This is the final reception that I have the honour and pleasure to host together with Pina, my wife, here in Vientiane as the first resident Ambassador of the European Union to the Lao PDR. I thank you all very much to honour us with your presence today, because you are the selected few that we invited, as we had to limit the numbers.
Let me first commend the Government of Laos for its efforts in fighting the pandemic that has struck the planet and for its success in avoiding a major health disaster, even if the economic impact will be major and felt for a long time. But the people of Laos are very resilient as they have proven again and again during their long history and they will overcome this as well.
As we celebrate this year the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the European Union and Laos, I think it is an opportune moment to honour our partnership, take stock of what we have achieved together and where our common destiny will lead us.
Let us look at it from the perspective of peace and security, development and human rights, the three pillars of the United Nations, our common reference.
Despite our somewhat different nature, Laos as a Nation State and the EU as a supranational body, we strive for a peaceful and just world, a rules based multilateral system. We cooperate in the UN, but also in other international fora, like with ASEAN of which the EU is a dialogue, and hopefully soon and strategic partner.
Over the last two decades we have established a strong partnership in development. We refer to the agenda 2030 and measure progress with the SDGs. Our main sectors of cooperation have recently been, and probably will continue to be nutrition, education and governance.
We consider that budget support, especially when it is given on grant basis, is the most efficient and effective way of delivering assistance because it strengthens nationals systems and is based on national priorities. We highly appreciate the policy dialogue that we were able to establish across the board with several ministries. Because of the difficult macroeconomic situation, including the high levels of debt, we will face difficulties in fully implementing our commitments, but, as I have explained over the past weeks to my interlocutors of the Government, the European Union is ready to show a maximum of flexibility and support in these difficult times. We need however a strong commitment from the Government for transparency and political will for genuine reforms. Together with all development partners, I am sure we can address and overcome these challenges.
I need also to mention the European joint programming that we have established together with our Member States and Switzerland. In Brussels, this is considered to be among the most advanced and is often quoted in the context as a best practice. This would not have been possible without our Lao partners. It has genuinely helped us to be more effective and efficient and in the future we endeavour to strengthen the team Europe even more. We have coordinated our response to the Covid-19 in line with our shared values of transparency, good governance and inclusiveness to support the economic, social, sanitary and environmental resilience of Laos.
In line with the new priorities of the European Union, as well as the needs of Laos, we have identified two initiatives on which we want to work together:
Firstly, in the context of the green initiative, which takes into account the wealth of natural resources and the comparative advantage of Laos, we will help to develop a.o. sustainable agriculture, green value chains, food safety, but also landscape and watershed management, forest ecosystems restoration and biodiversity conservation. We will also look at sustainable tourism and natural heritage conservation.
Secondly, we will keep investing in education, at all levels, and pay a particular attention to the growing importance of digital technology for teaching and learning, develop digital competencies and skills, develop education governance and help build education resilience.
Regarding human rights, which represents the third pillar under the UN, we may have some differences of views; nevertheless, we keep an open dialogue. We consider that, according to the relevant texts of the UN, to which we have all subscribed, all human rights are universal and mutually reinforcing. Our main purpose is it to help to achieve a genuine rule of law in the Lao PDR and we will continue to support the country honouring its international commitments in this area, like for instance in the context of the UPR. Our yearly dialogue is a clear expression of the mutual trust that we have managed to build over the years.
Ladies and gentlemen,
There are many more areas and initiatives that I could mention that underline the wealth of our relationship, but for the sake of time I limit myself to mention just a few:
We were partners in the Post Disaster Needs Assessment in 2018, together with the UN and the WB when the dam collapsed in Attapeu, and we contributed to the Dam safety review that will hopefully lead to some tangible results, like an independent safety review institution.
We have realised several activities in the cultural field, like the film festival on the shores of the Mekong, but also our yearly bicycle tour that we combined with a tree planting activities.
Last, but certainly not least, we have and will put efforts in the people-to-people contacts, and we are happy to announce that this year we have for the first time again in some years a student from Laos to go to Europe to study under the Erasmus+ programme. I congratulate Ms Thipasong Akhamountry who will study for MA, in Advanced Development in Social Work at the UNIVERSITY OF LINCOLN, UK.
I hope of course also that we will see more exchanges at the political level. After a first ever visit of the Commissioner Mimica last year the meetings between H.E. Mr. Saleumxay Kommasith and the HRVP Ms. Federica Mogherini, I think there is scope for more exchanges. Unfortunately a planned visit to Brussels by the Foreign Minister could for obvious reasons not take place in June.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Before I come to the end of my short speech, please allow me to seize this opportunity to thank everyone for the support I have had over the years.
First of all my thanks go to my team at the Delegation, both local and European, without whom all this work could not have been realised. I could always count on their advice and their commitment. Let me in particular mention Eddie and Bryan who will also leave for other shores over the summer.
My thanks go of course to all government representatives, who have always treated me with greatest respect and courtesy and for whom I feel the deepest appreciation.
My thanks go to all our partners, from the UN system and International Organisations, representatives of INGOs and local civil society and my colleagues from the diplomatic corps, with whom I loved to exchange views on all kind of topics. Needless to say that I am particularly indebted to my European colleagues. I thank them for their support and for bearing with me.
My thanks go to Pina, my best counsellor, whose feedback I appreciate increasingly and from whom I constantly learn. Without her I would simply not be here.
Finally, I am perpetually grateful for having had the opportunity to live and work in this beautiful country that has played a major role in my life, and in particular in my professional life. I thank the people of Laos for sharing their heartfelt smiles and from whom I have learned that nothing is eternally important and everything will pass – Bo pen yang.