EU strengthens ties with Lanka

Thursday, 17 March 2016 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Honourable Minister Samaraweera, representatives of the EU Member States, ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests and delegation colleagues, I am delighted to join you this afternoon to celebrate the opening of the new office of the European Delegation for Sri Lanka and the Maldives. May I extend a warm welcome to all those who have joined us for this happy and important event. 

For those of us who have come to this building for the first time, we are delighted to see an upscale office with modern architectural design right in the very heart of Colombo. DFT-14-14

This is my first visit to Sri Lanka and I am impressed to see that Colombo is a vibrant and dynamic capital city. However, it is not only the dynamism of Colombo that is worth mentioning. Indeed, the Government of Sri Lanka has made significant advances since the presidential elections held in January 2015 to restore democratic governance, initiate a process of national reconciliation and re-engage with the international community. I would like to congratulate all the people of Sri Lanka on this achievement. 

Over the past year, the European Union and Sri Lanka have turned a new page of partnership and have rejuvenated their relations. We are here this afternoon to highlight the importance of our presence in Sri Lanka and proximity with the Maldives. 

Today, the European Union is supported by a network of more than 140 EU Delegations worldwide. These Delegations play a crucial role in developing and implementing EU policies in areas like trade, development, and humanitarian aid, as well as in the external aspects of internal policies like competitiveness, energy and transport, mentioning just a few. They serve as our extended arm to ensure that the EU promotes its values and implements the strong external policy which European citizens expect. I am especially honoured to open the new premises in Colombo as the work of the EU Delegation, with this modern office, will cover a comprehensive common policy agenda with Sri Lanka in the years to come. 

Ladies and gentlemen, today is my first day of a short but I hope fruitful dialogue with the Government of Sri Lanka and the civil society. This visit will be an occasion to strengthen our bilateral ties through the signing of two Financing Agreements with the Government of Sri Lanka amounting in total to 38 million euros. These will restart our full cooperation to provide trade related assistance and to support for rural development in the poorest and most vulnerable districts of the Central and Uva Provinces. 

This is also an occasion to witness the signature of a grant agreement for the programme Sanitation and Hygiene Initiative for Towns amounting to 5.7 million euros funded by the European Union’s Asian Investment Facility, which provides leverage for a loan granted by the Agence Française de Développement. The EU grant will support the National Water Supply and Drainage Board to manage and monitor the programme that has an overall investment cost estimated to be approximately EUR 230 million in loans. This is the first time that we will use this innovative EU financing arrangement of “blending” grants and loans in Sri Lanka. 

I am also here to discuss with the Sri Lanka authorities the most appropriate way to support the new political momentum initiated by the new Government in 2015 in the years to come. The strategic framework of the EU funding interventions in Sri Lanka – the Multi- Annual Indicative programme for 2014-2020, amounting to 210 million Euro will be reviewed to make the most of the opportunities offered by the Government’s commitment to reconciliation and the wider governance reform agenda. 

Thanks to this Delegation, supported by our teams from Brussels, the European Union has emerged as a key partner in Sri Lanka across a range of fields including development, climate change, trade, aid to displaced populations. These achievements would not have been possible without the leadership of Ambassador Daly and the hard work of the Delegation staff. I extend my personal thanks to you all. 

As we share the joy of inaugurating the Delegation’s new home, we also look to the future together with the people of Sri Lanka. We stand in solidarity to embrace our shared vision and commitment to safeguarding our common principles and values: democracy, the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms, respect for human dignity, the principles of equality and solidarity, and the respect for international law. 

On this memorable occasion, I must thank and congratulate all those who have worked so hard in promoting EU solidarity with the people of Sri Lanka. The building opens up a new space for cooperation, and we are looking forward to welcoming Sri Lanka and the Maldives Governments, international and regional organisations, civil society organisations and all those with interest in the European Union to our new workplace. My very best wishes to all of you. 

Thank you.