Statement by the Co-President of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly, Hon. Fitz Jackson, 15 June 2015, Suva, Fiji
Hon. Prime minister of Fiji, the right hon. Commodore Frank Bainimarama
Co-president Louis Michel Hon. Speaker of the parliament of Fiji, Hon. Jiko Luveni
Hon. Ministers of the Government of Fiji
Members of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly,
Co-Secretaries-General of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly
Distinguished Invited Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen, friends all
I am pleased to welcome you to the 29th Session of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly. I would like to take this opportunity to thank our hosts, the Government and people of Fiji, for having offered to host these meetings at short notice. As you know very well, these series of our meetings should have been held in Vanuatu.
Unfortunately, due to the tragic consequences of cyclone Pam, the country found itself unable to host the meetings.
We are therefore grateful that the decision of Fiji has ensured that we are still able to meet in the Pacific, since the last time that we met in this region was in 2008 in Papua New Guinea.
It takes some time and effort to get to this part of the world. However, as I told my colleagues in the ACP Assembly, I am convinced that it was worth coming to this country here to see not only the beauty of the country, but the resilience, determination and friendliness of its people, and the richness of its culture. All these are worth preserving, and it should be humbling to realize that decisions taken as far away as Brussels, Geneva or New York can have a bearing on the development of countries this far away from the centers of power.
For instance, the decisions that the international community will take at the High-Level Summit on the Post-2015 development agenda, at the COP 21 Conference in Paris, or at the 10th WTO Ministerial Conference in Nairobi, will reverberate, literally and otherwise, in the oceans and lands of the Pacific, as it will do in the Caribbean and Africa.
Our presence here should help us to appreciate the importance of supporting the development efforts of this and other countries in the region and the need to preserve their livelihoods and cultures. We hope that all of us will speak up for all the Pacific Islands and the threats that they face from the effects of climate change such as rising sea levels and coastal erosion.
For this reason, the Assembly deliberately chose to discuss some topics that are of general relevance to all ACP states but of particular interest to this region, such as biodiversity, renewable energy, fisheries, maritime security and piracy, and seabed minerals.
These issues are not merely trade or economic imperatives; they are about the livelihoods and sustainable development and future prospects of small island developing states, SIDS as we now call them. As an example, just ask yourselves what the fate of this beautiful country and people would be without the EU market for its sugar? On the other hand, the impact of human activity in the oceans, whether it is nuclear testing or overfishing, will impact on the livelihoods of the people of the Pacific.
Yesterday, I was part of the group that visited a fish processing plant, which is just one example of the capacity of our countries to supply products of the highest quality to world markets, and in the process, generating employment and revenue for the country. That is more sustainable than aid. But such industries can only survive and prosper if the rules and regulations governing world trade are favourable. Speaking directly to our EU colleagues – I would appeal to you to look closely at the regulations and legislative proposals that come before you, and ensure that they are in harmony with the long-term development objectives of developing countries, especially SIDS.
The JPA is uniquely placed to be the advocate of development for the peoples of the South and the North. Together, we can build on the positive attributes of our shared history to contribute to the attainment of global objectives of sustainable development for the mutual benefit of the people that we represent in our respective regions and countries of the ACP and Europe. Ours is a platform that we can use to engage the world on the fact that development is not a zero sum game; it can and MUST be a win-win cause.
Hon. Prime Minister,
Our meetings come in the wake of some tragic events in some ACP States. I am once again reminded of the terrorist attacks at Garissa University in Kenya perpetrated by Al-Shabab militants. 147 students lost their lives in that heinous attack. Al-Shabab has continued its incursions into Kenya, attacking civilians with increasing ferocity with the aim of dissuading the Kenyan Government from its continued participation in the African Union Peace Mission in Somalia.
Meanwhile, Boko Haram has also continued its senseless mission of killing and maiming civilians, and sexual assaults against women and children in Northern Nigeria. We condemn in the strongest possible terms all kinds of attacks perpetrated by terrorists, and we applaud the Governments of Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Cameroon, Mali and Kenya in their fight against terrorism.
Aside from the military approach, there is general agreement that we need to tackle the fundamental question that is leading to the radicalisation of our young people. The need for creating other economic opportunities is one of the often mentioned proposals. I believe that one of the reports for adoption at this session, on the theme of Investing in education and vocational training in ACP countries should be a priority for empowering youth for future gainful employment.
Hon. Prime Minister
While young people are vulnerable to religious radicalisation, others, desperate to leave or flee their countries, are dying in inexpressible agony and anguish in the cold waters of the Mediterranean in search of hope. We know it is a misguided hope, but often-times hope is the last remaining possession of any worth.
Some migrants are fleeing political and economic hardships in their own countries, while others simply want to pursue other opportunities for personal advancement. That is nothing new. That has been the pattern of human existence for millennia. The Americas were founded by people looking for economic opportunities or escaping religious and political persecution in Europe. However, today’s migrants face formidable physical, political and institutional barriers. Did the migration then, I ask, impair or facilitate the development of both the Americas and Europe subsequently?
I wish to applaud the recent decisions of EU Heads of Government aimed at a more humanitarian approach to the migration crisis. However, a long term solution, aside from addressing the difficult and sometimes intractable political and economic situations in countries of origin, is to develop more avenues for regular and orderly migration.
In terms of the ACP-EU partnership, I believe that the aims and objectives of the EU’s Policy Coherence for Development provide a good basis for programmes of growth and creation of employment, and thereby, hope for our youth.
Hon. Prime Minister, ladies and gentlemen,
A good number of ACP countries have registered significant strides in social and economic development. Democracy is gradually taking root in most of our nations. Some countries are on track to attain the Millennium Development Goals especially in education and health.
Demands and respect for good governance are increasingly the norm rather than the exception. Just take as an example the recent elections in Nigeria. In the face of genuine forebodings of a possible return to the era of elections related violence, the country managed the transition from one Government to another peacefully.
That was a victory for all Nigerians, and congratulations are rightly due to them, as well as to the whole of Africa and the entire ACP. I cannot even begin to imagine the ramifications of a prolonged or disputed contest in a country and region already confronted with the ugly spectre of terrorism.
And, to a great extent, the success of that transition was due to the thoughtfulness of President Goodluck Jonathan to quickly and gracefully concede defeat in time and in the process, he averted a crisis and needless loss of life.
While I congratulate President Buhari on his victory, I believe that there is laid up for President Jonathan the respect and gratitude of his fellow country men and women and indeed the whole continent and beyond. This has demonstrated that even in defeat we can make valuable contribution to the continued development of our countries. Other leaders would do well and enormous good if they could but follow such a venerable example.
Hon. Prime Minister,
There were other successful and peaceful elections in other ACP States, in Benin, Guyana, Togo and Ethiopia, to mention but a few. In other countries that still face difficult institutional choices such as the Central African Republic, on which we shall adopt a Resolution at the conclusion of our session, their leaders can look with optimism at their own processes towards taking lessons from how other countries have resolved their challenges.
Speaking of the Central African Republic, I believe that this otherwise beautiful country that has been blighted by civil war, a country with enormous development potential, needs a solution that guarantees lasting peace, not a patchwork agreement that could fray in the smallest of crises.
Burkina Faso, another country in transition, is a different proposition. Its people, in the manner they forced former President Compaore out of power, have already indicated what sort of government they would like to have. I urge the interim leadership there not to squander the people’s goodwill.
Hon. Prime Minister
While political leaders sometimes dither and procrastinate over political compromises, I am impressed by the dynamism and political awareness of ordinary citizens in many ACP States.
Our people especially our youths are increasingly demonstrating levels of courage that we have not seen for a long time. They are not afraid to challenge Government decisions when they feel short changed. Sometimes they go overboard and beyond what is legally acceptable. Their methods maybe questionable but I believe that for the most part, their hearts are in the right place. Indeed, many of us who are now matured leaders were guilty of such youthful exuberances! Sometimes Governments react with excessive force to manifestations of discontent.
Governments of course have monopoly of arms and the power of the Sate, which means that might is always on their side. However, the use of arms and power, if not exercised morally and ethically amounts to criminality. Governments therefore owe a duty of care to their citizens in the use of force.
It is with this in mind that I appeal to the authorities in Burundi to tread with prudence in their reaction to the violent protests against the candidature of President Pierre Nkurunziza. If not well handled, the situation could lead to a large-scale conflagration reminiscent of the ethnic conflicts of the past. This is a matter that the ACP Parliamentary Assembly will pronounce itself upon at our meetings here in Fiji.
Hon. Prime Minister, fellow Members, friends all
In an increasingly interdependent world, the prosperity of Europe will impact positively on the prospects of our ACP countries. With its unified market, the EU today is the largest economic space in the world. With a population of over 500 million citizens, it is also the world’s largest international trading bloc. Together with the ACP States, the collective size of this cooperation framework is about 1.2 billion people.
I feel that the collective natural, human, and technological resources of the ACP-EU partnership have great potential to kick-start recovery of ALL our economies. It is our ardent hope that Europe will see the merit of investing in the ACP also as a means of its own economic regeneration. These are some of the issues that should be explored in the light of our report on the theme ‘The financing of investment and trade, including infrastructure, in ACP countries by the EU mechanism of blending’
Hon. Prime Minister,
The size and diversity of our constituent member states sometimes poses challenges of cooperation. I do not think that we should necessarily agree all the time; sometimes, we will face difficult choices over which we shall not find common ground. That is, after all, the essence of democracy. It accounts for the various shades of political, social, intellectual, religious and legal opinion even within the same communities.
The world may be globalising but it is not yet a homogenous place, and I am not sure that homogeneity is a good thing all the time. We must, therefore, all give each other space for evolution in our thinking and approaches so that eventually we converge on some mutually agreed fundamental principles.
In this regard, the report of the Commitee on Political Affairs on cultural diversity and respect for human rights could be taken as an exercise of probing and searching for common ground, and appreciating at the same time, our differences. That is an on-going process and will not end here.
As we move into the second and last decade of the Cotonou partnership which ends in 2020, we are still grappling with EPAs, which were one of the major innovations of the Cotonou Agreement. While the Caribbean region has finalised an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the EU, it is to be noted that the negotiations with the rest of our sub-regions in Africa and the Pacific have proven more protracted than any of us would have wished.
We are all aware of the new deadline that the Commission has set for the conclusion of these negotiations. I therefore hope that this JPA will be a catalyst to finding a way out of the current impasse. It is our expectation that the European Commission will demonstrate flexibility in the negotiations to ensure that EPAs are development-friendly and that they enhance regional integration.
I hope that the JPA will help in galvanising the momentum for constructive engagement between the EU and the ACP to ensure that the quality and quantity of resources for implementation aspects of EPAs meet the development needs of our member countries.
I am very optimistic about the future direction of ACP-EU relations. That future is promising; it is promising because of the enduring spirit of our peoples in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific and Europe; because of our immense potential; and because of the spirit of partnership that informs our highest aspirations.
Hon. Prime Minister, fellow Members, distinguished invited guests,
As I end, I would like to borrow some lyrics from a popular song from the 70’s that best encapsulates the ultimate aim of our work in this Assembly. Music has been the unsupressable medium of expressing deeply felt sentiments and convictions. For most of us in the developing nations of the South, music has been the medium of expressing our desire for freedom and advancement in all forms.
The words of Black Uhuru, a formidable reggae group of the 1970’s from Jamaica captured such sentiments in their song “Solidarity”. I am not going to sing it, because I cannot sing:
Everybody wants the same thing, don't they?
Everybody wants a happy end
They wanna see the game on Saturday
They wanna be somebody's friend
Everybody wanna work for a living
They wanna keep their children warm
Everybody just wants to be forgiven
They want a shelter from the storm
What we need, what we need
I thank you for your kind attention.