Speech by Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane at the Europe Regional Heads of Mission Conference, Brussels, 09 May 2010

Programme Director, Deputy Director General for Europe, Ambassador Rapu Molekane ,
Director – General, Dr. Ayanda Ntsaluba,
Host Ambassador, Dr. Anil Sooklal,
Your Excellencies, High Commissioners and Ambassadors,
Senior Government Officials from DIRCO and from Partner Departments and Agencies,
Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen

This regional Heads of Mission Conference coincides with the first anniversary of the 4th democratically elected government administration, which was inaugurated on the 07th May, 2009. We had subsequent to that, met at a Heads of Mission Conference in Sandton in August, 2009 to dissect our mandate as the newly, renamed Department of International Relations and Cooperation on the basis of an election Manifesto, which asserted that “Working Together We Can Do More”. 

Indeed, this working together is not confined to us as South Africans.  It also includes South and North-South relationships as well as our partnership with international organizations and non-state actors. We are therefore back here to the drawing board, in Brussels, to build on the outcomes of that Sandton meeting.

A little more than two weeks ago, (on the 22nd April, 2010), we presented our case in the Budget Vote, to Parliament, reaffirming our confidence and assuring the legislature that (I quote)  “our department has not only fully aligned its work to our key priorities, but that it has woven these into our strategic focus which is based on the primacy of the African continent, the centrality of our region (SADC), our commitment to South-South relations, the centrality of multilateralism, the significance of countries in the Northern hemisphere and the strengthening of the social, political and economic relations”.   (close quote)

Giving assurance to Parliament means that we have work to back up those assurances with actions. When we go back to report in the next budget year, we can then confidently say the budget you approved for us was put into good use and utilized prudently with the key priorities being achieved and the objectives addressed in our work in our relations with Europe, in this instance.

Ambassadors, dear colleagues,
A lot has happened since President Zuma assumed office. The chairship of the African Union has reverted back to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, with Malawi as our steward during 2010. We will work with Malawi and other African countries to realize the immediate objectives of the AU Constitutive Act and the ongoing work of the continental organization.

Closer to you, we held the SA-EU Summit in September 2009 in Cape Town. Within the SA-EU partnership, South Africa needs to continue to engage the European Union on already established dialogues, and continue to push forward on the establishment of the remaining dialogue forums which will directly speak to the five key priorities as stated by our President in his Inaugural Address.

The 10TH Sa–eu Ministerial Political Dialogue and the Africa – EU troika will be meeting here in Brussels following this Heads of Mission Conference.

We congregate here fully cognisant of the fact that the economies of this region in particular and other developing countries in general, have been severely affected by the recession. We were beginning to believe that the world was now recovering from the crisis, but the current crisis in Greece has put the Eurozone on the skids. Other developing countries are also finding it a challenge to obtain funds to complete infrastructural and social development projects. The challenges of this recession affect South Africa as well.

Notwithstanding this, we have structured bilateral partnerships with individual member countries in Europe as well as mechanisms for SA-EU relations, SADC-EU relations, and for Africa- EU relations.

South Africa’s role in Africa has strengthened and we remain a member of the SADC troika.  We are still seized with our mediation and peace building efforts in Zimbabwe, Sudan, Madagascar and elsewhere around the continent.

We have been endorsed by the African Union Summit early this year, as Africa’s candidate for the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) non-permanent seat for the two years in 2011 and 2012. This also bodes well for our ongoing development work and cooperation programmes with some individual members of the EU as well as the EU to support our peace building efforts and post-conflict reconstruction in the continent.

This 4th administration has also intensified strategic engagements with countries of the emerging economic giants of the South – namely: China, Brazil and India - through our bilateral relations and the IBSA, BRIC and the G20.

The configuration of global strategic partnerships is changing, so should we. We need to evaluate our own partnerships at bilateral level in line with our bilateral interests as well as our agenda in multilateral organisations. This meeting here today has to reinforce our effort to find the best way to move forward as a country in a changing global environment.

I am hoping as we deliberate today, we shall have some outcomes on some of the following issues:

  1. How we triangulate with Europe to advance the Continental and regional agendas.
  2. How we engage Europe to advance our interests at home and on global issues and international governance.
  3. What are the major political, economic and cultural trends in Europe and what are the implications for our foreign policy.
  4. What are the significant institutional dynamics in Europe and how do we respond to those, especially in the context of the  Lisbon Treaty.
  5. Interrogate how we engage the identified anchor states within Europe.
  6. Recognise and further identify other role players, including non-state actors that we could engage to advance our foreign policy in Europe.
  7. How do we best promote our priorities for trade and investment in this region to advance the goals of our economic diplomacy in general and in particular our industrial development strategy (the Industrial Policy Action Plan)?
  8. What is our contribution to the branding and marketing of South Africa in Europe?

Programme Director, Ambassadors,
While we tease these matters, we do this cognisant of the changing environment in the European region as a whole. All countries in this region aspire to the membership of the European Union. At the end of the day, there may be no members left outside the Eurozone with the exception of Russia.

You have a European Union that is moving closer to a common foreign policy approach for all its members and a common defence and security policy on international issues.

Russia to the east of Europe, is a significantly large country that is a global player, very influential its own right.

Furthermore, the implementation of the Lisbon Reform Treaty on 1 December 2009 means that there will be a number of changes in the way countries engage with Europe and the way Europe engages the world. Having a single EU High Representative should allow for a more streamlined approach to Europe, and our Missions need to maximise the relationship with this office.

However, the challenges with the treaty are numerous at the moment, and it is difficult to come to grips with the new structures and competencies. Our Missions need to ensure that the desks at Head Office are aware of the new channels and how we can maximise the new structure to South Africa’s benefit.

These are the realities emerging out of Europe.

Moving to the Central and Eastern region of Europe, our bilateral relations are just as significant, especially with new members of the EU. We count on their support in multilateral fora, and indeed smaller countries tend to hold sway on issues that we share with these emerging nations.  

Over the last year, the political environment in Europe has been slowly changing with countries in the region beginning to lean more towards the conservative side of politics. Our Missions in this region need to continue to engage these developments and ensure that our objectives continue to be prioritised.

Trade is on a steady increase and shows significant potential. We recognise that Ministerial visits to the region should still be prioritised to strengthen the communications and maximise the opportunities described above.  Visits could be used to convey key messages regarding South Africa’s five domestic priorities and the Africa agenda.

However, we have been experiencing change in import-export flows recently, especially following the news of Spain’s downgrading in the wake of the fiscal problems in this region. We are told Portugal is under the spotlight as well.

Apart from its economic woes, Europe’s socio-cultural landscape is also changing, with influences coming from all over the world resulting in more stringent rules on groups of people of non-European descent. There are indeed growing incidences of xenophobia and anti-African sentiment within Europe and we must engage on this.

Consequent to that changing social culture, travel to Europe has become a challenge and this has impacted on long-standing visa arrangements with South Africa and stalling new arrangements with some individual members both within the Schengen and outside the Schengen arrangement and new members who want to benefit from old arrangements that are collapsing as a result of the Schengen.   We believe, as we all know, that all future visa waiver arrangements must have reciprocity built in as a fundamental principle.

We have recognised the importance of non-state actors and the need to work with them in a more structured manner to realise our economic development objectives and in our trade and investment partnerships with the rest of the world. South Africa must continue to enhance its relationships with non-governmental organisations and especially South African business abroad in order to expand our economic support base.

Besides business and the progressive civil society organisations, we have to reach out to constituencies that used to be part of the anti-apartheid movement.  We can harness our relations with these constituencies to strengthen our networks and work as Missions, but also to support our foreign policy objectives and programmes at home.

Missions must identify these organisations, be they from South Africa or foreign, and ensure that South Africa’s priorities and areas of concern are engaged on in as many different forums as possible.

Working with non-state actors also necessitates that we coordinate with partner departments. What it will take us to achieve greater Inter-departmental coordination and co-operation remains a challenge and the DIRCO must continue to engage and build ties with our sister departments.
This can and will have an impact on South Africa’s ability to carry out its Foreign Policy objectives as we move towards development partnerships through the creation of a development cooperation arm, the South African Development Partnership Agency, SADPA. It is also important that as South Africa we look beyond development assistance in its pure sense but rather development cooperation through trade and investment.

The November 29th 2010 Africa- EU Summit will take place at an important point in relations between Africa and the North. This Summit will take place three years after the Lisbon Summit and ten years after the Cairo Summit at which the Africa-EU Dialogue was institutionalized.  Furthermore, the Summit takes place after the G8 Summit would have been held in Canada, eight years after the launch of the G8 Africa Action Plan in Kananaskis, Canada.
This Summit takes place soon after the 10-year MDG Review Summit would have been held. Expectations and the pressure to ensure that the upcoming Africa-EU Summit delivers is thus resounding and unavoidable.   All of these, make it all the more important that the centrality of Africa’s development in our relations with Europe be at the core of your work in the missions in this region.

We will continue to participate the EPAs negotiations, but we believe that the outcomes must enhance regional integration on our continent, including then SADC.

To conclude, our relationship with Europe and the rest of the international community must be enhanced in order to ensure that there are strong and tangible outcomes which emerge from these engagements. We need to ensure that our priorities are met and that our ongoing foreign relations bear fruit for the country.

Our participation in international organisations needs to be carefully considered and our Missions must assist us, as you are the front-line of our country. Likewise, desks at Head Office have to ensure that clearly defined strategies and areas of focus are communicated to our Missions in Europe to ensure cohesion of purpose and to gain maximum results for South Africa.

In a time of tight budgets within South Africa the Department must ensure that its current projects are productive and that the Missions are staffed appropriately in order to effectively fulfil the foreign policy objectives of South Africa. Missions and desks must work closely to ensure that this is done.

I am also aware that our Heads of Missions, together with your teams are doing commendable work in ensuring that the department responds to the government’s national priorities. I want to thank you for your sterling efforts and encourage you to work harder to create a better life for South Africans. That is what it is about. I feel privileged and proud to be a member of this team and to have been asked to lead TEAM DIRCO.

Continue the good work! I know you are ready for the World Cup!  Ke Nako!

I thank you for your attention.

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