Message for Europe Day 9 May 2021, by Ambassador Malgorzata Wasilewska European Union Ambassador to Barbados, the Eastern Caribbean States, the OECS, and CARICOM/CARIFORUM
Forty-five years ago, this year, the European Union opened an office here in Barbados, catering also to the countries of the Eastern Caribbean – Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. The cooperation, which we have developed in the decades since then, has been one of mutual benefit, with the EU and the countries of the region working hand-in-hand along the path of development, and supporting each other in multilateral fora.
Europe Day, which is celebrated annually on 9 May, marks the beginning of a unique peace project gathering 27 countries. On this special day, we take a moment to think about what Europe means to us, what we want it to be, where we want it to go. It is an opportunity for us to take stock and examine our achievements and challenges as we continue to grow as a Union of just over 450 million people.
This year’s Europe Day comes at a time when we have experienced the fragility and fury of being part of the global community. Our world continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic that continues to reshape what we know to be normal. Here in the Caribbean, as elsewhere in the world, COVID-19 has not only affected us health-wise but it has severely impacted the economies and societies, as most of the countries in the region rely heavily on tourism and related services. In many ways, the Caribbean’s response and sense of resilience have provided lessons that the region can impart to some developed countries in managing the pandemic.
As part of our global response to COVID-19, the EU has provided the Caribbean Public Health Agency with vital assistance to support the provision of protective personal equipment along with testing of COVID-19 samples for those countries that do not have the capacity to do so. In addition, the EU has made a significant contribution to the COVAX facility that enabled all regional countries to benefit from the global distribution of vaccines. Looking beyond our current COVID reality, we are considering ways in which the EU can assist Barbados and the OECS partners to strengthen social protection while building economic resilience once they have overcome the worse of the pandemic.
As you are aware, before we could put COVID-19 in the rear-view mirror, in early April we witnessed the eruption of the La Soufriere Volcano in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. The eruptions resulted in the immediate disruption of so many lives and in particular those people in areas such as Sandy Bank, Red Banks and others in the red zone of the country. From early the EU made available its Copernicus satellite which provided images to assist in monitoring the activity of the volcano. Following the 9 April eruption, the EU also mobilised emergency response to help bring immediate relief to those who were evacuated and placed in shelters. Subsequently we have been working with the government of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to assist with the clean up of ash and making life in the shelters more habitable.
It is interventions such as these, which continue to make me proud to be part of the European Union. We are happy to be there to make a difference in the lives of people when it matters the most.
Our cooperation is not only about crises. On 15 April this year, the European Union and the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States initialled a new Agreement that will succeed the previous Cotonou Agreement, which was the legal framework governing our relations for the past 20 years. The world has greatly changed in the last 20 years and so has the EU and its partners. This meant redefining our objectives, while setting new ambitions to respond to the emerging needs and challenges. The new ACP-EU Agreement will serve as a framework of dialogue and cooperation at all levels for the next 20 years. An Agreement between more than 100 countries and over 1.5 billion people, geared towards achieving greater ambitions at local, regional and international level. It is aimed at strengthening the existing political partnership, further contributing to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and poverty alleviation, facilitating economic transformation and private sector development, and assisting the region in its fight against climate change.
At the end of 2020, the United Kingdom ceased to be a Member State of the European Union. I am well aware of the relationship between the United Kingdom and the Caribbean. It is in this context I want to reassure you that the 27 Member States of the European Union are committed to strengthening their relations with the Caribbean partners. The European Union is here to stay and will continue to be the region’s devoted development partner. For apart from our partnership with each of the national governments we cover, the EU also has a great working relationship with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), and the various regional agencies, that work tirelessly to identify and implement regional solutions to shared regional challenges. We look forward to strengthening this regional relationship in the future, as nations and international organisations have already started to rebuild the multi-lateral system, which in recent times has come under pressure. Indeed, it is through multilateralism that Small Island Developing States, such as those in the Caribbean can have a tangible voice on the world state.
The European Union will always be a friend of the Caribbean. We will continue to work together with our partner countries and regional organizations both in the good and in challenging times. We will continue to learn from each other and to support each other, as we are bound by shared goals and common values. After 45 years in the region, we understand each other better, and our determination to confront our common challenges will continue to unite us.
In this spirit, I would like to thank you for joining us on this special day and to wish you all a Happy Europe Day!