One-on-One with French Ambassador

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By Catherine Sasman

SINCE the beginning of the year the French Embassy has taken over the European Union (EU) presidency on behalf of Slovenia. Why was this and what are the priorities for the Slovenian presidency?

Slovenia took on the rotating six-month presidency of the European Council on January 1. This is the first presidency of one of the 10 member states that joined the union in 2004.

With two million inhabitants, independence since 1991, Slovenia’s diplomatic network is modest in size. According to EU rules, it falls on France, which will take over from Slovenia as President of the EU during the second term of 2008 to locally represent Slovenia in countries where it does not have, unlike France, a diplomatic mission – in the case of Namibia, like most African countries. One-hundred-and-ten French embassies around the world are thus locally representing the Slovenian presidency.

Slovenia will, in priority, have the responsibility to concentrate on successful completion of ratification procedures of the Lisbon Treaty, signed on December 13 last year and which the 27 member states want to enter into force at the beginning of 2009 before the next elections to the European parliament. The success on this process is the key priority of the Slovenian presidency.

The other priorities are the strengthening of the European perspective of the Western Balkans and the achievement of a consensus on the issue of Kosovo; energy and climate change issues; the Lisbon strategy for growth and jobs; and intercultural dialogue, especially with countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea.

More specifically, with regard to the African continent, the priority of the Slovenian Ppresidency will be to start implementing the joint strategy and the action plan adopted at the EU/Africa Summit of Lisbon that took place on December 8 and 9 last year. Slovenia will furthermore continue to work toward the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals [MDGs].

During the last African Union/European Union Summit in Lisbon, a joint EU/AU strategy and action plan for the period 2008 to 2010 have been adopted. What are the objectives of this ‘new partnership’ that Africa and Europe wish to build upon?

Since the first EU/Africa Summit held in Cairo in 2000, tremendous changes have taken place on the two continents: the creation of the African Union, and of its socio-economic programme NEPAD; doubling of membership and deepening of the EU’s integration process. New challenges have appeared, globalisation has taken momentum; the world has become more and more interdependent.

To cope with these changes, Africa and Europe have decided to come together in their efforts to take up the great challenges of our times, such as energy, climate change, migration …

The joint strategy adopted in Lisbon aims at building a new and strengthened political partnership, grounded in common values, interests and strategic goals. This partnership of equals, overcoming the traditional donor-recipient relationship, will be developed in order to achieve the fundamental commitments to the attainment of the MDGs, the establishment of a robust peace and security architecture, the strengthening of investment, of growth and prosperity, the promotion of good governance and of human rights.

The strategy is a long-term general framework to guide Africa/EU relationships. It will be implemented through successive short-term actions plans, and through a strengthened political dialogue, at all levels.

The Action Plan 2008 to 2010 for the implementation of this joint strategy features a number of priority actions, all of which will impact positively on the everyday lives of European and African citizens. These actions will be implemented within the framework of specific partnerships, led on a global, continental and regional scale, and displaying an obvious comparative advantage in comparison with cooperation at the national level. These partnerships will be opened to all kinds of actors, including members of the civil society.

The priority actions as defined in this Action Plan are related to peace and security, democratic governance and human rights, trade, regional integration and infrastructure, Millennium Development Goals, energy, climate change, migrations, mobility and employment, science, information society and Space.

On December 13 last year, Heads of State and Government of the 27 member states of the EU signed the Lisbon Treaty. What is the added value to this treaty and what consequences are there for the EU institutions?

In the aftermath of the enlargement of the EU to 10 members in 2004, we had to find a solution in order to make the institutions more efficient and more democratic.

With the Lisbon Treaty, the member states get all, for instance, a proportional weight within the European Council – the political forum gathering all Heads of State and Government. To avoid too many rotations of the president of the council, currently every six months the president will be designated by member states for two-and-a-half years.

This new treaty prescribes the election of the president of the commission by the European parliament, strengthening the importance of the European elections, and so on.

But this treaty is not an end in itself. It is a permanent tool for the EU for launching the policies of that European citizens are expecting. With this treaty member states will decide with a qualified majority in the different fields of action like the fight against climate change, energy, research, combating against organised crime, and so on.

It means that unanimity will not be compulsory any more. Moreover, this new treaty renews the Common foreign and security policy of the EU. A “high representative for foreign and security affairs” will speak on behalf of the EU internationally once member states have adopted common positions.

What kinds of issues are discussed within the framework of the political dialogue between the Europeans and Namibians?

The European policy for development dates back from the beginning of the European integration process, which was the end of the 1950s. Initially focussed on French speaking African countries, this partnership for development was enlarged to all Africa and to a few countries in the Caribbean and Pacific islands.

Today, the EU – member states and the commission all together – are by far the main donors to developing countries, with half of the Global Official Development Assistance.

The grant of this assistance must be done together with political dialogue of the EU with all countries’ beneficiaries.

The objectives of this dialogue is to facilitate mutual understanding regarding various issues such as human rights, regional crises, good governance, and so on.

But this dialogue must evolve. It cannot be limited, in our view, to issues concerning the African continent. We consider, for instance, to enlarge this dialogue on global issues that we consider as crucial such as climate change, terrorism, international crime, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the illicit trafficking of small arms and light weapons, to name some examples.

This is the first year for the implementation of the new European Development Fund, the tenth EDF. What type of assistance does Europe provide to Namibia? What are the future prospects for the year to come?

Europe has always been on the side of Namibia and will remain as such.

The European Union, through the commission and its member states, has been by far the biggest external contributor to Namibia’s development since independence.

Indeed, from 1990 to 2004 over 70 percent of the total assistance provided to Namibia came from the European taxpayer! I am sure that I speak on behalf of all the ambassadors of the member states of the European Union when I say that Europeans are proud of this effort. The results of this contribution can be seen everywhere in the country from the quality of the roads financed by Germany, the Franco-Namibian Cultural Centre supported by France, or the modernisation of the international airport of Walvis Bay by Spain, to take only three examples.

As you correctly mentioned, Namibia will from 2008 to 2013 benefit from the tenth European Development Fund with a total contribution of 104 million euro (or N$1??????’??

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