On March 25, the European Union (EU) will mark 60 years since the signature of the Rome Treaties, the first step towards a united Europe. Since the birth of the European Communities in 1957, the citizens of our member states have enjoyed six decades of unprecedented peace, prosperity and security. The contrast to the first half of the 20th century could not be greater. Two catastrophic wars in Europe between 1914 and 1945 left millions dead, and a continent devastated, divided and prostrate. For countries that had long been at war, European integration has been the most successful peace project in our history.
However, we are living in unpredictable times and the 60th anniversary of the Rome Treaties is the opportunity not only to reaffirm our commitment to the values and objectives on which the European project is founded but also to take pragmatic and ambitious steps forward. The world is going through a time of great uncertainty: the global balance of power is shifting and the foundations of a rules-based international order are too often being questioned. The European Union will be an increasingly vital power to preserve and strengthen the global order.
The EU and Bhutan have worked together to promote trade and development since 1982. The EU supports Bhutan’s democratisation and modernisation with funding of more than Euro 42 million for the period 2014-20. This amount is triple the allocation for the previous period and is a clear proof of our commitment to Bhutan’s development.
We are proud to support the Government of Bhutan’s efforts to bring education, health, agricultural productivity growth and rural development to small far-flung habitations often without access to roads and modern telecommunications. According to the priorities we have agreed to jointly, the EU’s support will be mainly invested in capacity development for local governments and fiscal decentralization; strengthening civil society; and supporting sustainable agriculture and forestry. Additional support will be provided to combat climate change in which the EU has been a pioneering change agent.
The EU is the second-largest global economy. It is the largest global market and the leading foreign investor for most parts of the globe. Increasingly it is active as a global security provider, strengthening its borders, and combining national strengths to develop common defence capabilities. A more fragile international environment calls for greater engagement, not for retrenchment, which is why the EU will continue to support the United Nations through peace missions, diplomatic efforts, human rights, tackling hunger and fighting criminality.
We invest more in development cooperation and humanitarian aid (Euro 55 billion) than the rest of the world combined, much of it going to education, democracy and human rights in around 150 countries. In the period 2014-2020, about 75 percent of EU aid was to countries which were often hard hit by natural disasters or conflict. For us, this is not charity: it is also a smart investment in our own security and prosperity.
Humanitarian crises continue to take a heavy toll internationally, and in 2016 the EU allocated relief assistance of over Euro 1.5 billion for food, shelter, protection and health care to 120 million people in over 80 countries. Since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011 it has been the largest single donor of humanitarian aid for the millions of men, women and children displaced by the conflict.
In a world of global challenges, regional instabilities and alarming brinkmanship, the EU will have an even more significant role to play. It will look to its cooperation with Bhutan not only to support bilateral initiatives towards self-sufficiency but also to bring perspective to bear on issues such as climate change where an emerging global compact exemplified by the Paris Treaty needs to be implemented wisely and for the benefit of future generations. In my recent visit to Thimphu with a group of European ambassadors I have emphasised the EU’s commitment to support Bhutan’s endeavour to join the ranks of the middle income countries in the near future.
Contributed by Tomasz Kozlowski
Ambassador of the EU to Bhutan