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EU-Philippines: Nurturing the ties that bind

NOTES FROM THE EU DELEGATION - Luc Véron (The Philippine Star) - February 23, 2021 - 12:00am

When I first visited the Philippines for an official mission in March 2016, I knew that I would love to come back to live here and to learn more about the country and its people. Since my childhood, I have always loved the sea what better place to go to than a tropical country composed of more than 7,600 islands? Five years later, I can happily say masaya akong andirito sa Pilipinas bilang embahador ng European Union.

When I started my career as a young EU official, our own continent was still divided and EU-Philippines relations were in infancy. The European Union did not have a resident ambassador in Manila. We are now looking forward to celebrating 60 years of EU-Philippines diplomatic relations and, more importantly, of friendship between 109 million Filipinos and 450 million EU citizens.

Indeed, our relationship has gone a long way. The very first Ambassador of the Philippines in Brussels, His Excellency Vicente Singian, presented his letters of credence to the President of the European Commission on Nov. 12, 1964. My ambition is to push our relationship further and forward.

As the EU Ambassador, I intend to take the opportunity to build and maintain our bilateral relations. I look forward to engaging in meaningful dialogue with many Filipinos from all walks of life. I love stories. Diplomacy is, after all, about listening to people’s stories and histories, practising empathy and getting immersed in the human tapestry of different cultures and backgrounds. This is, in fact, the first step towards reaching out and eventually strengthening people-to-people connections.

Our common interests and values are a strong foundation for a partnership based on respect and mutual benefit, including the pursuit of the effective implementation of the EU-Philippines Partnership and Cooperation Agreement in all its aspects. These are the bases to strengthening multilateralism and cooperation on regional and global issues.

The trade policy of the European Union makes sure that Europe’s trade adapts to a fast-changing world. Considering that the EU has a strategic interest in a stable, prosperous and secure Philippines, I put premium in furthering bilateral trade and investment, promoting maritime security and maintaining open and safe shipping routes.

The EU and the Philippines have already laid down good foundations for a strong economic and trade partnership characterized by a balanced trade flow, exceeding P715 billion worth of trade goods in 2020, a very difficult year for the world economy and trade. The EU with its business community is also the first foreign investor in the Philippines. However, both of us must not be complacent, we have to push further to sustain the economic gains and recover the losses that the COVID pandemic has produced in the economy and the society.

ASEAN is a strategic partner of the EU and our team here in Manila is looking forward to engaging closely with the Philippines, especially during its role as ASEAN coordinator for Dialogue Relations with the EU starting this August 2021. The promotion and protection of human rights, alongside the GSP+ implementation, form part of our genes and are always essential in strengthening our partnership and cooperation with the Philippines.

Climate change adaptation, humanitarian aid, civil protection and disaster preparedness will also be part of the EU’s action in the country. The EU’s support to the Philippines will continue along the areas of governance, job creation, a green resilient economy and assistance to vulnerable population.

Above all, the EU is looking forward to having a productive political relationship with the Philippines including, at this juncture, in efforts to overcome the COVID-19 crisis.

The EU and its Member-States are fully engaged in guaranteeing affordable and fair access to vaccines for all. Our Team Europe donated some P29 billion to the international COVAX facility. Twenty percent of the country’s population or 22 million will benefit from these vaccines.

We stand ready to contribute to the international response to the pandemic, including by guaranteeing affordable and fair access to vaccines for all.

As peace is part of the EU’s DNA, we shall continue our unwavering support to the peace process in Mindanao, which has become a cornerstone in our cooperation with the government.

The EU remains one of the biggest foreign development partners in support to Mindanao, including support to the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Among our flagship programs include the Mindanao Peace and Development Program-RISE Mindanao (MINPAD-RISE Mindanao), with a grant of 35.5 million euros and the Support to Bangsamoro Transition, SUBATRA and Peace and Development in the BARMM, with grants of 25 million euros and 24.5 million euros, respectively. Along with my team, I will ensure that these initiatives will improve the social cohesion and resilience of the communities in the Bangsamoro region.

I am the neophyte – the “bagong-salta” – in the Philippines and I will certainly do my best to nurture the “ties that bind” us: the kinship. Together, we reaffirm the shared values that we have for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, respect for human rights and peace building.

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Luc Véron is the new European Union Ambassador to the Philippines.

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