digital skills to all Tunisian youth. Clearly this is something that would be too ambitious for a single government to do; it is also something that private companies would not achieve without the support from the public sector. We are putting together tech leaders from the public and private sector and the youth of Tunisia to have this goal achievable in the coming years.
I always get a sense of the immense possibilities that are ahead of us and I would like to close where probably Bill [Gates] will start: sometimes in Europe we do not realise not only the potential, but also the responsibility we have. We are very much focused on our own problems, our own limits – we have plenty of problems and limits - but having the privilege of seeing Europe through the eyes of our partners in the world, you realise how much of a responsibility we have and how much of a power we have if we decide to exercise it.
I count on this wonderful room full of people, Members of Parliament, but also people that have no involvement with the institutions, to make the best use of our power and our potential and stay true to our values, but also our interests and lead by example and invest in the proper manner on development also in the years to come.