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The EU has always stood on the side of the Gambian population. Despite all odds, the Delegation of the European Union in The Gambia was never closed and assistance never stopped. A number of roads in the country are a testimony of this, and people recall that even during the worst food crises, the EU was there to assist.
With the change of regime in the country, the EU-Gambia relationship could be fundamentally transformed. From the outset, the EU affirmed its support to the democratic transition in The Gambia and to the realization of the Gambian National Development Plan. The Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Mr Neven Mimica, was the first high-ranking European official to visit the “New Gambia” on 16-17 February 2017. On this occasion, he strongly reaffirmed the EU's support and commitment to The Gambia, by signing an immediate package of 75 mEUR and announcing a second package of 150 mEUR in the mid-term. The EU acted promptly and concretely in this respect, for example by contributing, a month later, to the parliamentary elections by sending international observers to ensure the fairness, equity and transparency of the elections. This is democracy in practice.
However, a bankrupt democracy cannot serve the aspirations of its people. That is why, a few months after Commissioner Mimica's visit, the EU was able to secure a first budget support disbursement of 1.375 billion GMD. This greatly helped the new government to stabilize its budgetary position and to pay the salaries and bills in 2017.
Beyond politics and economics, the Gambian people want to see the dividends of democracy and concrete improvements in their daily life. The EU wants to stand by the Gambian population in this respect. With our safety nets, school meals, and bio-fortification programmes, we want to improve the food and nutrition security of the most vulnerable in the rural population - especially women and children. This is complemented by interventions aimed at improving agricultural practices so as to increase local production and marketing, as well as food availability and competitiveness of Gambian agriculture. The EU complements this support in rural areas with an investment in more than 100 kilometres of feeder roads that will allow the population in remote areas to better access markets and social services.
Of course, as a global actor, we share with The Gambia our responsibility to address the causes of climate change and fight its negative impacts, especially in terms of coastal erosion. This is why in 2018, we started a second 5.3 mEUR intervention in the frame of the Global Climate Change Alliance.
But this is not enough. People also want jobs, training, they want to be able to become entrepreneurs and to be assisted in setting up a business. The well-known Youth Empowerment Project (YEP) does precisely that, with an acknowledged success. Recently it has been complemented by an intervention implemented by the UN-Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) that will work on easing access to credit, especially for young entrepreneurs, whilst providing entrepreneurship support and working locally to create green jobs.
The Gambia-EU partnership reached another dimension by jointly organising the International Conference for The Gambia in Brussels on 22-23 May 2018. This turned out to be a tremendous success, mobilising a total of 1.45 mEUR pledges from a number of countries. Of course, these pledges are not disbursed immediately. They are targeted to specific projects and need formulation and time to concretize. Also, unlike EU grants, a number of partners proposed loans which will be difficult to take in The Gambia’s present indebtedness situation. But all in all, it will greatly help The Gambia to materialize its National Development Plan and improve the life of its population. Above all, it showed that “The Gambia is back", and that the EU and the whole international community want to continue to support its democratic transition. So, how is the EU doing that? By adding 140 mEUROs to our already substantial programmes and by acting upon our words.
A whole new programme for assisting Gambians returning from the “backway” to better reintegrate and find new opportunities in The Gambia has been put in place. Major new actors like the Belgian, Portuguese and German Cooperation Agencies are coming to The Gambia to implement this programme.
A fresh tranche of 1,375 billion GMD budget support was also disbursed at the beginning of this year. This greatly helps the government to balance its budgetary situation, whilst accompanying it in its much-needed public finance management reforms. If macro-economic indicators remain on track, and if The Gambia continues to make the necessary public finance management reforms and to fight corruption, further budget support disbursements will follow in 2019 and in the years to come.
At the end of 2018, we also signed two new agreements in the infrastructure sector. A contract with the African Development Bank (AfDB) will allow the finalisation of works for the long-awaited Trans-Gambian Corridor, so that eventually this engineering masterpiece can effectively play its role to gather people in The Gambia and Senegal, as well as the whole West-African region. This will be a true game-changer!
A contract with our partner the European Investment Bank was also signed. This has the potential to change the life of the Gambian population and in particular the quality of the health and education services because, in addition to the installation of a 20 MW solar power plant and the rehabilitation of the distribution lines, it will provide access to electricity to all public schools and clinics of the country. Yes, all of them!
We are conscious that The Gambia still has many challenges to face. Among those, the most pressing one is probably security. There can be no development without security. Therefore, till the end of August 2019, the EU is funding the ECOMIG forces that are stationed in The Gambia. Eventually, it should be a Gambian responsibility to ensure the security of the country and to that end, the EU is also supporting the Security Sector Reform by providing essential technical assistance to this process. The Gambia enjoys international assistance and has no time to lose in this respect.
However, the partnership between the EU and The Gambia is not limited to development cooperation. Every year hundreds of thousands of Europeans enjoy the hospitality of The Gambia and the “Smiling Coast” of West Africa. They spend money in The Gambia, they create jobs and provide a living for thousands of Gambian families. Of course, we would like more tourists to visit the country-side and spend money there too. We would also like more Gambian products to be consumed in the restaurants and hotels at the coast and we are therefore working on contractual farming.
Moreover, every year, the EU is covering the mobility of a number of Gambian students and teachers to European Universities and high schools. We also facilitate European teachers coming to The Gambia to assist in your schools and universities. In this respect, in 2018, our Erasmus+ scheme allowed for 49 exchanges: 34 Gambians went to Europe and 15 Europeans came to The Gambia. A new call for applications has recently been launched.
Fisheries are also subject to specific agreements, in 2018 the EU and The Gambia agreed on a new Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreement that will strictly frame European fishing in Gambian waters whilst reinforcing the Gambian capacities for sustainable governance of fisheries. This contrasts with the numerous vessels that are engaged in illegal fishing and that damage Gambian fish stocks and the environment at large.
Since August 2018, The Gambia is a signatory of the European Partnership Agreement that allows Gambian products free access to a market of more than 500 million consumers, whilst allowing The Gambia to progressively liberalize up to 85% of their market over a 20 year period.
In his State of The Union address of 2018, the President of the European Union Commission, Mr Jean-Claude Juncker, announced an overall revamping of the European relationship with the African continent. Acknowledging the fact that our fates are shared, he proposed a “New Africa-Europe Alliance” in order to stimulate business investments and economic exchanges between our two continents. This New Alliance sets itself ambitious and ground-breaking objectives that we are committed to achieving. For The Gambia, in proportion to its population, it would mean roughly 16,000 new jobs created, 34,000 people having all-year access to proper roads, 1,200 people conducting vocational training, 48,000 additional people having access to electricity, 8 MW of power installed and 168 people benefitting of an Erasmus scholarship by 2027.
We are already well advanced on this! As you know, the YEP project has already trained hundreds of young Gambians, our electricity project with the European Investment Bank and the World Bank will allow for the construction of a 20 mW solar power plant and will provide access to all public schools and health centres of the country, whereas 82,000 persons are in the catchment area of the feeder roads we are beginning to rehabilitate.
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