My Europe Day speech that was never held

NOTES FROM THE EU DELEGATION - Thomas Wiersing - The Philippine Star

For every Ambassador it is an honour to celebrate his or her country’s National Day in their respective host country. So I was looking forward to hosting Europe Day on 9 May, especially as it would have been my first time as Chargé d’Affaires a.i. but COVID-19 made it impossible.

Many of the guests at these National Day receptions mainly enjoy the good company and the food that is served, often a national dish. But in case you are interested in the speech that I could have held, please take a look:

“Welcome and Mabuhay to Europe Day 2020. Seventy-five years ago, World War II ended. 70 years ago, the French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman delivered a speech about peace and solidarity that inspired the creation of the European Union.

The Republic of the Philippines and the Europe Union have a long-standing history that culminated in the entry into force of our Partnership and Cooperation Agreement in 2018. Looking back at the last twelve months, I recall in particular the first Senior Officials Meeting under that Agreement in Brussels last January. During that meeting, we explored possibilities to enhance cooperation across different sectors including security, economic, sustainable development and the certification for seafarers. Both parties reaffirmed their commitment to the protection of human rights, while recognizing the need for dialogue on the approaches on certain human rights issues.

True to the spirit of Schuman, we are particularly proud of our support to the Mindanao Peace Process that also includes improving the socio-economic conditions of many by increasing access to electricity. Our cooperation in the justice sector allowed the opening, in the presence of several Cabinet Secretaries, of additional Justice Zones as well as the continued support to the Supreme Court and the Human Rights Commission. In 2019, the EU-Philippines bilateral trade in goods reached a historic high with a balance between Phl imports (€8.2 billion) and Phl exports (€8.06 billion). Around €2 billion worth of Filipino products enjoy preferential access to the EU market under the GSP+ trade preference. Many EU companies continue to invest and produce in the Philippines and, as a bloc, they are among the first providers of foreign direct investment in the country.

In line with Schuman’s call for solidarity, we have provided humanitarian assistance after last year’s earthquakes and the Taal volcanic eruption. More recently, the Government helped us in the repatriation of more than 4,000 European tourists stranded due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The tragic situation of the tourists reminded me about the depth of our people-to people ties ranging from tourism to student exchanges. And, in normal times, what could be better than visiting Paris and travelling to Palawan?

Currently, fighting the pandemic is a priority for all of us. The EU has prepared a €20 billion package for response actions worldwide and, in consultation with the government, is prepared to redirect assistance to the COVID-19 response in the Philippines. In early May, the EU also organised a vaccine fundraising conference at which world leaders pledged €7.4 billion, something that hopefully will help us all. But the future is not COVID-19 alone. There are still many other opportunities to benefit from cooperation in areas such as combatting climate change and improving connectivity, be it bilaterally, through ASEAN or the UN.

Finally yet importantly, let me thank the Government, the EU Member States, civil society actors and the more than 40 Filipino and European staff at the EU Delegation who work every day on the promotion of the relations between the Philippines and the EU. Salamat po!”

The pandemic did not stop us from marking Europe Day with a video with the EU Ambassadors and myself each wearing a mask and passing a second mask to convey the messages of solidarity, unity and the need to protect public health. A very special feature of the video is the participation of Foreign Affairs Secretary Locsin Jr. for which I am thankful.  For those who have not watched it yet, please view our video “EU DAY 2020 - We heal as one” on our webpage eeas.europa.eu/philippines.

And yes, at next year’s Europe Day we will serve again European wine and the best of our gastronomy, promised.

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(Thomas Wiersing is Chargé d’Affaires a.i. of the EU Delegation to the Philippines.)

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