Kuensel reporter Thukten Zangpo speaks with  Hervé Delphin, the European Union Ambassador to Bhutan on the Bhutan-EU partnerships and future prospects

What is the purpose of your visit?

My visit was to present credentials to His Majesty the King. It was also an opportunity to meet with the government officials, including the prime minister, ministers, speaker of the National Assembly, and the chairperson of the National Council to strengthen the foundation of our partnership through these high-level contacts. Trust and direct connections are crucial for a successful partnership. Bhutan stands out as a partner with a deep understanding of natural resource preservation, sustainable development, and a thoughtful approach to democratic embrace.

Could you please elaborate on the key areas that were discussed with Bhutanese leaders?

Our partnership is quite comprehensive. We prioritise good governance and support the Parliament through relevant programmes. We also focus on local governance, including training and capacity building for civil society, which is vital for a vibrant democracy. 

Additionally, the support on agriculture, natural resource management, and the development of sustainable and renewable energy.

As Bhutan transitions to a middle-income country, digitisation and skills development are becoming increasingly important. We are aware of the government’s renewed focus on tourism and are prepared to explore potential areas of collaboration.

The EU and Bhutan have collaborated since 1982. What areas do you see as most important for future cooperation? 

Bhutan has the potential to further develop its economy by marketing its high-value products. Geographical indication protection is crucial not just for commercial rights but also for branding. Bhutan’s high-quality organic products are attractive to consumers willing to pay a premium, but these consumers require absolute guarantees about the origin and sourcing of these products requiring certification. Exchanging experiences with the EU and its member states can provide valuable inspiration and ideas for Bhutan to refine its product development strategies.

Looking beyond government ties, our relationship can extend to Parliament-to-Parliament exchanges. European and Bhutanese parliamentarians can share practices, experiences, and both the challenges and best practices of governance.

Similarly, we can foster business-to-business relationships, enhancing interaction between Bhutanese and European business communities.

Student exchange and tourism are two other areas of potential collaboration. Bhutanese people can benefit from studying in Europe and gaining new skills, while European tourists can discover the beauty of Bhutan.

Could you speak on upcoming projects or initiatives that the EU plans to support in Bhutan?

We have collaboratively defined a plan with Bhutanese authorities, which determines the allocation of financial resources.There will be a mid-term review process, as we do with all our global funding. A second tranche of funding is planned for 2024-2027, and the allocation size for each partner country will depend on their performance.

Bhutan is in a good position. Though the allocation process is ongoing, I am confident that Bhutan has the potential to benefit from additional financial support. We can discuss the most effective way to utilise these resources. While I cannot preempt the specifics at this time, I can acknowledge that enhancing energy capacity is clearly a top priority for your government.

Last words?

Our relationship has been long-standing and deeply rooted. We have accompanied Bhutan throughout its different phases, including its modernisation, democratisation, and graduation to a middle-income country.

Now, there is this very visionary plan of His Majesty with the Gelephu Mindfulness City. It has caught the attention and curiosity of many in Europe. Supporting this is certainly something we would like to explore.

This is my first visit, and I expect to return soon with the Ambassadors of the EU member states. Each member state has something unique to offer and propose that could benefit Bhutan such as training programmes, scholarships, and fellowships.