“Your Excellency Jioji Konousi Konrote, President of the Republic of Fiji,
Honourable Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama,
Honourable Chief Justice Anthony Gates,
Honourable Madame Speaker Dr Jiko Luveni,
Honourable Ministers,
Honourable Members of Parliament,
Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Colleagues, fellow Europeans and friends of Europe,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Bula vinaka, namaste, asalam alaykum, good evening, bonsoir, and a very warm welcome to you all to the 2016 Europe Day celebrations.

First, I would like to express my gratitude to Sister Genevieve Loo, the School Manager of St Joseph’s Secondary School, and to Jacqueline Low, the Principal, for kindly agreeing to make available this splendid hall for today’s gathering. We thought that this year it would be great to bring Europe closer to children and young adults, and to hold our celebrations in this excellent establishment. Thank you very much to everyone who has worked so hard to make this happen.

Yesterday, 9 May, was Europe Day. On that day in 1950 Robert Schuman, the French Foreign Minister, called on the nations of Europe to unite and make war on our continent unthinkable. Sixty-five years later, his message of peace and unity is as relevant as ever.

Robert Schuman’s appeal to overcome age-old divisions just five years after the Second World War, which devastated Europe, laid the foundations of what has become the European Union. Over the years our Union has grown from six members in 1957 to twenty-eight, with 500 million people. The dreams of our founding fathers have become a reality, and Europeans live together in peace and prosperity, bound together by principles of democracy and human tights.

Yet, as anyone who follows international news knows, the European Union faces considerable challenges, and I do not want to gloss over these. In her video-message for Europe Day (which you can see on the Facebook page of the EU Delegation for the Pacific), Federica Mogherini, our High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission, notes that for the first time in our history, the European Union faces an existential threat. The threat is not simply about terrorism: we have the tools to defeat the terrorist threat and prevent radicalisation. It is certainly not about migration: a Union of half a billion people can manage the current flows, protect lives and build strong partnerships with other countries, in our region and beyond.

The existential threat comes from within the European Union’s own borders, and there is a lesson here for the whole world.

Our Union is at risk when we build walls, instead of tearing them down. Our Union is at risk when we behave as part-time Europeans – we call for help when we need it, but we are not ready to help.

If we discriminate against people for the colour of their skin, or the language they speak, or the way they pray – if we do so, our Union is at risk, because our identity is based on diversity.

High Representative/Vice President Federica Mogherini goes on to say that in this tough moment in the history of the world, the world needs a strong Europe more than ever. We have a responsibility to our own citizens, and also to the rest of the world.

But despite all our difficulties the European Union represents the most successful process of regional integration, and remains the richest continent in the world. In no other place is there so much freedom – freedom to speak our mind, freedom to move, freedom to pray and not to pray, freedom to love, freedom to vote and freedom to choose our own destiny.

Everywhere in the world the European Union is a major trading partner, a major investor, an important donor for humanitarian and development aid, the most significant diplomatic power. Too often we forget how strong we can be when united. This is why we need Europe Day: to be proud of what we have achieved, to keep in mind that we cannot take it for granted.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, friends of Europe,

The European Union enjoys a long-standing partnership and friendship with Fiji and other Pacific countries. I am extremely proud to be European Union Ambassador not only to Fiji, but also to the Cook Islands, Kiribati, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Samoa, Tonga, and Tuvalu. My colleagues here and I are also responsible for development co-operation with French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna, and Pitcairn.

Our partnership with Fiji and the Pacific is based on our shared values, on common concerns and on common aspirations. We work closely with our Pacific partners to tackle global challenges - some challenges are so big that only a global response will suffice to overcome them.

Climate change is a key example. I am confident that the close collaboration between the European Union and the Pacific Island Countries at COP21 in December played a major role in ensuring the good outcome that is the Paris Agreement – a contemporary, robust and balanced deal to limit global warming, expertly concluded by a strong French chair.

The EU and Pacific partners were, and remain, leading members of the High Ambition Coalition that pushed the bar high and got results. Pacific leaders particularly from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Tuvalu, and Fiji were effective in drawing attention to the plight of Pacific countries and to the need for action, rapid action. To these countries I say komol tata, ko rabwa, fakafetai, and, of course, vinaka. Europe was proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you in Paris.

On 22 April, 175 countries signed the Paris Agreement in New York. Fifteen countries deposited their instruments of ratification on the same day sending a signal to the international community on the paramount importance of the implementation of the Agreement. Remarkably, six out of these fifteen countries were Pacific Island ones: Fiji, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Samoa, Palau, and Tuvalu. Fiji was the first country in the world to ratify the Paris Agreement – a true inspiration.

The European Union is committed to continue to work closely with the Pacific on climate change, not only alongside it in international negotiations, but also as a key development partner – providing support for mitigation and adaption, and on the implementation of the Paris Agreement – the next big challenge.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, let me turn specifically to Fiji.

Recently we were reminded that the serenity of the Pacific can be very misleading. Cyclone Winston was the strongest cyclone to ever hit the Southern Hemisphere. It claimed 44 lives and left behind devastation, with damage estimated at 1 billion dollars. But the cyclone has also shown why Fiji is so special: the solidarity and spirit shown by the people in the aftermath of the cyclone was outstanding. Truly Fiji is stronger than Winston. While visiting for instance badly affected areas in Ra and on Koro island, I was humbled by the strength of the Fijian spirit, as villagers worked to rebuild their lives.

Fiji’s friends and neighbours responded quickly and effectively to assist the country and the Fijian people after Cyclone Winston, and the European Union and its Member States were no exception. For instance, France provided rapidly mobilised emergency assistance from New Caledonia, sending planes and ships, closely co-ordinated with Australian and New Zealand counterparts, and the EU made available considerable sums for humanitarian support and to help rebuild lives and livelihoods. We have co-financed the important Post Disaster Needs Assessment, working closely with the Government, the United Nations, the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank. And a lot more EU funds are on their way. The UK also provided cash donations (and I know there was a personal donation from the royal family). I take the opportunity to express our deep appreciation of the strong co-ordination and leadership shown by Fiji in relief and recovery – this has been a key factor in ensuring successful operations.

I am pleased that the Fiji Ministry of Education has a stand here for the Adopt-a-School initiative, which can play an important part in re-building efforts. I hope you will take the time to visit it.

The European Union response to Cyclone Winston follows a period during which we have seen the further strengthening of relations with Fiji following its return to Parliamentary democracy. We had the first high level political dialogue, chaired by the Honourable Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister of Latvia, who held the EU Presidency at the time. The European Commissioner for Development and International Co-operation Neven Mimica also visited Fiji. He and Prime Minister Bainimarama signed a new agreement on development co-operation for the period up to 2020, and together inaugurated the new European Union offices in Suva from which we manage co-operation with most of the Pacific. Fiji also proved to be an exceptionally skilled host to the African Caribbean Pacific - EU Parliamentary Assembly which saw hundreds of parliamentarians from around the world gathering here.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

I want to welcome you this evening not only to the Europe Day Reception, but also to our exhibition showcasing our engagement with the Pacific. I would like to thank all our development implementing partners for their contributions to the exhibition and for their efforts. I hope that everyone will take time to discover the breadth and depth of the EU’s co-operation with the Pacific.

I would like to express my gratitude in particular to key partners of ours in the Pacific, the Pacific Community (SPC) and GIZ, which were very closely involved in the organisation of this event, and again to St Joseph’s School for making all this possible We would like young people to learn more about the European Union and our work with the Pacific. We are therefore pleased to be bringing students from different schools to visit this exhibition over the coming days.

Before I end, I want to mention another facet of Fiji-EU co-operation – rugby. I wish Ben Ryan’s team all the very best for matches at the 7’s tournaments in Paris and London, and then at the Olympics in Rio. Toso viti.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Happy Europe Day.

Vinaka vakalevu, bahut dhanyawad, shukriya, merci, thank you.

Published on 24/05/2016

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