May 9th is another opportunity to celebrate our collective identity as Europeans and to reaffirm the longstanding partnership between the European Union and other individual EU member states with Nepal.
A very forward-looking and positively charged speech by the then French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman laid the foundation stone for the European integration. The EU was created a few years later in 1957. Fifty years later, in 2007 as we celebrate our common history and values, Schuman's idea of lasting peace continues to inspire countries and peoples to set aside their disputes and embark upon dialogue.
Over the years the European Union has expanded from six to 27 member states making the continent the largest economic and political block. The integrated Europe houses approximately 450 million people and accession negotiation is already underway with two more countries-Croatia and Turkey.
With continuous enlargement, the EU now has a global reach that enables us to facilitate trade and development to support human rights, rule of law, and democracy worldwide. I am proud to say that the EU has successfully been able to take on the responsibilities that come along the increased political influence it casts globally. Integrated Europe, today, is the largest development donor in the world.
Schuman proposed that Europeans commit themselves to democracy and should solve important political and economic issues among themselves through dialogue. These are the same values the EU continues to uphold, and those values are also reflected in the aid we provide to other countries.
Even though the European Commission opened its Delegation to Nepal in March 2002, its presence in Nepal is much older. It formally established diplomatic relations in 1975 and set up its Technical Office in 1992. An EU-Nepal Co-operation Agreement has existed since June 1996. Within this cooperation framework high-level consultation the so-called 'Joint Commission' takes place between the European Commission and the Government of Nepal on bi-annual basis. The most recent EC-Nepal Joint Commission was held on 14 February 2007.
We have continuously increased our presence in Nepal in the form of increased development aid. In the next six-year cooperation period of 2007-2013, the EU will nearly double its aid to Nepal to 160 million (NRs 11 billion). The huge boost in aid to Nepal is an indication of our trust and faith in the Nepal's current process of transition to democracy and sustainable peace.
We assure a full backing to the current Nepal government and reassure our sincere support to the democratic process that will ultimately lead to lasting peace in the country. That is a reason why the EU likes to focus its assistance on the Nepal government's endeavours to improve literacy in the coming five years.
We believe in helping Nepal develop and prosper and will continue to work not only with the government but also with other leaders from civil society and the general public. We are fully committed to promote the core EU values of human rights, democracy, press freedom, and equality in Nepal with financial and moral support.
Eduardo Lechuga-Jimenez is Charg? d' Affaires of the Delegation of the European Commission to Nepal.