Statement delivered by Deputy Minister Sue van der Merwe to the European Union Parliamentary Delegation for Relations with South Africa, European Union Parliament, Brussels, Tuesday 6 October 2009

Chair of the Delegation for Relations with South Africa, Mr Cashman,
Members of the European Parliament Delegation for Relations with South Africa,

Thank you for inviting me and for giving me an opportunity to make a statement at this first meeting of the newly constituted Delegation for Relations with South Africa. The number of regular inter-parliamentary interactions between South Africa and the European Parliament over the past few years is proof of the importance of this Delegation, making it a great honour for me to be here.

Firstly, let me take this opportunity to extend, on behalf of the government of South Africa, our warm congratulations to all the Members on their recent election to the European Parliament and to this important Delegation. I would also like to congratulate Mr Cashman on being elected as Chair of the Delegation. 

The relations between South Africa and the European Union and particularly the European Parliament go back a long way, pre-dating 1994, when the European Parliament supported the anti-apartheid struggle including through financing humanitarian aid via NGOs.  The European Parliament even awarded former President Nelson Mandela the Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought in 1989, despite him being still in jail.

After 1994, South African and the EU strengthened their relations through various agreements, most notably the Trade and Development Cooperation Agreement signed in 1999 and the Strategic Partnership which was established in 2007.  Both of the agreements envisage that South Africa and European Union should hold regular inter-parliamentary contacts on various areas of co-operation and anticipate that parliament will play an oversight role on the implementation of the agreements.  As there are now twelve structured dialogues under the Strategic Partnership, the potential areas of co-operation between the two parliaments are vast.

It is indeed encouraging to observe a commitment from this parliament to carry through the spirit and letter of these agreements, ensuring the consolidation and deepening of relations between South Africa and the EU, particularly at a time fraught with global uncertainty and anxiety brought about by the global economic and financial crisis. This global crisis could not have come at a worse time for Africa and the rest of the developing world. Working together we must ensure that this crisis does not undo the great strides made in Africa, particularly in SADC where major achievements have been registered in a lot of areas including the deepening of democracy, the improvement of trade, economic and investment incentives and the enhancement of the lives of SADC citizens.

More importantly, it must not result in the further marginalisation of Africa and accentuate the potential for political and social instability in the region. Similarly, Climate change will impose an additional burden on our societies and present real challenges to development and stability. We face the real threat of reduced water availability resulting in low crop yield, food insecurity, disease prevalence and tension between different sectors within communities. The developing world will be looking towards your leadership as we approach the Copenhagen Conference.

The next inter-parliamentary interaction scheduled for 20 to 22 October in Strasbourg comes at an opportune time, after South Africa and the European Union recently concluded a Summit in Cape Town just last month.  Parliamentarians will be in a position to deliberate on these matters which were also discussed at the Summit.  It is worth noting that the Summit as well as the Ministerial Troika outcomes make reference to South Africa – European Union inter-parliamentary interaction as some of the highlights of South Africa – European Union cooperation.

Finally, as both the European Parliament and South Africa recently elected new parliamentarians that will be taking part in this interaction, it is exciting and encouraging to note that the first interaction is so soon after elections.  It is also added proof of the importance of relations between the two.  I am sure that the first interaction will also include opportunity for the two groups of Parliamentarians to get to know each other in less formal settings, particularly as it will be the South African delegation’s first trip to Strasbourg.

Thank you again for inviting me to this meeting and giving me an opportunity to make a statement, I am sure the meeting in Strasbourg will go very well.

c/o South African Embassy in Belgium

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