Van Huffelen: EU heeft plicht bij te dragen aan goede toekomst LGO’s

Brussel – Staatssecretaris van Koninkrijksrelaties Van Huffelen vindt dat Europa de verplichting en verantwoordelijkheid heeft bij te dragen aan duurzame ontwikkeling van de overzeese gebiedsdelen en daarmee aan een goede toekomst voor hun inwoners. Dat stelde ze in haar toespraak bij het LGO Forum in Brussel.

De bewindsvrouw noemde de relatie tussen EU en de LGO’s van grote strategische waarde voor de EU op het internationale wereldtoneel, zeker in tijden waarin de wereldorde verandert. “Ze zijn essentieel voor de invloed van de Europese Unie in de wereld en het uitdragen van de Europese waarden. Daarom pleit ik voor het beter benutten van het strategisch partnerschap tussen EU en LGO, omdat het win-win betekent voor beide kanten.”

“Laten we dit om te beginnen doen door het de LGO’s gemakkelijker te maken zodat ze daadwerkelijk optimaal Europese fondsen kunnen benutten, door procedures en regels toegankelijker te maken, door toegang te bieden tot fondsen voor horizontale prioriteiten zoals klimaat, biodiversiteit en duurzame ontwikkeling, door de LGO’s op te nemen in de samenwerking tussen EU en Latijns-Amerika en Caribische landen (EU-CELAC) en LGO’s actief betrekken bij handelsovereenkomsten en projecten. En laten we vooral ook de goede dingen blijven doen, zoals het geven van opleiding en technische bijstand aan LGO’s”, aldus Van Huffelen.

De Caribische delen van het Koninkrijk waren goed vertegenwoordigd bij het jaarlijkse LGO Forum. Bonaire en Aruba keren niet met lege handen terug: Aruba krijgt voor de ontwikkeling van E-government 14 miljoen euro. Voor Bonaire lag er 4,6 miljoen klaar ten behoeve van waste watermanagement. In het verleden hebben ook de andere eilanden bijdragen ontvangen. Daarnaast heeft de EU 21 miljoen voor de Caribische regio ter beschikking plus nog eens 1,15 miljoen per LGO voor intraregionale samenwerking.

Toespraak Van Huffelen

Ladies and gentlemen, esteemed representatives of the overseas countries and territories and members of governments from Denmark and France.I would like to thank commissioner Jutta Urpilainen for hosting this Forum and for the opportunity to speak a few words.

I’m very happy we are all united here today as members of the European family. Because together we form a strategic alliance, from which we can all benefit. Especially in these times when the world order is changing and with all that is at stake on a geopolitical level, we  should cherish our partnerships. Your presence here is a testimony of our strategic alliance and connectivity. An alliance from which both the inhabitants of the OCT’s and Europe can and must mutualy profit.

It’s a responsibility we have towards each other, considering the fact that the challenges the OCT’s meet are truly monumental. I would like to share with you what I think are crucial steps to be taken on a short term and what issues we should tackle.

The island nations from the OCT’s are particulary vulnerable to rising sea levels. We can not afford to waste time and should help them face the climate crisis  by contributing to the energy transition and climate adaptation. Of course, we can be proud of the progress made during the COP 28 in Dubai, and proud of the active role played by both the OCTs and the EU during the Conference. The challenge of connectivity. And by that I mean: connectivity in mobility, of people and goods, through water and through the sky. But also connectivity in the digital sense.

For example by making superfast internet avalailable tot the islands via state of the art technology This provides not only safer internet in times when cyber secirity poses a real threat to us, but makes providing digital services as a way to diversify the small island economies. I think especially in this area we should explore how the OCT’s can join forces regionaly to make this happen (cable). For connecting island by air, I think we should be exploring interesting new techniques like electric flying. This can help solve the issues of connectivity whilst posing less stress on the environment. My advise would be: let’s connect and make things happen.

It is vital that we recognize and seize the opportunities before us. The opportunity to reap the benefits of the Decision on the Overseas Association. The funds under this decision should  be put to good use. DOAG aims to close the gap between the OCTs and Europe. This stimulates the much needed economic development on the islands. As it pertains to the Netherlands, significant steps have already been taken to do so.

All MIPs (Multiannual Indicative Programs) have been established, most Financing Agreements signed, and some programs are already in progress. Aruba is mentioned for e-government. Bonaire and Curacao for waste-water management Saba and Sint Maarten for renewable energy. Statia for sustainable agriculture. And of course, all OCTs together for the Youth Network, present here this week, which focuses on culture.

Additionally, regionally, in the Caribbean the program for food and nutrition security and biodiversity is in development. This is important, because food security has been a great challenge for an island nation that relies heavily on imports. The corona crisis has made  this dependency painfully clear. It’s a process with ups and downs, with setbacks and successes. The objectives are not up for debate, yet the implementation remains a challenge.

Therefore, let’s work together and put our shoulders to the wheel. At the same time, we have to consider the EU perspective. The developments as outlined above contribute to some of their most important objectives. Because they perfectly fit both the Green Deal and Global Gateway. And although Sargassum is not at the top of our mind at the moment, we support the EU-initiative on this.

We believe this means that the OCTs represent strategic assets for the international action of the EU and the promotion of its values. They are essential to the influence of the European Union around the globe. And, for the Caribbean region, this could contribute to the EU-CELAC partnership that was renewed last year. This means that there are also EU interests at stake here. A responsibility to make sure that funds are available to those who contribute meaningfully to these goals.

We appreciate that the EC is taking the initiative to provide training and technical assistance for OCTs. However, it is also clear that more action and support is needed. Procedures and regulations are complex and time-consuming.  The small governments, with their limited capacities, cannot independently align with the strategic agendas. Therefore, we believe the following principles and actions are vital:

To provide targeted information to Member States and OCTs about EU activities in the region; To always pro-actively involve OCTs in activities within their region, such as trade agreements and projects; To examine the conditions that make it easier for OCTs to participate. And it is of vital importance to aid them in accessing horizontal programs, such as the LIFE program and the Innovation fund.

An important step towards unlocking these funds has been the appointment last year by the Dutch government of our special envoy, Edison Rijna, also present here today. His mission is to establish a strong, structural, and inclusive collaboration between the BES-islands, the European Union, the United Nations and the countries and islands in the region. With almost a decade of experience as Island Governor and his broad international network in the region, he is of great significance to the islands and the Netherlands.

In this new role, he can make an important contribution to access EU and UN funds, increase prosperity and broaden the economic base. One of his first accomplishments, has been the selection of Bonaire, Saba and Statia to participate in the ’30 for 2030’ initiative. This initiative aims to realize their ambition to have fully sustainable energy facilities.

I would once again like to thank you for being here today and I’m looking forward to today’s panels and discussions. And let’s be proud of this genuinely reciprocal partnership!

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