It was a beautiful evening last Monday, May 8 at Mona Visitors Lodge on the University of the West Indies campus. When I arrived, the reception for the celebration of Europe Day – and the 60th Anniversary of the Treaty of Rome – was already in full swing. The Head of Delegation of the European Union (EU) in Jamaica Malgorzata Wasilewska (and yes, her Jamaican staff are very good at pronouncing her name!) was greeting arrivals, along with several Ambassadors from EU member countries. The stage was bright and colourful, with the flags of the EU’s 28 member states – which will be reduced to 27 before too long – brilliantly arrayed to one side, and Rosina Moder and her musicians on the other. A splendid tiered cake sat on a table on stage. Master of Ceremonies Gavin Tench, who heads the Political, Press and Information Section at the British High Commission, referred to the cake a few times in his humorous remarks. He also noted the ruins behind the stage, with a note of irony (I do believe this was a reference to Brexit). I do hope the cake, violins and flags survived the abrupt and fierce shower of rain that sent us all scrambling for cover. This dramatic interruption happened after speeches by Ms. Wasilewska and Foreign Affairs Minister Kamina Johnson Smith, arriving seconds after the toast. Nevertheless, it was a lovely occasion – tinged with sadness for me (I am an unabashed Europe fan and am deeply concerned about the departure of my country of birth from the EU). Well – better late than never – here is Ms. Wasilewska’s speech for us to reflect on.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Good evening.
Sixty years is a major milestone in any life journey and so I’m very happy that you are here to celebrate Europe Day and the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Rome Treaties with us. I want to specially thank the University of the West Indies for accommodating us here on this beautiful campus and specifically at the historic ruins, which has links to our common history.
UWI is among our valued partners that plays a critical role in national and regional development. As we look to the future, it is important that we take steps to strengthen this relationship. I consider this a significant step in our onward journey.
No one can pretend that recent events in Europe had not had an impact and will continue to do so. Migration remains a challenge, but one which will be met, just as we met the challenges of the economic crisis. Sadly we remain vigilant to the threat of terrorism and again – regrettably this is something all of us have to do. But on a positive note the election result yesterday in France illustrates the continuing hope and vision of the people of Europe.
I am bound to mention Brexit. It affects us all. However, in my opinion three things are certain: first the EU’s relationship with Jamaica will remain strong, second the UK’s relationship with Jamaica will also remain firm. Finally UK and the Continent of Europe remain bound by geography, and even more importantly, I think, by shared values and a commitment to uphold them. Those values on both sides of the English Channel include working closely with other countries and seeking to make globalisation work for everyone.
I want to reiterate that after 60 years of remarkable successes, including seven enlargements and 28 Member States, the Union is resilient and more than ever there is a strong sense of unity and determination to continue to uphold the EU’s core values and continue the process of integration and cooperation for our citizens.
Using the words of Federica Mogherini herself in her own Europe day message: In the current global environment, our friends around the world look at us… look at the European Union as a reliable superpower for peace and human development. This doesn’t mean we are perfect. Far from that. Change in the European Union is necessary. But change is possible and is happening.
We are unwavering in our commitment to strengthen cooperation with countries like Jamaica who share these values that we hold dear. Today – the EU stands tall as the most successful peace project in our history. It is also the world’s largest market and the leading foreign investor in most parts of the globe.
As Europeans, what we are most proud of is that, as we have grown, we have extended support to others development through investments in development cooperation and humanitarian aid.
As the largest provider of development aid, mostly in the form of grants, for Jamaica our contribution to the Jamaican economy over the last 40 + years, has topped 1 billion Euro – or over one hundred billion Jamaican dollars. And here I pause to recognise the contribution of our Member States, especially those resident here – Belgium, France, Germany, Spain, and the UK. We recognize not only their support to EU funding, but also their own bilateral partnership programmes here in Jamaica. I must also thank our Jamaican partner the Planning Institute of Jamaica for their tireless support and coordination.
Our partnership has contributed to numerous successes covering a range of sectors, including:
- Increasing competitiveness and building resilience in agriculture (particularly in the sugar and banana sectors) and fostering rural development.
- Better and faster access to Justice for all Jamaicans, but especially women and children.
- Reducing poverty, building schools, houses, and roads
- Providing well needed medical facilities and equipment to help Moms and infants.
- Through the Economic Partnership Agreement, we are working to increase Jamaica’s competitiveness, and boost trade and business and investment.
- We work to promote human dignity by protecting people against all forms of discrimination and human rights abuses.
- Each year, EU-funded scholarships are awarded to the best student candidates applying under annual selection rounds to study in Europe under the Erasmus Programme and again recognising our venue this evening, I’m happy to say that since 2007 to the present, there have been over 38 Jamaican Erasmus Scholars. Some of them are here this evening. The Erasmus Scholarship is in addition to exchange programmes offered by Member States.
We want more Jamaicans and Caribbean people to take up the offer to study in Europe, so we are going to be even more intentional in our promotion of the Erasmus Programme; and so, Professor Webber, this is an area that I would like to discuss further with you and other tertiary level institutions across the country.
The EU’s partnership with Jamaica has deepened since the cooperation agreement was signed in 1975 and remains strong today. In my various meetings with the government, I have expressed the EU’s commitment to strengthening the collaboration and building a more effective partnership for growth and development and I’m happy to say that the commitment is reciprocated by the Government.
I have been in Jamaica now for just about 8 months and I have fallen in love with this beautiful country and its people. You have welcomed me and I truly feel at home; so it’s an extra pleasure to celebrate Europe Day with you.
In closing, I want to take this opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to the values and objectives on which the European project is founded and to celebrate our partnership with Jamaica. Whatever the future brings, Jamaicans can be assured that the EU will stay the course and continue its support to foster growth and development, reduce poverty and improve lives.
Cheers to the European Union, her member states, and our strong, cooperative and reliable partner – Jamaica!
For more information on the EU’s work in Jamaica, go to https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/jamaica_en