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Remarks by H.E. Nina Obermaier

Published onNov 05, 2023
Remarks by H.E. Nina Obermaier

H.E. Nina Obermaier is the ambassador of the European Union to New Zealand.

Ngā mihi nui ki a kotou katoa.

Tenei te mihi ki te tangata whenua, Waikato Tainui.

Harikoa te nāgkau kua tai mai nei, albeit only virtually.

Kei te mihi Te Whare Wananga o Waikato, University of Waikato for convening today’s discussion.

Kei te mihi Excellencies, colleagues, distinguished participants in today’s discussion.

Looking at the question we have all been asked to answer, as a non-native speaker of English I was wondering about its intended direction: should I be outlining from an EU point of view the challenge faced by the Pacific or the challenge issued by the Pacific?

I think I will try to do both. As to the challenge faced by the Pacific, it is difficult to address this in singular form: starting with the most existential of challenges, climate change, to biodiversity, to resilience, to external economic shocks, to shifting geopolitical balances.

If the current increase in attention to the region, and the proliferation of high-level visits and meetings has demonstrated one thing it is that the Pacific Island countries have agency, agency that they use, both in a bilateral and in a regional context. I would argue that the challenge issued by the Pacific is that this agency be acknowledged, both in words and in actions.

I would also argue that the EU has acknowledged and valued this agency for a long time in its partnership with the Pacific region and as a development partner in the Pacific for many decades. In our development work, the EU is led by the priorities of the countries themselves,

Our support aligns with the Pacific Island Forum’s “2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent”, endorsed by Pacific Islands Forum Leaders at their meeting in July 2022. These are economic development; climate change; oceans and environment; people; technology and connectivity; peace and security.

Since 2014, and up to 2027, the EU’s commitment for development assistance for the Pacific region amounts to around EUR 1.5 billion, more than 2.5bn NZD. It focuses on three key priorities: (i) climate action and environmental sustainability, (ii) inclusive and sustainable economic development, (iii) fundamental values, human development, peace, and security. You will recognise the overlap with the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific.

In response to the most pressing and existential threat of climate change, the EU has made the Green Deal its flagship policy, with the objective of making Europe a climate-neutral continent by 2050 and ambitious interim targets by 2030. The EU acknowledges its responsibility also outside of its borders. As the world’s largest donor of climate finance, it supports developing countries in the development and implementation of national adaptation strategies and plans. We held a successful event on climate adaptation and loss and damage in July 2022, followed by a climate security event in the Pacific region in early 2023. The EU, EIB and its Member States are also the largest donors contributing 45%, or USD 4.5 billion, to the Green Climate Fund (GCF).

Nine PICs have had projects approved for GCF financing for a total of more than USD 600 million (grants and co-financing), with actions ranging from Urban Water Supply and Wastewater Management to coastal adaptation in Tuvalu to Integrated Flood Management in Samoa to the Pacific Islands Renewable Energy Investment Program. Under our new Global Gateway initiative, flagship projects in the Pacific are a Hydo-electric Power Plant in Fiji and a feasibility study for a port in Kiribati.

The EU has also been a strong supporter of Vanuatu’s efforts to secure the request for the ICJ’s advisory opinion on climate change from the International Court of Justice (ICJ), adopted by UNGA on 29 March. It is crucial to ascertain what the harm caused by climate change has meant for both current and future generations, as well as for those countries that, by virtue of their "geographical circumstances and level of development, are injured or specially affected by, or are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change”, and to encourage a maximum level of convergence between the measures governments have outlined in their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement and the actual cuts to greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) required. The resolution also comes at a pivotal moment in view of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change's 28th Conference of the Parties (UNFCCC COP 28) this November, with the first Global Stocktake under the Paris Agreement as its “main event.” The EU intends to use this process to encourage a progressive interpretation and full implementation of the Paris Agreement.

UNGA is still ongoing as we speak, and the SDG Summit has put development on top of this year’s agenda. Pacific countries might be concerned that the EU resolve on supporting Ukraine in the face of the illegal and unprovoked aggression by Russia could diminish engagement with partner countries to address their development challenges. These concerns are unfounded. Throughout the war, the EU has not only maintained its development cooperation and humanitarian assistance, it has provided additional contributions to improving global food security in the form of humanitarian assistance, by helping to get gain out of Ukraine, supporting vulnerable populations, and by stepping up our food production.

And we know that Pacific Island Countries are concerned about the threat to the rules-based international order the illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine poses. They have demonstrated this by showing solidarity with Ukraine in the face of the Russian aggression and in voting to condemn Russian actions in subsequent UNGA resolutions.

I spoke about how, as a development partner, the EU has been present in the Pacific for a long time. The EU is also intensifying its political relationship with the region: in November we expect signature of the “Samoa Agreement” which will deepen our political exchanges and a high-level visit to the region.

This comes on top of already existing significant political engagement with the PICs through regular bilateral Political Dialogues at Senior Official level and as a Dialogue Partner of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), the region’s main political organisation, as well as the first and so far only Permanent Observer of the Pacific Community (SPC), the main technical and scientific regional organization of the Pacific.

On the geopolitical situation in the wider region, the EU has set out a strategy on cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.

As the title of the strategy says, our emphasis is on cooperation and we take an inclusive approach. The Pacific does not have to become a theatre of increasing geo-political tension. Our aim should be to respect the sovereignty and sustainable development needs of all with the EU as a reliable partner.

The EU’s relations with the Indo-Pacific region are based on historic, cultural and commercial ties, and decades of significant cooperation and assistance. In this context the EU will deepen its engagement and reinforce its role as a reliable partner bringing added value to long-standing relations with all its partners in the region.

This includes like-minded partners, such as the United States, Australia, Japan, Korea, New Zealand. It also includes pursuing our multifaceted engagement with China, engaging bilaterally to promote solutions to common challenges, cooperating on issues of common interest and encouraging China to play its part in a peaceful and thriving Indo-Pacific region.

To conclude, the EU will continue and intensify its presence and engagement in the Pacific, building on its work as a trusted development partner and as a partner in political dialogue. The challenges faced by the Pacific are global challenges and require cooperation, not confrontation. In line with its Indo-Pacific strategy, the EU will deepen its engagement with partners in the Indo-Pacific to respond to emerging dynamics that are affecting regional stability. Our approach is designed to foster a rules-based international order, a level playing field, as well as an open and fair environment for trade and investment, tackling climate change and supporting connectivity with the EU.

No reira, tēnā koutou tēnā koutou tēnā tatou katoa.

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