Today we celebrate Europe Day – the anniversary of a Declaration made in 1950 by then-French foreign minister Robert Schuman that launched the European Coal and Steel Community, the first step on the road to today’s European Union.
It’s worth remembering that the Schuman Declaration came less than five years after the end of World War II, which killed more than any other conflict in history, and saw horrific human rights abuse in Europe in the name of nationalism.
Schuman’s vision was not only of economic cooperation but of a community based on democratic, supranational principles that would create “an organisation putting an end to war and guaranteeing an eternal peace”. Schuman was also one of the fathers of the Council of Europe, an organisation with a wider membership than the EU that has at its centre the European Convention on Human Rights.
Between them, those organisations have given us a Europe, in which a removal of barriers to import and export has created what may be the biggest economy in the world, and in which human rights and fundamental freedoms are guaranteed both by national legal and judicial systems and by a European Court of Human Rights that can rule between individuals and the states of which they are citizens.
They have given us a Europe that can adopt progressive social and environmental legislation that would be almost impossible to achieve in states acting separately. And they have replaced a European politics based on a set of national interests that are seen as inevitably conflicting with a system based on cooperation and on the principle that working together benefits all of us.
Over the past week, the EU Delegation, in collaboration with the embassies of EU member states in Phnom Penh, has organised a program of activities linked to Europe Day, including radio call-in programs on 102 FM, lectures and meetings with students at universities in Phnom Penh, Battambang and Siem Reap, and on Saturday the fourth annual “Europe on a Bicycle” cycle ride.
This year’s cycle ride had the theme of “European Union and Cambodia: Together for the Earth” – because cycling is a clean, green mode of transport; and to draw attention to some of the challenges that we face in connection with how we handle our relationship with the environment.
The biggest of those challenges is how we respond to climate change. The EU and its member states, along with countries from all parts of the world, worked hard to reach agreement at the climate change summit in Paris last December – COP 21 – on the shape of a global, legally binding agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Cambodia was an active participant.
King Sihamoni spoke at the opening session of the summit, and Cambodia presented an ambitious Intended Nationally Determined Contribution – an outline of the steps it plans to take to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. The nations of the world agreed to act to limit the increase in global average temperature to less than 2 degrees Celsius.
That will require rapid and far-reaching action to make our economies more energy efficient and to reduce deforestation. The EU is taking big steps domestically to reduce emissions, with a target of a 20 per cent reduction by 2020 and a 90 per cent reduction – essentially decarbonising our economies – by 2050. And we’re working with other governments, including the government of Cambodia, to support them in taking action too.
That is only one aspect of a program of cooperation with Cambodia by the European Union and its member states. Along with Switzerland, we have established a joint European Development Cooperation Strategy that guides our work in sectors including education, governance, agriculture and rural development.
Together we provide more grant assistance to Cambodia than any other donor. We also support the work of civil society in a variety of areas, both as service providers and in their work to help people ensure their rights are respected.
I’m proud of the role the EU plays as a partner of the Cambodian government and of civil society in efforts to build a peaceful, prosperous future for its citizens. I’m proud too to be here representing a Europe that – for all its flaws and all its challenges – has come so far towards realising Robert Schuman’s vision.
George Edgar is the ambassador of the European Union to the Kingdom of Cambodia.