George Edgar, ambassador of the European Union to Cambodia.
Today we celebrate the 67th anniversary of French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman’s Declaration of May 9, 1950, in which he called on Germany and other European countries to overcome the legacy of World War II and build a new Europe based on peaceful cooperation. That launched the process that led to today’s European Union, a union built on shared sovereignty, shared interests and common values.
In Cambodia this year we also celebrate another important event: 20 years ago, the European Community signed a cooperation agreement with the Royal Government of Cambodia. The agreement set out a framework for lasting and beneficial trade relations and the stepping up of economic and development cooperation. It is based on shared values: respect for democratic principles and fundamental human rights constitutes an essential element of the agreement.
The agreement was signed on April 29, 1997, and came into force on November 1, 1999. It marked a new chapter in relations between the two parties. But the history of partnership extends back to 1986. Between 1986 and 1993, the European Union provided support to Cambodian refugee camps on the Thai border and since the early 1990s the European Union has been a major development partner in Cambodia.
From the early stages of our relationship, the European Union has been proud to accompany with technical and financial support the reconstruction of Cambodia including the country’s first steps as a multiparty democracy, the building of national institutions and national capacity and the development of a vibrant and diverse civil society.
Today, the European Union Delegation manages a big development cooperation portfolio that is implemented as part of a joint programme with European partners. Together as a group, European partners are the largest grant aid donors to Cambodia and our joint programme is fully aligned to Cambodia’s national priorities set out by the government.
Increasing amounts of the European Union’s development assistance are channelled in direct transfers to the national budget, especially in the areas of education and public financial management reform. We are committed to strengthening national systems and supporting national ownership.
We intend to continue our budget support programmes and to increase the number of sectors where we work in this way, including in our support of the decentralisation reform.
The European Union is also working with a wide range of partners from our member states to UN agencies, civil society organisations and private sector organisations, in areas from gender equality to natural resource management. We have recently launched a project to support greater connectivity and economic integration between Cambodia and the rest of the Asean community.
In the past 20 years, Cambodia has made great progress in consolidating peace and security, reducing poverty and achieving global development targets such as the Millennium Development Goals. Access to education has increased, maternal and child health has improved, and the proportion of people living in severe poverty has fallen by two-thirds.
Cambodia’s endorsement in 2015 of the Sustainable Development Goals marks a continuation of this progress which the European Union will support in the years to come.
Our relationship goes well beyond development cooperation. As a least-developed country, Cambodia has benefited since 2001 from the Everything but Arms trade regime, which gives it duty-free and quota-free access to the European market.
The opening of our markets has helped the garment sector develop along with other industries such as footwear and bicycle manufacturing. The European Union is currently the largest export market for Cambodian goods, amounting to €4.5 billion ($4.93 billion) in 2016, and in turn this trading relationship has created thousands of jobs, notably for Cambodian women and the country’s rural population.
In the last few years, Cambodia’s GDP has grown at an average of more than 7 percent per year. Quick development generates important challenges and Cambodia is not an exception to that. Long-term stability requires that the benefits of development reach all citizens, and that the increasing wealth of a country drives a continuous improvement of public services.
Long-term growth rests on a diversified economy that balances the different productive sectors, respecting and replenishing the country’s natural resources. In a country ruled by a democratic constitution, it is important that all opinions find their voice, particularly in a young and rapidly changing society.
The European Union too is facing important challenges. I am confident that it will emerge from them stronger and with a renewed commitment to the ideals of Schuman and the founding fathers of European unity. Against that background our commitment to continue our cooperation with Cambodia is unwavering. We look forward to the next 20 years.