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Let me pay my respects to His Majesty, King Letsie III, The Right Honourable Prime Minister, Motsoahae Thomas Thabane, the Honourable Deputy Prime Minister, who honours this celebration with his presence, and the Honourable Ministers,
The Honourable President of the Senate and the Honourable Speaker of the National Assembly, Honourable Members of Parliament, of the Senate and of the Council of State,
Her Ladyship the Chief Justice, Honourable Members of the Court of Appeal, senior officials of the judiciary,
Senior officials of the government, commanders of the security forces,
Ambassadors, members of the diplomatic community, high representatives of the United Nations and SADC,
Distinguished guests, dear friends,
We have come together today to celebrate Europe Day, in remembrance of the 9th of May 1950, when French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman called on the nations of Europe to unite in order to make war on our continent impossible. We regard this as the founding moment of the European Union, 2 which has brought together more than 500 million people of different languages and cultures, and more so, peoples and nations which spent the better part of their history fighting each other, and fighting the rest of the world. This year, 2018, is laden with historical references:
o One hundred years ago, precisely 11th November 1918, marks the end of the 1st World War, the armistice between the Allies and Germany;
o 300 hundred years ago, in 1618, was the start the Thirty Years War, the most devastating conflict in European continental history, when one third of the population perished in fighting between Catholics and Protestants;
o 530 years ago, in 1498, Bartolomeu Dias sailed around the Cape of Good Hope, an event with heavy consequences for southern Africa and the Indian Ocean, and which changed the political and commercial geography of the world;
o and 1,450 years ago, in 568, the Lombards conquered Italy, a date which marks the historical consensus for the end of the Migration Period that led to the collapse of the Roman Empire.
These are just a few notable anniversaries, and they show that most of European history is a litany of heroic battles and conquests. That is, until the Europeans, under the shock of two World Wars which brought unprecedented destruction to our continent, began to imagine their future in a different way. Because the history of European integration is in sharp contrast to the earlier history of Europe – the history of European integration is boring and bureaucratic. It is about economic integration, about the gradual construction of institutions, about intricate consensual decision-making processes, about building democracy patiently from the grassroots, about forging, again and 3 again, a delicate balance between big and small member states with different interests and objectives, without undermining their traditions, cultures and identities.
But it is a history that has served us well. It helped us overcome the national divisions of the two World Wars and the ideological divisions of the Cold War. It has brought together 28 countries and it continues to draw in more, with currently five candidate countries and two more in pre-accession status. It has brought unprecedented prosperity to Europe, which, with only 7% of the world's population or landmass, produces almost a quarter of global GDP and is, together with the US and China, among the world's three biggest economies. European populations are among those who enjoy the highest levels of education and health care, the highest living standards, and we pride ourselves for being among the trail-blazers of social solidarity, environmental protection, and technological innovation. And since 2018 is the European Year of Cultural Heritage, I should add that out of the world's 1073 UNESCO world heritage sites, 464 or 43% are in the European Union.
We are proud to be Europeans but we should not be complacent. Today's world, the proverbial "global village", is a quarrelsome and competitive one. Economically and in terms of technology, others – China, the United States, India, Japan – are pushing forward rapidly, and Europe has to make an effort to keep pace with other powers if it wants to remain a relevant international player. In terms of security, Europe has a restive eastern and south-eastern neighbourhood, with conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East, an increasingly assertive Russia, and a number of fragile countries on the other side of the Mediterranean which are sending tens of thousands of migrants towards Europe in search for a better future.
Internally, Europe – like much of the rest of the world – has gone through a painful period in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, with unemployment in some EU countries rising to scandalous levels. Recently we have seen renewed economic growth and a decline of unemployment, now at 7%, but like much of the rest of the world, Europe suffers from growing inequality between and within countries: Some countries in southern and south-eastern Europe are still lagging far behind the EU average in terms of per capita GDP and are struggling with difficult fiscal adjustments. On the overall European average, the income of the richest 10% is 9 ½ higher than the income of the poorest 10%, and more significantly, 10% of the wealthiest households own half of Europe's total wealth, whereas the least wealthy 40% own just a little over 3%.
Such imbalances are politically dangerous for a continent that prides itself for its social solidarity, and these imbalances are certainly responsible, together with other factors, for the rise of nationalist and populist parties that put into question the basic European values. The EU will have to tackle these resolutely, lest they will undermine our coherence and our Union. Now that for the first time, one member state has decided to leave the European Union, the remaining 27 need to reflect on their common future. The Treaty speaks of an "ever-closer union among the peoples of Europe", and we have to define what "an ever-closer union" means, and who wants to be part of it. Already, not all 27 are part of what can be described as the core areas of the Union, broadly defined as the convergence of the Schengen Treaty and the monetary union. Perhaps not all 27 will embark on the future journey of further integration. And that is just fine. The European Union's strength has been its diversity, and the future integration process will have to accommodate this diversity in a very flexible institutional framework.
But let me not bore you with our internal institutional and political challenges. Let's talk about Lesotho. Last Friday, I climbed Thaba Bosiu, the mountain fortress of King Moshoeshoe I, and I reflected on the trying times when he and his people struggled to defend this Kingdom against Afrikaner colonialism and Zulu expansion. I also reflected about Lesotho's recent history, which is marked by military coups, coup attempts, oppression and assassinations. Albeit in a shorter timeframe, it is very much like earlier European history – a history of violence; a history that has left orphans, widows, and a calamitous economic situation; a history of sharp inequalities between rich and poor, between men and women; a history of missed opportunities.
But at least at the time of Moshoeshoe I, it is also a history of reconciliation and unity. Perhaps the Basotho nation can remember their founding father and at the same time learn from the experience of the European Union. Perhaps the time has come to put distrust and enmity behind you and to move from assassinations, bribery, coups d'Etat, demagogic rhetoric, enmity and "floor crossings" to a different political ABC, one of accountability, budgetary discipline, civil service reform, democratic principles, employment creation, fiscal rebalancing, good governance, health care, innovation – and with a bit of imagination, you will find something useful for every letter of the alphabet that could define a brighter future for Lesotho.
In my discussions with government officials, parliamentarians, leaders of political parties, church dignitaries, civil society representatives, academics, everybody talks about the need for reforms. Last year, many of us attended the post-electoral dialogue organized by the Lesotho Council of NGOs, and in February, we were invited to the meeting of political leaders chaired by the 6 Council of Churches of Lesotho. The government is reaching out to the opposition. SADC has deployed a mission to facilitate and support the reforms. Meetings with different stakeholders have started.
It is all still a bit messy and confusing, but the momentum and the spirit are there and it is time to pull all these initiatives together into a well-coordinated and focused process, which can bring real, tangible progress. And perhaps more important, it is time for the government and the opposition to make a leap of faith and to move from suspicion, distrust and resentment to a genuine, honest dialogue about how to overcome the divisions of the past and to work together for a better future, with the interests of the ordinary people in mind. That includes the victims of past violence, who have a right to express their grievances and a right for due compensation, but also the youth and future generations, who long for jobs, modern education, efficient healthcare, and a life without fear and depravation. In politics, there is a time for competition and a time for cooperation. For Lesotho, this is not the time for competition and posturing; this is the time for cooperation, for unity of purpose, for compromise, disclosure,forgiveness and reconciliation. Remember the remarkable gesture of your founding father Moshoeshoe I and his courage to forgive his enemies, without which the Kingdom of Lesotho would not exist today.
I believe this is indeed a historic moment for Lesotho. Your country has experienced 50 difficult and conflictual years which have stifled economic growth and social development. A country with more than half of its people living under the poverty line, with almost one third unemployed, and with record rates of HIV and TBC, is a country in crisis. It is up to you now, the political, religious, traditional and social leaders of Lesotho to work together in 7 order to lay the foundations for a better future. Your international partners, the UN, (AU), SADC, China, South Africa, US, the European Union and others, we will stand by you and support you in your efforts. But we cannot do the reforms for you; you have to find a way to do it within your own culture and tradition.
Your national slogan is Khotso, Pula, Nala. Pula, rain has come in abundance, but Khotso, peace, you will have to build it yourself. And Nala, prosperity, will follow !
With these words, let me offer a toast to his Majesty the King, to the people of Lesotho, and to a strong and mutually beneficial relationship between Lesotho and the European Union.