Renewed people-to-people connectivity

NOTES FROM THE EU DELEGATION - Luc Véron - The Philippine Star

I want to wish my Filipino readers a happy Bonifacio Day. I hope that everyone will have a restful and meaningful national holiday.

Today, I will focus on the renewed positive momentum in EU-Philippines relations. The European Union and the Philippines have had the opportunity to (re)engage constructively on multiple occasions in the past months. In-person meetings have intensified with European and Philippine officials’ visits to and from our headquarters in Brussels, and more are upcoming.

As diplomats, our job is to connect with people and build trust and mutual understanding: in short, to facilitate cooperation as a groundwork for global collaboration. Being in the field of foreign affairs, creating spaces for genuine and two-way dialogue is my daily upkeep and what makes my life interesting.

In early October, I was here in Manila with Paola Pampaloni, Deputy Managing Director for Asia and the Pacific at the European External Action Service and her colleagues from Brussels at the second meeting of the Philippine-EU Sub-Committee on Good Governance, Rule of Law and Human Rights. This sub-committee was part of the annual bilateral dialogues under the EU-Philippines Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. The occasion allowed for an open, frank and constructive discussion on these crucial topics.

During the latter part of October, I joined a visit in Brussels by prominent Philippine legislators from the House and the Senate: Senators Angara, Marcos, Gatchalian and Mark Villar, Deputy Speaker Recto and House Committee Chairs Rachel Arenas, Marvey Mariño, Marilyn Alonte. EU-Philippines trade, foreign and security relations and the implementation of the Generalized Systems of Preferences (GSP+) were high on the agenda during the meetings of the Philippine delegation with their EU counterparts. The last time such an inter-parliamentary dialogue took place was in 2018.

At the recent ASEAN Summit in Cambodia, the European Council President Charles Michel briefly encountered President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. The former stated that he looks forward to welcoming President Marcos to the ASEAN-EU Commemorative Summit on Dec. 14 in Brussels.

This will be President Marcos Jr.’s first visit to our headquarters following the footsteps of his predecessors like former presidents Fidel Ramos, Noynoy Aquino and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The EU highly anticipates this visit. It is an excellent opportunity to discuss broader foreign policy issues, especially following the ratification of the EU-Philippines Partnership and Cooperation Agreement.

Colleagues from the European Commission have also come to Manila recently. On Nov. 23, Mario Ronconi, Head of Unit for South Asia and South-East Asia in the International Partnerships Directorate General, participated in the EU-Philippines Sub-Committee on Development Cooperation with his counterparts from DOF, DFA and other departments. On Nov. 25, Christophe Kiener, Head of Unit for South Asia, South-East Asia and the Pacific in the Trade Directorate General, led the EU side in an exchange with his DTI counterparts at the EU-Philippines Sub-Committee on Trade, Investment and Economic Cooperation.

During these business-like meetings, my colleagues and their Filipino counterparts discussed concrete ways for the Philippines to further benefit from EU funding and trade and investment opportunities.

EU funding dovetails with the government’s eight-point development agenda. It will specifically support green investments, green jobs and overall socio-economic growth, especially for vulnerable communities. In particular, we are firmly committed to achieving the “Global Gateway” in the Philippines. The Global Gateway is the EU’s offer for an equal partnership based on shared common interests to provide added-value contributions to strategic initiatives and investments.

We also discussed the main elements of the Team Europe Initiative on the Green Economy, which is one of the priorities of President Marcos Jr. This program will represent almost 41 percent of the P8.8-billion cooperation portfolio of the European Union with the Philippines until 2024. This will be a crucial and speedy action to reduce plastic waste, including marine litter, implement effective waste management and support renewable energy.

On the trade side, EU and DTI officials compared notes on global developments and bilateral issues. As a result, trade volumes between the EU and the Philippines are returning to a normal path above pre-pandemic levels. Still there are ample margins to trade and invest more. This is also clearly in line with President Marcos Jr.’s ambition for the country.

A few days ago, I also had the pleasure of speaking at the 2022 European-Philippine Business Dialogue of the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines. I reiterated the importance of fostering our trade relations with the Philippines and the EU’s interest in forging a free trade agreement with the Philippines under certain conditions. Some of these conditions are the same as those allowing the Philippines to benefit now and in the future from the EU trade preferences (“GSP+”). Fulfilling these conditions will pave the way for the EU and the Philippines to further assess the prospect of a resumption of the FTA negotiation.

The EU is proud of the partnership put in place in the past years and during the pandemic and beyond. However, the essence of true connectivity lies in building not just goodwill but relationships. I feel honored to be part of building this connectivity in the Philippines with my team at the EU Delegation.

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

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