The Pacific, so far, yet so close to Europe

Source: N. (Neven) Mimica i, published on Thursday, February 28 2019.

There is no planet B, nor is there a Pacific B

The Pacific islands[1] have a population of about 10 million people, including more than half a million European citizens, especially in the so-called Overseas Countries and Territories[2], which are small pieces of Europe in the vast Pacific Ocean. We share one history, interests and values. Yet this region often seems a long way away.

And yet, we want to - indeed, we must - strengthen our partnership. Why?

Protecting our planet: For the first time the COP23 presidency went this year to a country facing an existential threat from global warming, Fiji. This is a remarkable achievement for a small archipelago, which can highlight credibly the effects of climate change and natural disasters.

From the poles to the tropics and from all corners of the world it’s clear to everybody today that there is no planet B, nor is there a Pacific B. The Pacific region, an invaluable reservoir of biodiversity, is now seriously endangered. It is also struck, with increasing frequency and violence, by extreme weather events that are likely to see parts of its territory disappear. In 2015, during COP21, the Europeans joined forces with the governments of the region, and in particular the Republic of Fiji, Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Marshall Islands, to reach the Paris Agreement, a milestone in international climate politics. We must now together deliver on our commitments - climate change, the future of biodiversity, and the protection of the oceans. The Pacific Islands, home to the Blue Pacific project, know better than anyone else that these issues are interlinked and crucial for the future. Europe helps them to put these issues on the international agenda and make their voices heard. Trusting the source of the fish we eat: Maritime resources are the backbone of the Pacific economy and are of vital importance for local food. The European Union is the world's largest market for seafood products. We therefore have a legitimate interest in the conservation and sustainable development of fisheries resources. The Pacific represents, for example, more than 60% of world tuna production.

Beyond fishing, other economic opportunities can also benefit from a stronger partnership with Europe, particularly sectors such as tourism or transport.

Making international partnerships count: In a region with increasing territorial interests, where Fiji is one of the most developed economies today, we want to create positive, win-win relationships. We want to preserve the current balances, without excluding anyone. To this end, the European Union wishes to develop its cooperation in the context of the Boe Declaration on Regional Security adopted by the Pacific leaders in 2018. Illegal fishing, trafficking in human beings and drug trafficking threaten the security of the region, and we must respond together.

We are working with our Pacific partners to promote our shared values. We work closely with Overseas Countries and Territories and others to promote these values in the Pacific. On 26 February, for instance, we announced an additional 50 million euros in Samoa to support programmes already under way against gender-based violence and discrimination.

With the support of its member states, the European Union has planned to mobilise 900 million euros between 2014 and 2020 for its programmes with the Pacific.

The European Union is also cooperating with the Swedish government to improve the sustainable management of the fisheries sector, food security, and the promotion of the ‘blue economy’. This cooperation is complemented by the bilateral action of the EU member states, which are working with Australia and New Zealand to help reduce the impact of natural disasters. In New Caledonia, Europe is supporting vocational integration and employment in Wallis and Futuna, digital development in French Polynesia, and tourism development.

This is a key moment for the relationship between the European Union and the Pacific Islands.

In 2020, the current ‘Cotonou Agreement’ with the 79 African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries will expire. The agreement that replaces it must be as ambitious as possible.

In January 2021, a new decision of association between the OCTs and the European Union will enter into force. In this field as in others, an important task lies ahead in building bridges between Europe and the Pacific.

In addition, the European Union member states are currently defining the resources available to the European Union from 2021 to 2027 under its new multiannual budget.

One thing is certain: expectations have rightly been set high. It is now time to give ourselves the means to realise our ambitions for a true partnership between Europe and the Pacific. This is the message we will bring to the leaders of Overseas Countries and Territories on the occasion of the annual EU-OCT Forum which opens tomorrow, Friday, 1 March in Tahiti.

[1] The Pacific Island States are: Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

[2] New Caledonia, the Wallis and Futuna Islands, French Polynesia and Pitcairn. For the record, these territories are not part of the territory of the European Union, although they are constitutionally dependent on four EU Member States: France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.