29th OACPS-EU Economic and Social Stakeholders' Consultations

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Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to warmly welcome you all.

The European Economic and Social Committee is proud to deliver these 29th consultations of the Joint-civil society from the European Union and the Organisation of Africa, Caribbean and Pacific States.

The relevance of these consultations is reflected in distinguished speakers, whom I am very pleased to welcome.

I am honoured to announce the opening address of Doctor RASCAN in his capacity of Acting Minister for Development and Cooperation of the government of Slovenia.

Also, I am grateful to H.E. Colin Michael CONNELLY in his capacity as Chairperson of the OACPS Subcommittee on Political, Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Affairs as well as the Honourable Carlos ZORRIHNO, Co-chair of EU-OACPS the Joint Parliamentary Assembly.

I would also like to welcome the representative of Achim STEINER, the United Nations Development Programme's Administrator. The contribution of Mr George GRAY MOLINA on the current paradigm of Development will be much appreciated.

I also address my personal thanks to Sandra KRAMER, from the European Commission's Directorate for International partnerships. Ms. Kramer had a pivotal role in the negotiations of the new Partnership. 

Finally, yet importantly, I wish to thank you many participants and representatives of the civil society who have been numerous to respond to our invitation despite the distance. Special thank you to those who had to wake up very early or to stay up very late in order to be with us.

Since the involvement of the EESC in the Partnership between the EU and Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific, we have devoted time and efforts to involve the organized civil society from the four regions in designing and holding regular activities and events.

Representing a wide spectrum of employers, trade unionists, small farmers and small-scale fishermen, cooperatives, consumers' organizations and NGOs, we have all converged in these regular encounters.

They have allowed us to gather what is somehow scattered when it comes to identifying common challenges and sharing our most innovative initiatives. Over the years, our ACP encounters have emerged as a regular opportunity for our constituents to promote projects that they are developing on the ground.

In the past years, the activities carried expertise on a variety of topical issues ranging from the resilience to environmental changes, intraregional migration flows or blue economy, to the recognition of Non-state actors in Economic partnership agreements.

In this period as EESC President, I have witnessed the involvement of the organised civil society when it comes to Development. Let me outline, for example, the daily activities of the Social Partners in giving life to the fundamental ILO Conventions and multilateral environmental agreements.

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen, what to expect from our event?

First, we hope to facilitate an answer to a political question, often asked in the course of the negotiations of the Partnership: What will be the role attributed to the civil society, including social partners in the new partnership?

We know that there will be the three regional protocols with specific provisions for civil society inclusion. Their implementation would certainly benefit from a regular contribution from the EU-Africa, EU-Caribbean and EU-Pacific organized civil society. The EESC stands ready to take part as well in this implementation and to facilitate the organisation of joint consultations.     

Second, the partnership between the EU and 79 countries aims to address global challenges by laying priority areas, such as democracy and human rights, sustainable economic growth and development, climate change, human and social development, peace and security. I would like to reiterate the importance of a genuine social and civil dialogue in all countries, which is a pre-requisite for achieving the objectives of the partnership. We live in a complicated geopolitical context disrupted by the necessary ecological transition, the division of the world in spheres of influence and the Covid-19 pandemic. We should not allow the complexity of the situation to affect consultations with civil society and protection of fundamental values and human rights.

Third, as for COVID-19 recovery, allow me to echo the 12 December's pressing call of the African Union to the Western Nations to support initiatives in the manufacture of essential medicines and vaccines beyond the COVID-19 pandemic as a way of ensuring global health security.

This call is also coherent with a recent Opinion, in which the EESC asks the EC to lead an open debate at European level on a temporary TRIPS voluntary waiver, that would apply to COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and tests, in order to enable the ramping up global vaccine production and the lowering of costs to ensure access for people across the world.

I am fully aware, there is pros and cons.

Whatever the solution will be to ensure the availability of COVID vaccines, let's be clear: Europe can only be safe from Covid if the entire world is safe.  

Fourth, the Green transition is a topic of outmost importance in these two days of consultations of EU and ACP economic and social stakeholders. With no doubts, this transition entails a major challenge for the societies and economies. From the perspective of the EU organised civil society, this Green deal provides us with a unique opportunity and big challenges at the same time. We must ensure a green transition that leaves nobody behind!

The EU has now taken the lead and needs to continue to be a role model, based on its values of sustainability, solidarity and international cooperation. Decarbonisation of economy and energy transition could have significant impact and serious social and economic implications for some of the ACP countries and they will need solid support, including funding for this transition.

Fifth, I would like to pass another message in relation to the implementation of the EU-OACPS partnership when it comes to resilience and infrastructure. As we are all aware, industrialised countries have certainly a historical share of responsibility when it comes to climate change, biodiversity loss and land degradation. In this process, the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals and Rio's conventions are instrumental in organising the resilience to these global environmental changes. As far as infrastructure is concerned, I wish that new European initiatives such as the EU Strategy for Indo-Pacific and the EU Global gateway strategy could become a game changer to fill-in the investment gaps in the ACP region while respecting the needs of local communities.

As President of the European Economic & Social Committee, I am committed that our events, such as the 29th Consultations, are planned and designed in full cooperation with our ACP partners and leave the floor to our colleagues – economic, social and societal actors, from Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific.  

Thank you for your attention and I wish you all fruitful discussions and tangible results!

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29th OACPS-EU Economic and Social Stakeholders' Consultations