Mr. President
Honourable Members of Parliament

I am glad to welcome you to Brussels and ACP house for these series of your meetings. Let me take this opportunity to convey the apologies of the Director-General for his inability to attend these meetings. He was invited by the Director-General of UNIDO for an international conference currently taking place in Accra, Ghana.
He sends his best wishes for the success of your deliberation and assures you that he will be with you during your next Session in Budapest, Hungary.

On behalf of the Secretary-General and indeed on my own behalf, I am pleased and honoured to seize this opportunity to pay tribute to the important role that you play in the ACP-EU Partnership. Your involvement helps to strengthen the democratic legitimacy of ACP and ACP-EU Joint Institutions.

Mr. President,

The past five years have been very difficult for the whole international community, as humanity seems to be reeling from one crisis to another. The world is far from full recovery from the financial and economic crisis. On one hand, the severity and scale of natural disasters, of which the Japanese Tsunami is the latest, remind us all of how fragile the earth’s ecosystem is.

On the other hand, one cannot deny the desire for people to pursue their aspirations and dreams in an environment of freedom, peace, security, democracy and respect for human rights. This is what has prompted the wave of popular uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East. Your role as Parliamentarians is to ensure that such aspirations are addressed in our respective countries.

Mr. President,

These are challenging times for the ACP Group as a whole. As we have informed you before, a number of issues and developments within and outside the EU framework have caused the Group to reflect seriously on its future.

We are nonetheless aware of the tremendous hurdles we need to overcome to place our countries on the path to sustainable development, especially at this time when Negotiations for Economic Partnership Agreements, as well as those on the multilateral front, the Doha Development Agenda, have all but stalled.

The ACP Council of Ministers which will be meeting by the end of May 2011 in this very room will allow our Ministers to review progress on various issues pertaining to the development agenda of our member States. It is also expected that Council will discuss the Preliminary Report of the Committee of Ambassadors on the Future Perspectives of the ACP Group.

Ultimately, we have to ask ourselves what impact EPAs, EU initiatives and the perceived downgrading of the preferential status of the Group by the EU will have on the ACP Group as an entity, its organizational structure, role and purpose, and invariably its future. As ever before, the foundations of our existence – ACP unity and solidarity – are being challenged.

Mr. President,

I would also like to take advantage of your meeting to underscore how important it is for our Group that the revised Cotonou Agreement be ratified within the 18 month deadline set by the ACP-EU Council of Ministers on 22 June 2010. This will give us moral courage to insist on other equally important issues in the framework of ACP-EU relations such as the future of the multi-annual framework after the end of the current 10th EDF.

I do not wish to take up too much of your time; therefore I would like to conclude by wishing you successful deliberations in your meetings.

Thank you.