Speech by the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, to the National Assembly of Côte d’Ivoire
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Mr President, allow me first to thank you for receiving me in this prestigious institution.
The Parliamentary Summit, held in this building, finished yesterday, and the Summit of Heads of State will begin this afternoon.
As President of the European Parliament it is important for me to have this opportunity to address you, for your institution symbolises the fact that Côte d’Ivoire is a democratic and diverse country.
Your country is an important partner of the European Union.
As you know, in June President Ouattara addressed a plenary sitting of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
And today I am here speaking to you.
This exchange is proof of the friendship between our two peoples.
I would like to pay tribute to the Ivorian people, who have shown a willingness to move on from the series of crises the country has endured and to look to the future.
And that future, I am sure, is bright.
It is not that long ago that Côte d’Ivoire emerged from a political and military crisis. Yet in just a few years it has become one of the most dynamic economies in Africa, with growth estimated at 8% this year.
It is the second largest economy in the region, after Nigeria.
By diversifying its economy and developing its industrial base, Côte d’Ivoire has been able to withstand tumbling commodity prices.
During my visit to the CEMOI cocoa processing plant yesterday afternoon I saw for myself evidence of the modernisation process upon which the country has embarked.
It is vital to a country’s development that, in addition to extracting raw materials, it also processes them, because that provides added value, jobs and revenue.
Cocoa is a case in point: it accounts for 15% of Côte d’Ivoire’s GDP, more than half its exports and two-thirds of the jobs and earnings of Ivorians.
This is the model to follow: an industrial base and economic diversification.
In that context, I welcome the National Development Plan, which reflects your ambition to develop Côte d’Ivoire into an emerging market economy by 2020 by implementing numerous reforms.
I share that ambition and I am optimistic.
Côte d’Ivoire has many assets, including its fisheries, its strong farming industry (cocoa, coffee, palm oil, bananas, pineapples, etc.) and energy (oil).
Thanks to a new liquefied gas terminal, Côte d’Ivoire is set to become a regional energy player.
Services are also being developed, particularly telecommunications.
I also applaud the sound management of the Ivorian economy, in particular the significant reduction in the national debt, which will make it easier to finance the road and rail infrastructure projects which the country needs.
Now is the time to keep the forward momentum going, to continue on the path of reform in order to improve the business climate and attract more investment. As the country’s legislative body, you will have a vital role to play in this process.
Turning to the question of governance, last week Mo Ibrahim came to the European Parliament for our high-level conference on Africa.
According to the index compiled by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, Côte d’Ivoire is the African country which has done most in recent years to consolidate the rule of law and good governance.
I would also highlight the abolition of the death penalty as further evidence of our common values: the European Union is the only region in the world not to have the death penalty.
Côte d’Ivoire’s regional and international role
All these developments have strengthened Côte d’Ivoire’s hand at regional, continental and international level.
Beyond sporting events such as the Francophonie Games, which it organised this summer, Côte d’Ivoire is now playing host to the African Union-European Union Summit and its related events: the Parliamentary Summit and the Business Forum, to name but two.
On the international stage, Côte d’Ivoire will be a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for the period 2018-2019. I congratulate you on that achievement.
That you have become a key player was also evident in the attention which the German G20 presidency paid to your country.
It is now up to you to build on these achievements.
That said, I have to say how sorry we are that Les Éléphants will not be going to next year’s World Cup in Russia.
We have taken great delight in watching your golden generation of players – Didier Drogba, Yaya Touré and many others.
Despite the progress you have made, challenges remain on issues such as poverty, inequality, education, healthcare and access to drinking water and electricity.
Infrastructure is lacking and foreign investment remains very low.
Côte d’Ivoire is a young country with a large population. The priority is therefore to create jobs for these young people.
Europe is here to work with you on these issues, as equals. We need to develop strong economic diplomacy and invest more and better in this country.
SMEs should be promoted, including those run by women because, let us not forget, women play a major role in the informal economy.
I believe we need to improve mobility, both between our two continents and also within the African continent, in order to help develop the new generation of African leaders.
I believe also that mobility will need to be based on a form of ‘African Schengen’.
Africans should be able to travel more freely around their continent. It is often easier for a European to travel in Africa than it is for Africans themselves.
Freedom of movement would facilitate political and economic integration on the continent. ECOWAS, for example, is an integration model worth following.
Peace, security and stability must also be at the forefront of our efforts.
Rest assured that we have not forgotten how Côte d’Ivoire, like Europe, has been targeted by terrorists, notably in the attack in Grand-Bassam.
This is a scourge we cannot tackle alone. We need to work together on this issue, including through regional organisations such as ECOWAS and the African Union.
Let us not forget either the problems of maritime piracy and drug trafficking.
Regarding these issues, particular attention should be paid to the Sahel, to stop terrorists and traffickers spreading their evil throughout West Africa.
Your country has always been a symbol of cultural and religious diversity; this is a valuable asset in the fight against radicalisation.
Lastly, let us not forget another issue of vital importance – sustainable development and climate change.
While this is something for which Côte d’Ivoire is not responsible, your country is certainly suffering its effects in the form of droughts, flooding and coastal erosion.
We worked together to ensure the success of the Paris Climate Agreement; it is now up to us to implement it.
The issue of migration must also be the focus of our attention. It is one of the reasons why we need to act on investment, stability and climate change.
Cooperation with the European Union
We have a well-established relationship which is based on a number of tangible instruments.
For example, the European Development Fund, which has a budget of EUR 273 million for the period 2014-2020, prioritises peace, agriculture and energy.
But there are others, such as the instrument contributing to stability and peace, which could be used to help with disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration.
The Emergency Trust Fund to promote stability and address the root causes of irregular migration has been expanded to include Côte d’Ivoire.
In addition, we are the largest investors in your country.
So Côte d’Ivoire is a priority country for European economic diplomacy, a status which emphasises our willingness to strengthen ties at all levels, including economic ties.
Nevertheless, over and above these cooperation instruments there is a need for political will.
In that connection I welcome the recent opening of an Ivorian mission to the European Union.
Côte d’Ivoire can and must serve as an example to other countries on the African continent, particularly in West Africa.
We face many common challenges, but there are also numerous opportunities which we can seize together.
You can be certain of my personal commitment.