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17th ACP-EU Regional Seminar, 21-22 November 2019, Mauritius


H.E Mr Vincent Degert, Ambassador of the EU to the Republic of Mauritius and to the Republic of Seychelles participated in the opening ceremony of the 17th ACP-EU Regional Seminar, an event organised by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC).

Dear Mr Jarosław Mulewicz, EESC member, President of the ACP-EU Follow-up Committee

Members of the European Economic and Social Committee and the ACP-EU Follow-up Committee

Representatives from the African Union

Representatives from Regional Organisations

My dear colleague Ms Ewa Synowiec, Director and Chief Negotiator of the negotiations on the deepening of the interim Economic Partnership Agreement

Members of the Diplomatic Corps

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen


The role of Non State Actors in responding to global challenges

Civil society organisations, private sector operators and trade unions are essential partners in delivering on international and European commitments such as the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. You L&G are essential partners in promoting multilateralism and a rules-based order.

As we strive to achieve sustainable development, peace and security in a world that is rapidly changing and becoming more complex, one thing is certain: we need collective action! None of the commitment we have made can be met through a top-down approach. Every stakeholder must come on board to address these common challenges. Otherwise, it simply cannot work as the task is far too big for Governments alone to achieve it!

This is why the collaboration with Non State Actors is a key principle of the European Union external action. It is embedded in the Cotonou Partnership Agreement that the EU and the ACP Group of States have subscribed to. And these are not just words, we are putting this in practice.

I am therefore delighted to speak to you today on the occasion of this 17th ACP-EU Regional Seminar organised by the European Economic and Social Committee I want to thank for having chosen Mauritius and for bringing here the representatives of economic and social interest groups from 11 countries of the Indian Ocean region, the Horn of Africa and of Southern Africa as well as the EESC Members.

Together you will have an opportunity to discuss the ACP-EU partnership, the challenges in the specific fields, and the ways to foster cooperation between civil society organisations from Europe and Africa. 

As you bring with you the diversity of backgrounds and experience, I am sure that these discussions will be very rich and productive.


What are some of the key  the challenges in the Indian Ocean region and how we respond to them?

As this seminar is taking place on this beautiful island, you will also have the chance to discover Mauritius and learn more about the challenges and opportunities that exist here, in the Indian Ocean Region. Island countries know it well, but also those who are coming from the mainland Africa, and even those from the landlocked countries will have to agree that oceans in general, and Indian Ocean in particular, remain key lifelines to international trade, to transport and to sustainable development.  

The Indian Ocean is the third largest ocean worldwide, 80% of the world's maritime oil trade passes through it and its shores is home to nearly 2.7 billion people. The region is therefore vital for economic developments and for the world's security and peace

Countries of the region have a significant coastline with crystal clear waters and rich coral reefs. These marine and wildlife ecosystems are interdependent with the health, food security and national economies of millions of people also on the African continent.

Yet, they are faced with serious threats and also challenges and I would like to highlight four of them.

First, they are faced with maritime insecurity, illegal and unreported fishing, marine pollution and loss of biodiversity. Second, they also face the negative impact of climate change. And island states are amongst the countries most vulnerable to the impact of climate change: sea level rise, coral bleaching, increasing number and severity of extreme weather events with the impact on the economy and the lives of people, to name only those.

On another front, global growth remains subdued and countries of the region are striving to place their economy on a stronger footing notably by boosting trade and investment. This is the third challenge I would like to mention. I am glad that the EU is in a position to assist the Eastern and Southern Africa and Indian Ocean region through the Economic Partnership Agreement which gives our partners free access to the European market. Also, being islands with large Economic Exclusive Zones, the blue economy can provide for a vital source of economic productivity. This is the fourth challenge I would like to touch upon. However, this economic activity must only be exploited in a sustainable way which is yet another difficult challenge.

Within our partnership with Mauritius and Seychelles be it at bilateral or at regional level, we work in close collaboration with countries, regional organisations and other partners, including Non State Actors, to address all of those key challenges. We give Non State Actors space to give their ideas on the EU projects and programmes as well as on specific policies. We also consult them as part of the annual political dialogue. We provide a wide range of Non State Actors with funding to implement their social development projects and to bring a meaningful contribution to building inclusive societies. For instance let me give a few figures:

In Mauritius, since 2006 we funded more than 500 projects of the civil society organisations allowing to improve the lives of thousands of people.

In Seychelles, we have helped civil society organisations in taking part in the observation of elections, providing support to women who are victims of domestic violence, sensitising children on the issue of corruption or protecting the environment.

Let me guide you through our action in those four specific areas or specific challenges and also provide you with some examples of how we involve non state actors.


The first challenge is Maritime security.

Let me start by saying that for the European Union, Mauritius and Seychelles, and other countries of the region, ensuring maritime security in the Indian Ocean and the Horn of Africa is a strategic priority. We depend on open, protected and secure seas and oceans for economic development, free trade and transport.

Despite the sharp decrease in pirates' activity along the coast of Somalia, the risk is there and we need to stay vigilant as demonstrated by a recent attack 400 km away from the coast in April of this year. But piracy is not the only threat: Indian Ocean countries also face other  ongoing maritime security threats, including armed robbery, human smuggling, drug smuggling, and illegal and unreported fishing. 

You probably already know that the EU is one of the key security providers in the Indian Ocean. We have been engaged at military level in this region since 2008 with EU NAVFOR Operation Atalanta, the first ever European naval operation. The naval force has brought clear results and greatly contributed to maritime security in the region; today we continue to work closely with national maritime agencies and coast guards to develop stronger capabilities.

Just a few days ago, I was in Seychelles where EU NAVFOR successfully participated with other partners in a training (Cutlass Express) exercise. Our participation in this exercise clearly demonstrates our solid partnership and our joint commitment to peace and stability in this part of the world. It was also an opportunity for me to underline the EU's deep appreciation for the critical role played by the Seychelles judiciary in ensuring the legal finish for the prosecution and trial of convicted pirates.

But the spectacular result that we have jointly achieved off the coast of Somalia would not be possible without the partnership with non-state actors. United together in the framework of the Contact Group on Piracy, the envoys of governments and naval forces cooperated with the representatives of shipping companies, NGOs and academia in a manner which is seen as exemplary and highly successful.   Therefore, our support does not stop with the military action.

We also support countries of the region in developing their capabilities and adopting a regional approach to maritime security with programmes such as the CRIMARIO (Critical Maritime Routes) and the MaSe. Through the MaSe and our cooperation with the Indian Ocean Commission, we have contributed to enhancing regional cooperation with the signature of two important agreements which will make it possible for countries of the Indian Ocean, plus Djibouti, and Kenya to cooperate to combat maritime crimes in terms of information sharing and joint actions at sea.

Also in the foreseeable future, the EU will remain a strong and reliable partner for countries in making this region safe notably with a new programme to enhance Maritime Port Security for the region.


Let me now turn to the second challenge : Climate change.

In line with its global commitment, the EU is engaged in building the resilience of Governments and other stakeholders to the negative impact of climate change also in this region. I can provide you with a few concrete examples of our action:

A few days ago, I was in La Digue in Seychelles to launch the Shore Line Management Plan, an important document that will provide the local communities and decision-makers with an appropriate tool for medium to long term planning along the coast.  The plan will also help to reduce future coastal risks for communities – who have been hardly hit by tropical cyclone in 2013. This is, I believe, a good example of a project implemented in close consultation with the local communities.


Another example: our work here in Mauritius with smallholder farmers, who represent a significant share of the local supply of vegetables, and are highly vulnerable to climate change. They do not always have the necessary capacity to adapt to climate changes that are getting worse year after year. We help them to adopt environment-friendly measures - making more judicious use of water resources and adapting to increasing temperatures, pests, diseases as well as reduced soil fertility through the adoption of climate smart practices.


But we also recognise that the private sector has a clear role to play in the transition to a low-carbon economy. Therefore, we support several small and medium entrepreneurs and organisations in Mauritius and Rodrigues to adopt more sustainable consumption and production practices and contribute to greening the economy.


At a more strategic and political level, we have launched a dedicated policy dialogue on climate change with Mauritius which allows us to define priorities and contribute to a more coherent approach.


The third challenge is to boost trade and investment.

This will be of particular interest for you as you will be discussing this topic during the seminar. You will also have the opportunity to have a presentation on the Economic Partnership Agreement by my colleague from the European Commission Directorate General for Trade, our Director and chief negotiator Mme Ewa Synowiec.

The European Union focuses on trade because we believe that it is one of the key drivers to support development, stimulate growth and lift people out of poverty.

We have developed solid trade relations with Mauritius and Seychelles. We remain their top trading partner and our relationship is bound to further develop with the launch of the negotiations on the deepening of the interim Economic Partnership Agreement. The launch took place here in Mauritius on 2 October of this year.

While you will receive an extensive presentation from Ms Synowiec, here allow me to highlight that the deepening process will include two important aspects that will certainly interest you, namely: sustainable development and promotion of labour rights. The negotiations will be transparent and involve a broad consultation process. Business and social partners will have their say, so that the final outcome is accepted by everyone.

Taking account of the development status of Mauritius (Upper MIC) and Seychelles (HIC), the emphasis on trade is part of our approach to move beyond the former development partnership. So is a more active use of instruments like blending and guarantees, strengthening our collaboration with the private sector and promotion of sustainable investments and jobs. To give you a few examples:

In Seychelles, the EU with the Agence Française de Développement and the European Investment Bank is funding the Port Victoria rehabilitation and extension project. This is a strategic infrastructure for the country. The project will increase the port's capacity, boost competitiveness, create jobs and promote access of local consumers to cheaper goods.


In Mauritius, we work in close partnership with the Government to contribute to a business environment that is conducive to private sector initiative. Thanks in part to the EU project, Mauritius leapfrogged from the 20th in 2018 to the 13th position in the Ease of Doing Business. This is a milestone for the country!


Let me now talk about the last of the four challenges which is : the sustainable development of blue economy.

This is also a subject that is on your agenda. I am therefore glad to have this opportunity to explain what the EU is doing in this field. Given Mauritius' and Seychelles' geographic situation and status of Small Island States, the importance of the Blue Economy has to be highlighted.

For Mauritius the ocean economy represents over 10.5 % of the national GDP.


For Seychelles, fisheries and tourism, which are based on the country's coastal and maritime assets, are the two main pillars of its economy.

The EU has also a long-standing and solid partnership with Mauritius and Seychelles in the fisheries sector.

The agreements are a tool for win-win collaboration allowing Seychelles and Mauritius to be main exporters of tuna loins and canned tuna to the EU market. The EU fisheries agreements also focus on small fishing communities which are among the poorest and most vulnerable groups in partner countries, and hence help in addressing poverty issues. To give you examples:

In Seychelles, EU support has helped to set up new infrastructures such as fish markets, gear stores, ice plants in Mahe and La Digue that benefit local fishermen.

And we have just agreed upon a new Agreement and Protocol (2020 onwards) whereby we will continue to support local fishermen and the local sector with a strong focus on the environmental protection aspect and decent job conditions for young Seychellois seamen.

In Mauritius: we will shortly be providing the Albion Fishing Monitoring Centre is with the Electronic Reporting System (ERS) - the latest technological tools for fisheries monitoring which allows the automatic transmission of the vessels' position and catch data. We also support the Government's programme on off-lagoon fisheries through the purchase of small and medium boats. This helps fishermen supply the local market with local species, have more business-oriented activities; this ultimately contributes to improving fishermen's livelihoods.

But to keep fishing we need to ensure sustainability. The EU just launched a specific programme called E€OFISH. This is one of the commitments that we made during Our Ocean Conference 2018. Moreover, thanks to the recently signed FISH4ACP Programme, the EU will support investments in value chains and stimulate inclusive growth, bolster food security and minimise impacts on the marine environment.

I would like to conclude my explanation on this fourth and last challenge. Tomorrow, you will visit the Mauritius Oceanography Institute (MOI) that participates in the EU funded Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) Africa Programme. The MOI acts as the Regional Implementation Centre for Marine and Coastal Management in the East Africa Region.

The GMES programme provides the Institute access to satellite data and services, trainings and more to help the institute provide other countries in the region relevant information about the biological and physical state and dynamics of the ocean, fishing grounds, marine ecosystems, coastal vulnerability in support of marine and coastal management activities and adaptation strategies. The GMES programme and its predecessors over the last 15 years are totalling more than 100 million euros.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

All our actions highlighted to you in the areas of maritime security, climate change, trade and investment and blue economy, are priorities of our partnership with Mauritius, Seychelles and other countries in the region. They are in line with the Africa-Europe Alliance for sustainable investment and jobs.

The incoming President of the European Commission Ms Von der Leyen has expressed her vision for Europe to have a comprehensive strategy on Africa, EUs' closest neighbour and most natural partner. We will therefore continue to work with our partners in line with this vision.

In all our actions, as I have explained, we also strive to consult and involve non state actors.

Looking forward, our ambition is to transform our partnership with ACP countries into a modern political framework geared to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals.

As the EU and the ACP continue the negotiations of this new Partnership agreement, there is a strong awareness from both sides of the need to reinforce the role of Non State Actors. This is also in line with the letter of mission of the new EU Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development to have a dedicated focus on supporting civil society around the world and to ensure they have a greater role in designing and implementing European policies, programmes and projects.

Before I conclude, I would like to refer to an area that I have not yet mentioned: it is about promoting fundamental values such as respect for democracy, protection of human rights, including the promotion of gender equality. These fundamental values are the very foundation of our partnership with all partner countries. The voice of the civil society and our economic and social partners is key and taken into due consideration for the design and implementation of EU-funded projects. We continuously work and will continue to work with all State and Non-State partners and the civil society at large, to promote these fundamental values and contribute to building an inclusive society.

And this gives me the opportunity to mention our "Rise and Shine" campaign to achieve gender equality and fight gender based violence in Mauritius, and to invite you to our Silent Women's March on Saturday in Port Louis to mark the International Day for the elimination of violence against women.

Thank you for your attention.