Europe Day (9 May) Statement: by Ambassador Mikael Barfod, Head of the European Union Delegation to Barbados & Eastern Caribbean
On 9 May we Europeans celebrate Europe Day. On this day 65 years ago Robert Schuman called on the nations of Europe to unite and make war on our continent impossible. Today his message of peace and unity is as relevant as ever.
Schuman’s appeal to overcome age-old divisions just five years after the Second World War laid the foundations of what has become the European Union. Over the years our Union has grown from six to twenty eight to become the world’s largest peace project. The dreams of our founding fathers have become a reality.
But peace – based on a deep commitment to fundamental rights, democracy and the rule of law – cannot be taken for granted. Neither can the EU abdicate its role in seeing such ideals replicated throughout the world, given the success amongst its Member States.
The unity that has been created by that pact resonates today throughout the world. But some may ask: What is the EU’s role in the Caribbean? In the region the EU has had a long history through the Lome Conventions and presently the Cotonou Agreement. It has held the Caribbean’s hand through the dismantling of preferences as the world ushered in free trade. But the development agenda is rapidly changing.
A pioneering area in development is renewable energy. The EU provided Dominica with funding for it to carry out geothermal energy testing within the context of alternative energy exploration. Now St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia and other regional countries are getting in on the act, something of which we are proud, as they seek to reduce their large fossil fuel importation bills.
In spite of the current economic climate within the EU itself, the EU remains by far the largest grant aid donor in the region. The partnership includes BBD$2.2billion (EC$3 billion) new grant assistance for 2014-2020.
We don’t need to outline the challenges emerging from being at the crossroads for drug trafficking and the accompanying social problems. One only has to read the newspapers or listen to news bulletins to understand the fragility of the Caribbean with regards to peace and security. Recently the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago has voiced concern about the probability of some of her nationals returning home after venturing off to fight for ISIS. Therefore, while the Caribbean remains a relatively peaceful place, it is not immune to the threats of security confronting the world. On the national stage we observe gun crimes are increasing in all territories. Therefore the EU is pleased to note that all but three CARICOM member states have ratified the UN’s Arms Trade Treaty, which seeks to regulate the international trade in conventional arms – from small arms to battle tanks.
Caribbean integration is of great interest to the EU. This is why we continue to dedicate considerable amounts of EU assistance to the regional integration process, since we recognise it is crucial for the Caribbean, as it is the only way to face transnational and global challenges. The EU supports not only the CARICOM Secretariat, but also the smaller but vibrant integration process of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).
At a time when the threat of terrorism is leading some of the Caribbean’s more prominent neighbours to strengthen border restrictions, the EU is looking to expand its visa waiver provision to countries in the Eastern Caribbean. Hopefully by the summer all seven independent countries covered by the EU Delegation in Barbados will enjoy visa waiver status with the EU. Visa free access to the EU is already enjoyed by Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados as well as St. Kitts and Nevis.
With such a wide-ranging partnership the EU recognises the need for constant and wide-ranging dialogue. Therefore we are vigorously preparing for the joint EU-Latin America and Caribbean (EU-CELAC) summit in Brussels this summer. We hope that this forum will be used by leaders to address the concerns of the region.
Since the Caribbean and the European Union share so many values in their societies there is a large potential for working together on a number of global issues where these values are questioned. Together we must ensure that the break-down of international order in flash points around the world does not affect our regional safety, our prosperity and our open societies in the Caribbean and the EU.
The European Union is a project for the future. Therefore we celebrate Europe day to remember, but also to look ahead. I hope you will join us around the globe to work with us for a world where people, no matter who they are or where they live, are free to shape their existence and live their dreams.