Nepali Times
"A lesson for the rest of the world"

Nepali Times: In the four years that you have been here, Nepal has gone through a dizzying political transformation. What are your impressions?
Eduardo Lechuga Jimenez: When I came here, I never realised we were going to witness such a historical evolution. In 2004, Mr Deuba was prime minister but I could see the government had no future because his capacity to maneuver was impossible. Then on 1 February 2005, when the king took over, we came to an autocratic situation. A year later we witnessed a social revolution and now we not only have a democratic government but a prime minister who is a former fighter. I have never been through such a fantastic and intense situation in my professional life.

Would you say that the visit of the EU Troika at that time and your embargo on aid to the royal government had an impact on the eventual sidelining of the king?
I think so. The Troika is a political instrument that analyses the situation in a country. We were already very worried when the first Troika came in December 2004, and we made that public. But I don't think the king's government was listening to our advice. We had to stop our cooperation because the regime was not a democratic one. I think it had a big impact because it was the biggest political message we gave to the government. Nevertheless, we continued our aid to the poor, to civil society and NGOs. What was remarkable was the fantastic response of the Nepali people and the political parties in dealing with the new situation.

Now that the political issues have been addressed, how is the EU placed to help Nepal with the economy and development?
Before development, there is still the challenge of political stability. One thing is to have a government, now they have to prove that it works. I think it is still too early to say, but what the government has to do is to deliver, and to prove to the people that it can govern and to the rest of the world that it is capable of facing the new task ahead. Apart from that, Nepal needs development, not just aid of which we are the biggest contributor, but also the preferential treatment for Nepali goods in the European market. Basically, we have to modernise the country's capacity to create wealth.

Have you had to change your Country Strategy Program 2007-2013 because of the political changes here?
No doubt. And that is why we came out a bit late, but it gave us time to adapt the program so well that we will have a better quality of aid. What we are looking out for till 2013 is social development: education, health, and inclusiveness in our programs. We are also going to be looking at the peace process and stability. And the economic part of the country strategy is that we will develop Nepal's trade with the rest of the world. We will also look at climate change, which is a priority for the EU.

How is third country repatriation of Bhutan refugees going, and is your aid now going to be phased out?
The American scheme is a very positive one, we are working with them and we will be embedded in it. We have put a limit to our presence in the camps and we will be phasing out by 2010. We have been supporting the cause and a solution to the problem for more than 20 years. Also, we have extended a one million euro aid for flood victims last week, on top of the 40 million euros of humanitarian aid to Nepal last year.

What would you say are your more striking memories of Nepal?
For me it is the capacity of the Nepali people to be so democratic to always give a very peaceful response to the difficult challenges that Nepal has had in these four years. I am really amazed by the peaceful evolution. Nothing is perfect, and I would be very na?ve if I didn't say that many things were not right. I have to congratulate the people of Nepal for the lesson they have given to the rest of the world about how you can evolve from a difficult political situation towards a stabilised one.

On a more personal basis, I was impressed 20 years ago when I came here, and now I am even more impressed. I am almost about to cry as I leave here in a few days. The beauty of the country comes from the mountains and fields of Nepal, but also from the people. My wish is that I will be accepted as a friend of Nepal forever.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)