The Evolution of EU-Ethiopia Partnership [interview]

Ambassador Hebberecht Chantal a Belgian national is the new Head of the European Union Mission to Ethiopia.

Before her assignment to replace the late head of mission to Ethiopian Ambassador Xavier Marchal, Ambassador Chantal served as head of mission to Kyrgyzstan. Before joining the EU, she served at the European Union Commission as head of the unit for Commission’s Peace Facility – a funding instrument with a particular focus on food security issues.

Neamin Ashenafi of The Reporter sat down with the Ambassador to discuss the evolution of the longstanding partnership between the European Union and Ethiopia, the various development activities of the union support in Ethiopia and other political, economic and social issues. Excerpts:

The Reporter: How do you describe and assess the evolution of the relationship between Ethiopia and the European Union (EU) over the years and where is that relationship right now?

Ambassador Hebberecht Chantal: I think the partnership between EU and Ethiopia is a partnership that was forged a very long time ago, and we reinforce this partnership time and time again. For me, since 1975, when we first sent our delegation to Ethiopia, the evolution of our partnership has been quite positive from the side of both parties. On the development cooperation, for example, we are jointly working with government, and we have a financing agreement that we signed at Cotonou.

Since then, we have succeeded in committing all funds of the preview financial allocation and now we are embarking upon a new phase of the Cotonou Agreement. The new financial allocation for Ethiopia is an envelope package of 745 million Euros and it is the highest financial allocation ever made for development purposes for one African country.

We also have a political dialogue with the government, it includes our partnership political dialogue on human rights and the overall democratic process in the country. It is very important to have a frank and direct dialogue with the government on these issues.

We have also a very positive evolution on the economic side since EU is the main export destination for Ethiopian export commodities, more or less 40 percent of Ethiopian exports come to Europe and member states of EU. On the other side, close to 20 percent of imports to Ethiopia originate from the same region. Year after year, EU member states are becoming more and more important trading partners to Ethiopia while Ethiopia becomes theirs.

You have said that the partnership between the EU and Ethiopia is positive in terms of economic, development partnership and financial cooperation, but is it possible to say that the political side of the story is as rosy as the economic cooperation? The partnership is really an integrated partnership, and it is true that sometimes we have different perceptions regarding some situations, but it is important to continue to have a dialogue.

It is always very interesting to observe in our discussion, for example in our discussion regarding civil society, that the perception of the EU regarding civil society and civil society organizations is quite different from that of government. Our understanding of the such organizations is that associations of farmers and chambers of commerce and the like are parts and parcels of the civil society in that we have a very broad understanding of the civil society and sometimes it is quite different from the perceptions of the government.

And at times, such differences are exhibited in others like democracy. Democracy too, we believe, is a very permanent process, it is always necessary to improve the conditions of democracy. In EU, we have to consolidate democracy every day and it is really a day-to-day work, and it is very important for us to continue this kind of discussion with the government.

For example, I can mention that the EU finances projects of the civil society and civil society organizations not only in relation to development but also to try to support rule of law, human rights issues and we are in agreement with the government. I think we are progressing but it is always very important to maintain this dialogue with the government.

So what can you say about the role the EU plays in promoting the values such as human rights, the rule of law and democracy apart from supporting the country in the areas of economy and development?

You know that democracy and the respect of human rights are really core values of the EU it can be clearly understood from the frame of our foreign policy. As the EU delegation and heads that delegation, we have to aocate that value and try to promote it as much as possible. It is really integrated into the frame of EU foreign policy. Here too, we are trying to support the civil society. You know that there will be an election in 2015 in this country, in the past we have been supporting the democratic institutions in Ethiopia like the Office of the Ombudsman, National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) and the Federal Anti Corruption and Ethics Commission. Hence as we did in the past, I hope that we can continue to support the democratic institution.

In the past, 2005, the EU has entered into a serious spat with the Ethiopian government regarding the report that EU’s election observation mission to Ethiopia released. In that background, what will be the role of the EU in the upcoming elections? Will you be deploying a team to observe the election?

It is true that in 2005, the Ethiopian government did not accept the EU observation mission report at all. For the next election, the EU is ready to support the preparation and the organization of the electoral process itself, but to launch an observation mission, the first step for us is to receive an official invitation from the government, and until then I don’t know what is going to happen. What we are ready to do is to support the transparency of the process, the organization of the process and dialogue between the different political parties. We are ready to support the whole election process, and it is in discussion with the government.

But having your differences in the past, especially in the 2005 election, do you think the government of Ethiopia will invite you to participate in the upcoming election either through an election observation team or in other activities?

Really I don’t know. It is the decision of the government. I know that in 2005 situations were very tense between the EU and the government of Ethiopia, but I think that we have really a frank dialogue on this issue.

The decision is of the government first, the request has to come from the government side but the position of the EU is really to support all stakeholders involved in this process. Whenever we are talking about an election it is about the incumbent and its opposing parties, therefore how do you describe the relationship between the opposition parties in Ethiopia and the EU?

We would like to have very constructive and frank relationships with all stakeholders whether the opposition or the ruling party because as I said it before our intention is really to try to improve transparency. We have the same dialogue with all stakeholders. And we are not providing capacity building trainings for one or the other, we are ready to support all parties equal. Because, I think maybe in Ethiopia there is not yet a real political culture and that it is very important for the different parties to learn about what their responsibility is.

They have to define their program for the development of this country. The political environment is a little bit immature, and the training is to help them to compete better in the election. It is true, capacity building is needed for everyone. Recently, the EU donated 3.3 million Euros for 18 different civil society organizations in Ethiopia.

In the context of severe criticism over the laws, which is adopted to administer the civil society and charity associations in Ethiopia, what is your say on this law? I think it is true that this law is creating some constraints for civil society organizations. It places a limit on administrative costs like transportation cost.

And for this reason, in agreement with the government, we created this civil society working group to discuss the implementation of the law. It is a tripartite dialogue between the government, civil society organizations and some donors. I think it is very important to have this dialogue and try to reach mutual understanding and agreement to allow the civil society organizations to continue their work.

Apart from EU’s role in promoting human rights, the rule of law, democracy and other development projects in Ethiopia, what is the EU’s engagement in promoting gender equality in Ethiopia?

We are trying to play a very active role, not only here in Ethiopia but also everywhere in the world because it is a general problem and we are trying to have a political dialogue on this issue. Here in Ethiopia, we are working with the Ministry of Women, Children and Youth, and we have some ongoing programs together with the UN as the UN is very active in this sphere. I think we have different ongoing programs that have been implemented by the UN for the total of 10 million Euros.

We are also trying to promote respect of the rights of women and girls and we are also working on capacity building in the framework of entrepreneurship. We really try to support women to build their capacity and their ability to earn their livelihood, but it is a very important issue and for the next cooperation phase we will try to integrate this gender equality concept in the majority of our development programs.

As you know Ethiopia is constructing the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) over the River Nile, and the relationship between Ethiopia and Egypt is in very tense conditions due to this project. What is the EU’s position in relation to this project? It is an issue of the Ethiopian government.

The position of the EU is always to try to improve the level of dialogue between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan, because it is very important that downstream countries are in discussion with Ethiopia. In the last month, there was this dialogue at the technical level and I think it was extremely positive. But maybe it is also necessary to have a political dialogue and to try to find a mutual benefit from the dam. Political dialogue is very important, even when there are disagreements.

These days there are so many concerns across Africa and here in Ethiopia over the issue of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexual and Transsexual (LGBT) rights, therefore what is the EU’s position in relation to this matter?

The EU’s position is very clear it is a position in favor of respect of human rights of everyone including LGBT without any kind of discrimination against minorities like LGBT. It is our general position and we are applying this general position in relation to LGBT rights because it is really one of our core values to avoid discrimination and to respect individual human rights in different fields including this one.

And are you saying that LGBT rights are among basic human rights and should be respected all over the world?

Yes, it is a position of the EU because we are respecting the rights of minorities and also avoiding any discrimination.

Source : The Reporter

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