Excellencies, Colleagues of the Diplomatic and Consular Corps Development cooperation partners
Members of civil society, members of the press,
Ladies and gentlemen
67 years ago on the 9th of May 1950 French Foreign Minister, Robert Schuman, delivered a historical speech in Paris, known as the Schuman declaration. His vision of a united, interconnected Europe became a reality and he along with personalities such as Jean Monnet, Paul-Henri Spaak, Konrad Adenauer or Alcide de Gasperi are known as the "founding fathers" of the European Union. We are here today to celebrate their vision of Europe at peace and prospering.
In 1957 the Heads of State and government of Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxemburg and the Netherlands, gathered to sign the treaty of Rome, the document that laid down the foundations of Europe as we know it today. In March this year we celebrated its 60th anniversary across Europe (#EU60). The Treaty of Rome kick-started a process of regional integration by establishing a common market in which people, goods, services and capital could move freely. But that was only the opening move. Since then, the European "Communities" have become a "Union" growing from 6 to 28 Member States, and expanding its competences and policies to diverse areas of mutual interest. As Robert Schuman envisioned, it would not be an effortless stroll in the park, but rather a build-up of concrete achievements and creative solutions based on solidarity and shared interests.
The challenges of the past few years in the arena of global financial instability, environment and migration are clear examples where an integrated approach pays dividends. New challenges are emerging that will once again test the EU's resolve and I believe the Union will evolve strengthened.
Over the last six decades, the EU has actively sought to not only bring peace and prosperity to Europe, but to use its influence for a more equal, democratic and stable world. The EU is the largest trade power and development and humanitarian aid donor. The EU's diplomatic network runs wide and deep to all corners of the globe, making a difference when it comes to human rights, democracy support, migration, development, responding to crises, providing security, contributing to defense and building the resilience and capacities of societies. EU diplomacy does its part to help keep the world safer and more sustainable, as shown by the historic deal with Iran on its nuclear programme or the leading role the EU played in the Paris Climate Agreement and the adoption by the United Nations of the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.
In June 2016, the EU High Representative Federica Mogherini presented a new Global Strategy for the EU's foreign and security policy: "Shared Vision, Common Action: A Stronger Europe". This strategy will guide the EU's external action for the years to come and is based on five priorities: strengthening security and defence; investing in the resilience of states and societies to Europe's East and South; developing an integrated approach to conflicts and crises; promoting and supporting cooperative regional orders; and reinforcing global governance based on international law.
The long-standing partnership with Africa continues to be an important part of EU's global vision. The EU High Representative Federica Mogherini recently noted after her meeting with the new leader of the African Union Commission: “In the world of today full of uncertainties and unpredictability, the African Union and the European Union can be forces for good, for our citizens, investing in sustainable development, peace and security, multilateralism", a global approach based on shared perceptions. Europe is Africa's number one partner for foreign investment, trade, source of remittances, development and humanitarian assistance and also a key security provider. We don't simply look at what we can do for Africa, but what we can do together with Africa.
An agreement has been reached to hold the next EU-Africa Summit in November 2017, hosted by Cote d'Ivoire. The specific focus of the Summit will be "Youth". We look forward to Sierra Leone's fruitful and active participation at this summit at the highest level, as at the previous summit held in 2014 in Brussels.
Sierra Leone and the European Union have been steadfast and close partners for over four decades. We have equal cause to celebrate Sierra Leone's unfaltering track record of adherence to democratic values as the country moves towards the 4th free, fair and timely elections on March 7, 2018. The Government under the leadership of His Excellency President Koroma has been making solid progress in implementing the Agenda for Prosperity, despite the adversity brought by the Ebola epidemic and the commodity price downturn. The European Union is a major partner with the Government in our jointly identified priority areas, namely infrastructure, agriculture and food security, good governance, and education.
For the wellbeing of the current and future generations of Sierra Leoneans, environmental concerns must remain high on the agenda of the decision takers. Notably the destructive practices of illegal fishing are jeopardising the livelihood of fishing communities and the wealth of the country's natural resources. In this regard, the EU and the Government have been closely collaborating to strengthen the fight against illegal fishing since April 2016. The EU welcomes the concrete actions Sierra Leone is taking at the policy and operating levels and will maintain an active dialogue until the shortcomings are addressed in a robust and long-lasting manner. The EU High Representative and the European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries will be hosting a conference "Our Ocean 2017, An Ocean for Life" on 5-6 October this year in Malta and the Government of Sierra Leone is cordially invited to participate.
The EU is working closely with the Government in an effort to develop environmentally-sustainable and diversified agricultural practices to enhance yields and to preserve the environment and natural resources of Sierra Leone. Finally, in line with climate change priorities and set targets, the EU and Sierra Leone Government are collaborating together on a number of pioneering initiatives in the renewable energy sector, particularly targeting rural areas (recent inauguration of solar grids in Segbwema, Kailahun and Panguma, Kenema).
In the framework of the 11th EDF National Indicative Programme amounting to EUR 376 million for the period 2014 -2020, two major programmes totaling EUR 64 million were launched in the past year, namely a EUR 29 million support to the education sector and a EUR 35 million to boost agriculture and food security. Besides these and in coordination with the other partners involved like the UK, the WB, the AfDB and the IMF the current budget support programme encourages and helps the government to improve its fiscal situation and effectively implement needed reforms in the public finance domain. Preparatory work is under way to renew the budget support programme. These interventions, EU funded road infrastructure projects (in particular the Bandajuma – Liberia border road and bridge rehabilitation project) and many other projects channeled through UN Agencies and civil society partners, together with West African regional initiatives that make up an ever expanding portfolio of EU-Sierra Leone collaboration.
Ladies and gentlemen, Europe Day is a perfect occasion to showcase the strong partnership between the European Union and Sierra Leone and EU-African relations, built on shared values and principles, a growing political dialogue, trade and investment relations.
On a more personal note, this will be the last time I celebrate this occasion with you, as my stay in Sierra Leone is coming to a conclusion. The time I spent in this beautiful country will leave an indelible stamp on my memory of the heart-break of confronting the toughest Ebola outbreak in history, but also of the joy of experiencing the unrelenting resilience and optimism of Sierra Leoneans that has allowed the country to be back on its feet in no time, and to continue building the nation's future.
Let me conclude by raising this glass with all our partners here this evening and proposing a toast to many more years of excellent relations between Sierra Leone and the European Union!