Your Excellencies, Honourable Members, Dear Friends and Colleagues,
After a couple of years, I am very happy to attend the Joint Parliamentary Assembly back here to Brussels. In my brief opening remarks I would like to focus on the important progress we have made on a few key files since we were last together in Port-au-Prince in December ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly.
First and foremost, as we all know, 2018 is a defining year as we get ready to discuss together the shape and direction of the partnership between the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries and the European Union beyond 2020.
Uniting over a hundred countries and around one and a half billion people, our longstanding partnership is unique one not only in terms of its cultural richness and diversity, but also in terms of its geographical scope and potential.
I am looking forward to opening the negotiations on the future partnership in the coming weeks.
From the outset I have always been very clear that this should be a genuine, open and constructive dialogue, and not just going through the motions.
I hope that we can all agree, without any hesitation, to set our sights high:
– to strengthen and reinforce our relationship even further in the years to come;
– to build an ambitious political partnership which is fit for purpose and fit for the future;
– to ensure that we respond to our common challenges and opportunities;
– and above all to work together to fulfil the legitimate hopes and aspirations of all of our citizens, in all of our countries.
Needless to say, all of this can best be achieved by continuing to regard each other as reliable, equal and supportive partners – and to fulfil the true potential of our existing partnership to be a strong forward-looking alliance capable of multiplying our voice and weight on today's global stage.
Our common challenges and potential can only be successfully met if we stand united – the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries and the European Union, shoulder-to-shoulder.
This is the political thinking which underpins our negotiating position. And I am pleased to see that this is also enshrined in the mandate adopted in Togo by the ACP Council of Ministers.
It is our aim to conclude a modern and more political agreement, focused on both common and intersecting interests, in a spirit of true equality and solidarity between partners.
We want to see a fully-fledged agreement which would effectively reflect and respond to today's and future realities – both within in our respective countries, regionally and globally – capturing the trends and specificities of each of the ACP regions.
The future agreement should be flexible enough to adapt and react to changing circumstances, whilst remaining firm and legally sound enough to protect and uphold the core values and principles enshrined in our longstanding relationship.
So let me thank you again for your constructive engagement in these informal preparations, and I look forward to the constructive and successful conclusion of the formal negotiations ahead.
Secondly, just a few days ago, we put forward specific legislative proposals for the new external instruments under the future long-term European budget.
Development cooperation and external action are clearly one of the future priorities – particularly given the clear added value of tackling global challenges – such as human rights, sustainable development, climate change, security and migration among others – together at the global and European level.
We're proposing a 26 percent increase to spending in this area – to 123 billion euros for external expenditure – which is significantly beyond the current level.
More specifically, we're suggesting to streamline the existing geographic and thematic financing instruments into one broad Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument.
As well as simplifying the regulatory framework, and reducing the burden for all stakeholders, particularly our partner countries and implementing partners – the global scope of this new instrument is indeed necessary and consistent to implement the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda universally.
Consistent with this logic of streamlining and enhancing the efficiency of our actions, we are also proposing integrating the European Development Fund into the European Union's budget.
We have made it a clear pre-requisite that this should not lead to a level of funding lower than the combined existing budgets for external action and the European Development Fund.
You have my reassurance to maintain our current level of commitment to our global cooperation and in particular to our cooperation with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries.
The main focus will be geographic, broken down into areas, including one for Sub-Saharan Africa, one for Asia and the Pacific, and one for the Americas and the Caribbean.
Complementary to this geographic pillar, there will be a thematic pillar to cover democracy and human rights, civil society, and peace and security, among other global issues. A rapid response pillar will allow us to react to crises, strengthen resilience, and link humanitarian and development actions.
Alongside the budget, we should also import the existing flexibilities under the European Development Fund – in the form of an emerging challenges and priorities cushion of around eleven percent of the total allocation – to respond to emerging needs.
The new single instrument will serve as an enabling tool for our external policies and partnerships, including our partnership with the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific countries in particular.
While this new architecture will keep us from working in silos, financial predictability will be preserved through the geographical programming of funds.
For example, trans-regional programmes will still be possible, between countries from different geographic areas. But we will remove the current artificial boundaries established by the different European external financing instruments used in the same regions.
Finally, I would just like to end by saying a few words about our cooperation with middle-income countries. European development cooperation will continue to target the greatest need and the highest impact, in particular the least developed, fragile and conflict-affected countries.
At the same time, middle-income countries are essential to our aim of leaving no behind by combatting poverty and inequalities – and for the successful implementation of the 2030 Agenda and European Consensus on development therefore.
We want to engage proactively with countries transitioning to higher income levels and strengthen all forms of cooperation with them – through our cooperation, policy dialogue and partnerships.
Reflecting the diversity of national circumstances, this could include greater use of innovative financial instruments to leverage greater private investment, trade, policy coordination, technical cooperation, and the exchange of knowledge and expertise.
As always, I very much look forward to hearing your views on all of these important issues – and to an exciting and important year for the future partnership between the European Union and African, Caribbean and Pacific countries.
Thank you very much and I am happy to receive your comments.