On Friday, we commemorate Europe Day – the anniversary of the Schuman Declaration – a wonderful occasion to celebrate how in the EU we have overcome age-old differences to shape a common future.
On May 9, 1950, Robert Schuman called for unification of Europe to make war on the continent impossible and to spread peace and prosperity globally. Around the world, whether in Cairo or Kiev, people want what we have in the EU: personal rights and freedoms, democratic governance, rule of law and a decent standard of living.
Events in Ukraine show that we cannot take these values for granted. In today’s Europe, we see that democracy is a constant work in progress; we share a responsibility to safeguard and nurture it. And we will stand by those who stand up to call for it.
Over the years, the EU has built a diplomatic service for the 21st century so that when we speak, our voice is heard. And when we engage, our actions make a difference. Our citizens know that in the face of big problems such as fragile states, pandemics, energy security, climate change and migration, we are more effective together.
Through its work, the EU has become a truly global player, able to promote its values and interests around the world. We have made human rights the silver lining that runs through EU foreign policy, assisting democratic transitions around the globe and helping oppressed minorities, social groups and NGOs to voice their concerns.
The EU also has an important role to play in bringing together partners around the world to achieve lasting peace and stability. The EU’s high representative for foreign and security policy, Catherine Ashton, leads the talks between the EU 3+3 (Germany, France and the UK as well as the US, China and Russia) and Iran. The talks resulted in an interim agreement on Iran’s nuclear program last November – a crucial step towards making this world a safer and more secure place.
In crises around the world, the EU adopts a comprehensive approach, combining all the tools at our disposal: diplomatic, developmental, military and economic. This allows us to address both the symptoms and the causes of the problems we face.
Take the Horn of Africa, where thanks to a combination of political dialogue with the government of Somalia, our naval mission ATALANTA and targeted development aid and humanitarian assistance, piracy has been reduced by 95 per cent. The young boys who once manned pirate ships now go to school and learn the skills that will help them lead their country towards a more prosperous future. Also, Cambodia’s exports to its biggest market – the EU – can nowadays be shipped through safely.
This is a special year for the EU. A decade ago, 10 new members joined our union. The 2004 enlargement was a crucial step towards overcoming decades of division on our continent. Since then, three new members have joined our club – a testament to the continuing attraction of the EU.
This year is also special for European citizens. From May 22 to May 25, voters will go to the polls to cast their ballots for the next European Parliament. This means citizens will have a clear say in what the EU’s priorities should be for the next five years.
In Cambodia, the last general elections in 2013 sent clear messages to politicians. The enthusiasm of the young voters during the campaign was remarkable, reflecting the aspirations, frustrations, expectations and dreams for a better life of the majority of Cambodians, most of whom are under 30 years old.
Whatever the political parties discuss to solve the current stalemate, the most important issues will be to continue strengthening the democratic process. A stronger voice must be guaranteed to the citizens – even if it means people demonstrating in the streets, as this is a right provided in the Cambodian Constitution. Key reforms must be sped up, as they will put the government and the judicial system at the service of the whole Cambodian population.
Cambodia has made considerable socioeconomic gains over the past two decades, as illustrated by the fact that the country is likely to reach most of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015 and has already reached many of them far ahead of time, being among the best and fastest MDG achievers globally. Today’s challenge for Cambodia is to sustain and further advance these gains by underpinning them with complementary democratic progress, including electoral reform and full respect for freedom of expression, assembly and demonstration. Everybody does not always agree, but democracy gives a voice to everybody, so that they can find an agreement. “Unity in diversity” is a founding motto and underlying belief on which the EU is built. As the largest grant assistance provider to Cambodia, the EU will continue to stand by those in Cambodia who share these objectives for their country.
Sixty-four years ago, Robert Schuman took a decisive step towards what we today know as the European Union. After 64 years in the EU, we have learned that only democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights can bring lasting stability and freedom – the key ingredients of peace.
Jean-François Cautain is the ambassador of the European Union to the Kingdom of Cambodia