1. First, I would like to thank the Togolese Presidency for having invited me to take the floor on behalf of the European Union during today’s timely and relevant debate. It’s an honour to be among all of you today.
2. I also thank the UNSG for his insightful remarks: we can only agree with all the important issues that the UNSG has brought to the fore. The United Nations can count on the unwavering support from the EU to move our common ambitious agenda forward.
WEST AFRICA: short diagnosis
3. Following the end of the Cold War in the 90s, West Africa has undergone a process of democratisation which has been consolidating over the years. Also important, West African States are currently involved in a solid regional integration process. This aims to promote peace, stability, democracy and good governance in the region, as well as creating a large, open and competitive economical area, through the creation of a common market integrated into the world economy, and a monetary union with a common currency (CFA) for several countries. The EU views these regional integration mechanisms as key pillars to bring peace, security, stability and prosperity to the region.
4. Despite these important strides, the countries of the region still face daunting challenges, ranging from challenges to democracy (human rights violations, weak governance, and corruption) to security, economic, environmental and humanitarian challenges.
5. These governance shortcomings are being used by some criminal networks to increase their activities within the area, in particular drug trafficking which links the region to the broader cocaine route economy, and piracy off the coast of Guinea. The impact of organized crime on peace, security and stability is particularly damaging. The EU is determined to support the countries of the region in facing these difficult challenges.
6. Further, the region faces very serious security threats: the presence of AQIM in the northern part of the Malian Territory where it has found a safe haven; the escalation of terrorist attacks perpetrated by Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria; the latest round in the recurrent saga of touareg rebellions, led this time by a new movement, the MNLA (Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad), reinforced by well armed, well trained, pro-Ghadafi fighters of Malian origin, and the spread of weaponry and ammunitions flowing from within and outside the region. The intermingling of all these threats with the penetration of the international drug trafficking networks, have generated new humanitarian problems, in particular in the north of Mali, where we see high numbers of IDPs and refugees escaping from the combat zones. In addition, hostage taking of foreign citizens has increasingly become a major source of revenues for terrorist groups (AQIM).
7. These threats, especially in combination, could send the region’s security and humanitarian situation into a deteriorating spiral.
8. Indeed, across the Sahel region of western Africa, a combination of drought, poverty, high grain prices, environmental degradation and chronic underdevelopment threatens to plunge millions of people into a new food and nutrition crisis this year. Twelve million people are at risk of hunger.
9. The EU has already taken rapid and determined action to prevent famine in the Sahel. We are scaling up humanitarian assistance to €123.5 million for the Sahel region. Combined with at least €150 million of development assistance, it brings EU funding for the Sahel so far this year to almost €275 million. But it’s estimated that €700 million will be required to cover the next 6 months. Overall, and despite many decades of effort and international aid, the situation remains very worrying.
10. Against this backdrop, we would like to congratulate Togo for its pro-active approach and for having put the issue of Organized Crime so high on its Presidency Agenda. This is an important and urgent subject for the UN. But this is as well a very important matter for the International Community. These problems also seriously affect us all. Our duty is to raise awareness of these threats to peace and stability. It is also in our common interest to maintain and step up action in West Africa in the years to come. The EU is already acting on these challenges, and is ready to play its role and stay the course.
EU’s response: a comprehensive approach
11. The EU has a well established and highly substantial cooperation with the region, and it is firmly committed to continue to support West Africa in facing its challenges. Ours is a comprehensive approach, in partnership with the region, covering all the main challenges related to Organised Crime. That includes the Sahel and the support to the fight against drugs and piracy, to recall some important examples.
12. For the Sahel, the EU has recently adopted a comprehensive Strategy of Security and Development, to support the countries most concerned (Mali, Mauritania and Niger) by the problems of insecurity, in particular the threats of terrorism by AQMI and criminal drug traffic, internal conflict, poverty, weak capacities and poor governance. It is an ambitious strategy, in partnership with all the EU Member States as well as countries of the region, endowed with substantial political and financial resources (150 M €), covering political, security, development and diplomatic action. It is a Strategy of contribution building up on the principle of ownership and promoting regional cooperation among the most concerned countries. The EU is also considering a possible civilian action in the region (Niger) in the field of our Common Security and Defence Policy. But the main responsibility, and leadership, lies with the Sahel countries concerned.
13. The fight against drug trafficking is a critical challenge for West Africa. The region has given itself a promising Action Plan, based on the Praia Declaration against drugs. It is essential that this is now translated into concrete action. The EU has made clear its firm determination to support the region’s efforts to implement the Plan, and we are liaising with the US (as G8 Chair) and other partners to coordinate and maximise the impact of our support. But the main burden is on the region’s shoulders; the region must lead this fight, with the unfailing support of the EU and the rest of the International Community.
14. Piracy off the Coast of West Africa is also a growing problem. Escalation both in frequency and intensity of attacks on citizens and trade is causing a significant decline in customs and port revenues, and damaging the prospects of the sub-region. The EU is already taking action to help the region to confront this scourge. For example, we are funding INTERPOL’s development of a police information system for Benin and Ghana. Under this system, a single data base on organized crime will be created and made available to all 15 West African States. Other possibilities to support the sub-region are currently being explored. Again, West African leadership will be essential, both at national and regional level, to confront this important challenge successfully.
15. Under the same principle of regional leadership and ownership, we fully support and welcome ECOWAS’ increasing involvement in confronting security and development challenges in West Africa, including in the Sahel and on the key issues of the fight against drugs and organised crime. More generally, ECOWAS has become a main player in furthering peace and security in West Africa. We are convinced that the efforts towards regional integration are extremely useful for the region, as well as the global Community, and therefore deserve continued support by the International Community.
16. To conclude, let me underline our common objective to have a stabilised, more peaceful, democratic and prosperous West African region, an area safe for people and trade, where local governance is improved, with better distribution of wealth, and natural resources benefits reaching local communities. Continued and deepened regional integration should result in effective institutions and common policies in support of peace, stability and governance, thereby increasing prosperity. Significant improvements in good governance and human rights will also be essential to address the root causes of insecurity.
17. The EU remains deeply committed to help West Africa, in partnership with its countries and its regional organisations, to combat the scourge of criminal activities, corruption and trafficking of human beings and drugs, with a view to their eradication, and the construction of peaceful, stable and prosperous societies.