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Today is our special day, the day when we remember the 1950 declaration of Robert Schuman, which we consider as the founding moment of European integration after the Second World War, and when we reflect on our history, on our present challenges, on our common future as a continent, and on our role in the world. Perhaps I should underline that this is not EU Day, but Europe Day. While the European Union is today the most important institution promoting and consolidating European integration, it is not the only one. There are other institutions of continental integration, the Council of Europe, the European Economic Area, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, as well as a host of sub-regional organizations, some within the EU, others transcending it, and this forms a complex web of networks of communication and cooperation on which European integration is based.
Even in the European Union, integration has neither been linear nor one-dimensional. We have 19 countries which share the same currency, the EURO, while others maintain their own, national, currencies; we have 22 EU Member States which share a space without border controls that enables European citizens to travel from Portugal to Finland without a passport; but Ireland and the United Kingdom have decided to remain outside of the Schengen area, which, on the other hand, also extends to several non-EU countries.
This means that the European Union entertains different levels of integration, and the differences in national interest among our many Member States will make it inevitable to manage these differences in integration rather than trying to level them out. Our Treaty speaks of "an ever closer union ", but people in various countries are already sceptical of the current level of integration, and some are challenging the authority and the policies of the European institutions. This controversy will be the major issue in the forthcoming European elections, and European politicians will have to manage the outcome of this contest, whatever it may be.
And of course, managing these differences is also what BREXIT is about. A slight majority of the people of the United Kingdom decided in a referendum in 2016 to leave the Union. This has proven to be a more complicated process than we all imagined, and while the final outcome is still unclear, I am confident that whatever the British parliament or the British people decide in the end, the United Kingdom will remain part and parcel of the broader European integration process. It will continue, whether within or outside the EU, to cooperate closely with the other EU Member States and with the EU institutions.
More generally, we see trends of "Euroscepticism", populism and nationalism in various Member States. Often they arose because the conventional parties, have been slow to respond to contemporary problems, and because some people are seeking easy solutions within their own communities to avert perceived threats from globalization. However, no nation alone can address challenges of a world that is reshaped by demographics and migration, by technology, and by environmental challenges like climate change and the loss of biodiversity, all of which are global in scale and impact. Traditional policies will hardly be enough to find solutions for the challenges of the 21st century. But we shall face them, and we shall try to do so collectively and cooperatively.
The European Union is born and has grown with crises and our responses to them. Its most important achievements – which we sometimes forget in the midst of day-to-day political hassles – are the unification of former enemies after the Second World War and after the Cold War. European integration has been and will be based on the premise of making and maintaining peace, within our continent as well as with our neighbours and beyond. We have concluded partnership agreements with a wide range of countries around the world as well as with key multilateral institutions like the United Nations and the African Union. The European Union stands for and promotes effective multilateralism, peaceful coexistence, a rules-based international order, and the resolution of conflicts through dialogue and compromise.
While recognising differences in culture, history, religion, and national interests, we believe in universal rights and principles and in basic political liberties. These are sometimes dismissed as exclusively "Western" and not applicable to the rest of the world, but the democratic traditions of India, Japan, and many other countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America dispel such political myths, and so does the practically universal adherence to most UN human rights conventions, even if their interpretation may remain a matter of argument for the foreseeable future.
There is nothing "Western" about the universal human rights and basic political liberties that we adhere to, but this must not lead us to arrogance, because Europe can learn from others in order to help us face contemporary challenges like the peaceful co-existence between religious communities, notably Christians and Muslims, or the integration of refugees and economic migrants. In many African countries, Christians and Muslims have lived together in relative harmony for generations, and some African countries have proportionally many more refugees than Europe. Statistics show, for example, that South Africa, with 58 million people, hosts as many refugees as the EU with 512 million people.
The EU is also based on fair economic competition and on the promise to promote prosperity and solidarity. The records show that we are doing well in these areas: With barely 6% of the world's population, the EU produces almost 17% of the world's GDP in terms of purchasing-power parity. Collectively, the EU is the second-largest economy of the world, and it has the lowest level of economic inequality among the major global economies. The majority of the EU's budget is spent on economic and social cohesion and sustainable growth, as well as competitiveness for growth and jobs, including transboundary infrastructure projects.
Several countries and cities of the European Union routinely top the lists of the places with the best living conditions worldwide, and while refugees have become a highly politicised issue, we should be proud that citizens of other countries seek refuge from oppression and persecution in Europe – they do so because they believe in the freedom, tolerance, and humanity of Europe.
But the world and Europe's role in it are changing. The population of Europe – including non-EU countries – has declined from close to a quarter of the world in the middle of last century to less than 10% today. Europe's share of global GDP has declined steadily in the past decades, and a recent study about the world's largest economies in 2030 estimates that only Germany will count among the top 10, and it will be on the last place.
Science and technology, in particular artificial intelligence and gene manipulation, will drastically change the way we will learn, communicate, work, move around, manage our finances, produce our food and energy, and even how we wage war in the future. We are on the cusp of the next industrial revolution and the traditional differentiation between industrialized and developed countries is becoming obsolete. Some so-called "developing countries" are nowadays leading the world in communication technologies, mobile banking, or the entertainment industry. Thanks to the internet, networks of research, innovation and service provision transcend national boundaries and obliterate geographical distances. Henceforth the difference between countries will lie mostly in the ability to adopt new technologies, transform them into marketable products and services, and reshape their societies.
More than ever before, "cooperation" in the true sense of the word will be crucial, in the sense of learning from each other and developing together. In this light, the EU's longstanding commitment to international cooperation is as much a pursuit of our own interest as it is an expression of Europe's global solidarity.
This brings me to our cooperation with Lesotho and its challenges. The one and a half years that I have spent in your beautiful Kingdom have shown me that it is a country with great potential and daunting challenges.
Among the challenges, it seems to me that the most important are political stability and employment, and the two are linked to each other. Repeated policy statement, expressed verbally by various ministers and enshrined in the National Strategic Development Plan, NSDP II, underline the conviction that the main driver of economic development and job creation should be private business, and that the government should be a regulator and facilitator, rather than a business operator. We welcome this economic policy, which has proven its worth in many other countries and which is also the underlining economic policy of the European Union and its Member States.
But its implementation in Lesotho has been hampered by recurrent political instability, which has diverted attention from policy implementation to electoral competition, including within political parties, and it has also prevented recent governments from addressing low administrative efficiency and service delivery, which has long been identified as an impediment for economic and social development. Or let me express it in plain language: a country where politicians spend too much time competing for positions and power, and where public servants are too often selected or recruited for their political loyalty, and where they have no long-term security of tenure that would allow them to initiate and see through the implementation of policies, such a country will find it hard to stand its ground in a fiercely competitive global business environment.
Lesotho needs to solve these problems, and the currently ongoing reforms offer a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do so. The reforms dialogue has made very good progress. The first plenary of the multi-stakeholder dialogue has produced a wealth of good ideas; a series of popular consultations conducted in all corners of the Kingdom is concluding these days. I am confident that the National Dialogue Planning Committee will work hard, together with selected experts, to consolidate the wide range of opinions expressed in these consultations into concise and pertinent recommendations for adoption at the Second Plenary, which is planned for end of June. I trust that the Second Plenary will take courageous and far-reaching decisions.
You, the main political and social leaders and the intellectual elite of the country, you can now agree on reforms that will transform the political and economic dynamics of Lesotho, and open the way towards a brighter, a more stable, and a more prosperous future. For the sake of your country and in particular for the young people of this nation, I appeal to you not to miss this chance; you will be remembered for it by coming generations.
Lesotho is also a country of potential. With a population smaller than the metropolitan areas of Baltimore or Brussels, Lesotho has become one of the top garment exporters to the USA, and this shows that with the right policy framework, it can be a competitive player in the global economy. There are other important niche markets – diamonds, wool and mohair, trout, medical cannabis, horticulture, to name just a few – where Lesotho is already or can become a significant regional or international supplier.
Lesotho has the advantage of easy access to all the infrastructure and technology available in South Africa, and comparatively lower labour costs. Lesotho has a sound education system and a dynamic and highly motivated group of young entrepreneurs. It has good roads, and the government is working hard, with international support, to ensure reliable water supply to its citizens while it continues to export water to Gauteng province, southern Africa's economic powerhouse. Lesotho has extensive opportunities to harness renewable energy sources, in particular solar energy.
Lesotho may be facing serious challenges today, but its future can be different. With the right policy choices, you can unlock the potential of your people – because the people are always the most important resource of any country – and of your natural environment. If you set aside your differences and focus on the interests of this nation, you will find strong regional and international support: SADC deployed a mission last year to help stabilize the security situation in the wake of the assassination of two army commanders; and it has mobilized an eminent facilitation team, led by former South African Chief Justice Moseneke, to assist in managing the reforms dialogue. The USA have recently confirmed Lesotho's eligibility for a new MCC compact and it has fielded several missions to identify, together with the government, suitable projects. The European Union will soon initiate discussions with the government and with other national stakeholders about our post-Cotonou cooperation, and this includes the possible resumption budget support.
A reinvigorated, stable and economically dynamic Lesotho will also drop from SADC's list of "trouble countries" and it will once again be able to assume its rightful place in regional politics, as it has done during the Apartheid era, when you offered refuge and support to numerous South African activists who fought for freedom and equality. Lesotho's ambition to send its soldiers to UN and African Union peacekeeping missions, an initiative supported by French military training, is an important step in this direction.
Collectively, the government, the opposition parties, civil society, academia, you have started through various initiatives to take the Kingdom of Lesotho onto a new and promising path. We, the European Union and other international partners, will accompany you.
With these remarks I conclude my speech, but I would like to take this opportunity to thank my colleagues not only for organizing this event but for the work in the EU Delegation throughout the whole year, without which my own work would be meaningless. I also want to thank the government of the Kingdom of Lesotho and all our partners in this country, notably various civil society organizations, for their dedication and commitment to a fruitful and successful cooperation which has lasted several decades. We look forward to a continued strong and mutually beneficial relationship.