Ladies and gentlemen,
After enjoying the wonderful hospitality of the British Virgin Islands last year, it is indeed an honour to welcome you today here in Brussels for the annual Forum of the Overseas Countries and Territories and the European Union.
What a year this has been.
2015 – designated as European Year for Development – saw the adoption of a new global Agenda for Sustainable Development and of a landmark agreement to combat climate change. It was also a year during which the OCT-EU partnership grew even stronger, with our commitment to shared, operational objectives demonstrated more clearly than ever in the conclusions of this Forum and in initiatives such as the Joint Declaration we will be signing later today.
It has been a pleasure working with the outgoing Chair of the Overseas Countries and Territories Association, Premier Dr Ben Whiteman. I thank you for your dedicated work and excellent cooperation.
I would also like to congratulate the incoming Chair, Premier “Mike” Godfried Eman, on his nomination, and I look forward to establishing equally strong relations over the coming year.
I also welcome the Vice-President of the Development Committee of the European Parliament, Mr. Maurice Ponga, who tirelessly champions OCT interests for many years now, and I know that the topics that will be discussed today are very dear to him. I also extend my welcome to the Secretary-General of the ACP Secretariat, Dr Patrick Gomes.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
2015 was a crucial year of international development. But it was by no means an easy one. It will be remembered also for unprecedented challenges in conflict, disease, and migration, calling for greater mobilisation of the international community on all fronts.
We will all be marked by the large-scale flow of refugees into Europe. I am proud that the European Commission played an integral role in mobilising the political and financing means to deal with the first stages of these movements. But we cannot be complacent. This complex phenomenon will require the continued engagement of the EU and its partners over the coming years.
I am hopeful that we will succeed in addressing this, and other pressing challenges of our time. The landmark agreements of last year show that the international community can indeed unite decisively when this is needed.
The 2030 Agenda for sustainable development and its comprehensive list of Sustainable Development Goals is an achievement of unprecedented scale. Building on the agreement reached on the Addis Ababa Action Agenda in July, it projects a broader and more inclusive approach to development.
The conclusion of the climate change negotiations in Paris, and the adoption of an ambitious and binding agreement to limit global warming has also been a historic success. It is the first purely multilateral agreement on climate change, covering 195 countries and 98.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
The EU has played a crucial role in shaping these two initiatives, which together set the course for international cooperation and development up to 2030.
The true test now is implementation.
We – the EU, its Member States and you, the overseas countries and territories – all have to put in place the policies and tools necessary to achieve the objectives to which we have collectively committed.
Implementation is a top priority for the Commission and for me personally for the months ahead. It should be guided by the spirit of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, which emphasises that the means of implementation include not only financing, but also the enabling policy frameworks, which are often neglected. For the EU, this means making additional efforts to ensure consistency between the internal and external dimensions of our policies. Policy coherence will be an essential element for the success of the 2030 Agenda.
Therefore, I was delighted with the themes proposed for the two roundtables today:
The new global agreement on climate change, focusing on the OCTs’ response efforts, and
Growth and investment opportunities in OCTs.
Both topics are particularly relevant to our continued partnership, and I hope today’s discussions will be frank and fruitful, leading to concrete conclusions for follow-up.
Many of you were present at COP21 – culminating in the global target to limit temperature increases to less than 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels, and aiming at limiting the increase to 1.5°C. Meeting this target is of vital important for the planet as a whole; but for many of the OCTs in particular, it is truly a question of survival.
As I said before, the EU is fully committed to maintain the international momentum in order to ensure the full and timely implementation of the Paris Agreement. We stand ready to support you in your efforts to ensure that the particular needs of OCTs are adequately addressed. And I hope that today’s reflection will help translate our shared vision into practice.
It is particularly opportune that these discussions take place today, in order to feed into our thematic and regional programmes. These programmes have seen substantial increases in financing under the 11th European Development Fund. This is precisely because we recognize the common elements in the climate-related challenges that OCTs face, and the need to search for common solutions.
I know there has been considerable discussion on the precise use of these resources in the build-up to yesterday’s ministerial meeting, and I am confident that these financial allocations will prove a sound investment.
The signature of the Joint Declaration on Sustainable Energy will also send a strong positive signal in this direction.
The theme of the second roundtable of today is just as pertinent, addressing growth and investment in the OCTs. Boosting growth, jobs and investment sits at the heart of this Commission’s vision for sustainable development in Europe and beyond. As part of our Investment Plan, the European Fund for Strategic Investments aims to generate investments of up to EUR 315 billion. It has already triggered an estimated €50 billion of investment by the end of 2015 – and it is open to OCTs.
This is also one of the areas on which I’m determined to put more focus when designing the next steps of EU development cooperation. To achieve such a far-reaching set of Sustainable Development Goals, it is evident that we need to look beyond traditional development assistance. We need to use aid more catalytically and – crucially – unlock the huge potential of private sector engagement.
It seems to me therefore that two interesting areas of focus for this afternoon’s discussion can be highlighted. Firstly, the role of private investment in growth, and how public investments cab best support this.
Our experience and studies have shown that public investment can drive growth and stimulate private investment, only when accompanied by a sound regulatory framework, allowing the private sector to operate effectively. This I believe is an essential dimension to address in your discussions and in your programmes.
Secondly, I believe it is worth exploring more systematically the favourable trade provisions already provided by the Overseas Association Decision. It is important to ensure that your territories benefit fully from this regime, which can be pivotal to their development.
I very much look forward to the outcome of the round-table discussions, which I hope will help improve the effectiveness of our territorial and the regional financial allocations.
Looking ahead, I believe 2016 will be another key year for EU development cooperation and for EU-OCT relations in particular.
As you are aware, we have launched a consultation on the future of the Cotonou Partnership Agreement, which considers the Union’s future relations with the African Caribbean and Pacific group of countries.
I aim at presenting proposals late this year to the Council in order to launch negotiations in 2017 on the framework that will succeed Cotonou.
Since this consultation does not address the source of funding, it is of course only indirectly relevant to the OCTs. But it is worth noting as it is only the first in a series of interlinked consultations to take place during 2016, in a coordinated manner.
We will embark on mid-term evaluations of all our External Finance Instruments under the EU Budget – including the specific Greenland Decision.
To this extensive exercise we will associate the Performance Assessment of the 11th EDF. This is particularly relevant, in light of a possible integration of the EDF resources into the wider EU budget at some stage. In assessing the 11th EDF, we will also be looking into relevant evidence from the 10th EDF – and I am certain that we can demonstrate good results from the funding dedicated to OCTs.
These evaluations will produce initial conclusions in late 2016 – and a public consultation is planned for early 2017. I invite you to make structured contributions to this consultation.
Your views, your experience, your ideas will be essential for designing our proposals on future financing instruments. I would estimate the Commission being able to table these proposals by mid-2018.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The OCT-EU Forum is the highlight of our partnership, setting the scene for the work over the coming year.
Last year’s conclusions pointed to several areas for continued engagement, understandably emphasising the programming of the 11th EDF. I am encouraged by the steady progress that has been made in this direction.
As you will have seen, the Commission recently submitted to the Council its first annual report outlining the progress achieved. Looking at this report, the basis for programming has now been established. Our agreed ambition remains possible – signing all Financing Agreements before the end of this year. But the report equally notes that maintaining impetus throughout 2016 will be crucial for this. To date we have received several EU Response Strategies – my services have assured me that work is progressing on the remainder.
I count on you to keep up the good progress and draw the attention of your administrations to the importance of completing this exercise swiftly.
In turn, you can count on my continued personal engagement and support – as well as that of the Commission services.
The OCT-EU relations are based on mutual respect and a sense of true partnership. I am truly pleased to see this relationship continually reinforcing itself, and I am confident that today’s exchanges will contribute to further strengthening our partnership.
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