MEMBER OF THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION
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Over the last years, the European commission has been committed to fostering its cooperation with Eritrea. We consider that the cooperation programme established in the spirit of the Cotonou Agreement is an essential means in the fight against poverty to the benefit of the Eritrean people.
In this respect, I can confirm that we are now in a position to sign a new development cooperation programme for your country of €122 million for the period 2009-2013, focused on the improvement of food security and transport network in line with your government’s policy priorities.
The strength of our cooperation and the quality of our relationship rest on mutual trust and commitments. In this respect we believe it is our mutual responsibility to make progress in a number of areas.
The issue of access to project sites has now improved for the commission’s own staff. Regular monitoring of projects is a crucial element of our accountability and a condition of our cooperation. This is the reason why similar access arrangements should apply to all our implementing partners. We look forward to positive developments in this respect. Considering the development challenges at hand, Eritrea would benefit considerably from establishing effective relations with all potential implementing partners. The commission is ready to share its experience in creating a satisfactory framework for working with NGOs.
With respect to the important sector of food security, I already informed you of the efforts the commission has undertaken for the timely delivery of additional food security assistance. Access to reliable information and data is essential for improving the effectiveness of food security programmes. At the moment data available are outdated and information is unreliable. We would welcome the possibility to work with you to develop Eritrean statistics and monitoring capacity in this important sector.
On a broader level, and in the context of the current economic crisis, the commission feels that there is scope to take several measures that would give a boost to growth and employment and ultimately make Eritrea a more attractive place for European investors. I understand your reservations to relax economic restrictions, on the basis of experiences of the past, but we stand ready to work together towards solutions. This may for example be in relation to the activities of private construction firms, import regulations and the protection of foreign investment. Measures in these areas could have a critical positive effect on the economy and our development cooperation.
Mr. President, as you are certainly aware, there is a high degree of concern regarding the situation in Eritrea and its role in the region of the Horn. There is also a growing sense of discontent that the policy of engagement and dialogue that the European Commission and the EU has followed up to now is not yielding results. This has prompted a lot of pressure in Europe to scale down relations and cooperation with Eritrea. It is important for you to be aware that the adoption of the new phase of our development cooperation has raised many questions and criticisms and calls for this decision to be reversed. However the Commission and the member states have resisted such criticism in the belief that Eritrea is genuinely interested in improving the situation and its relations with the EU.
This is the reason why I want to stress the importance of your sending out signals now which demonstrate your interest indeed in our partnership. Such signals would be received positively in Europe and would clearly strengthen all those who support a policy of engagement and of constructive relations with Eritrea. You will understand that the credibility of our policy is at stake if there are no signs of opening coming from Eritrea.
Our long-standing request for progress on human rights issues deserves due consideration on your side. It is an important political element of our relationship. The release from prison of journalists and people who are in prison for political reasons and, as a first step, granting lawyers and families’ access to them, would have a positive impact both in and outside Eritrea. In this context considerations should be given to the case of Dawit Isaak. His case wields considerable influence on European public opinion, not least in Sweden which as of 1st July 2009 will hold the presidency of the EU.
With respect to the role of Eritrea in the region, you are well aware Mr. President, of my constant efforts in relations to peace and stability in the Horn.
In this respect, there are strong expectations regarding Eritrea’s role with respect to Somalia. There is now a window of opportunity towards an inclusive solution for Somalia’s problems. I would urge you to be supportive of this political process and use your influence towards that end. This would counter the various calls for sanctions against Eritrea in the context of Somalia.
Eritrea has demonstrated that it can play a constructive role in the region. Europe values such engagement very much and encourages Eritrea to help addressing the predicaments of the Horn. The Commission is making similar calls on the other parties in the region also in relation to ongoing border disputes.
I have also continued to insist with IGAD, and most recently at the EU and IGAD Ministerial Troika meeting, that IGAD should continue to value Eritrea as a member. In the meantime the Commission is ensuring that Eritrea remains a full participant in, and beneficiary of, the regional cooperation programme through the Horn of Africa initiative, until you re-engage politically with IGAD.
Mr. President, the continuation of our cooperation and dialogue is important to the promotion of peace, stability and development in the Horn. If the spirit of engagement and cooperation is to prevail, this requires mutual commitments and acts. The EU has shown it is ready to make such commitments and acts.
It is my sincere hope that we will not be deceived and that Eritrea will answer our call.
I trust that these commitments will yield results that we can both stand by, for the good of the Eritrean nation and its people and for stability in the region. And as I am about to leave my office as European Commissioner, I trust the future will prove us right and not wrong to act out of this belief.