Eduardo Lechuga Jimenez is acting head of Delegation of the European Commission in Nepal. In the run-up to Europe Day on 9 May, he spoke to Nepali Times about the challenges faced by an expanding Europe and the EU's reaction to events in Nepal.
Nepali Times: You added 10 members last year, Romania and Bulgaria are next. Is there a feeling the EU growing too fast?
Eduardo Lechuga Jimenez: Yes, this week there was another step forward with the enlargement agreement of the EU for Romania and Bulgaria which means that in a very short time, in 2007, we will have 27 members. Also, there is a queue of countries negotiating membership. We have Croatia, other Balkan countries and in the medium term, Turkey. My guess is that by the end of this decade there will be around 30 countries in the EU. The speed could be seen as fast, that is why there is already a debate within the EU to what extent we can continue on this path. It is clear that one year after the enlargement by 10 new members in May 2004 the EU is working surprisingly well. The basic thing is to maintain economic and social cohesion and for that obviously funds have to be distributed within the EU so that the cohesion takes place. But you are right, as we expand we have to keep revising our policies. The more homogenous we are, the easier it will be for the EU to move in the right direction. This has been proven when you look at achievements like the Euro, as of today the strongest currency in the world, and technological and commercial project as the Airbus 380, the biggest aircraft in the globe and so forth.
How are you going to resolve this crisis over the European constitution?
I would not call it a crisis. No doubt, the EU Constitution is one of the big aims to be achieved. For the first time in the EU we have a legal point of reference for all the countries. Six members have already approved it but we are aware that in the next few months other EU members will have a say about it. So far, the referendums about this EU constitution have been positive for its members and if it is approved there is no doubt it will mean that the European project is moving ahead.
Has EU policy on foreign aid changed with enlargement?
We are one of the biggest donors in the world and we are increasing the volume of our aid and streamlining it. However, we are currently giving new thoughts to aid. For example assistance we give to countries like Nepal and to countries like Brazil and China can't be the same. Our cooperation will be reviewed, my guess is that there will be new rules about how to work with recently industralised countries on the one hand and less developed countries on the other. Nevertheless the EU's principles of democracy and good governance will always be adhered to in its aid policy.
And has this policy towards Nepal changed after February First?
There is a long tradition of cooperation with Nepal. It goes back to the 1970s. We are currently following the guidelines embedded within the EU-Nepal Cooperation Agreement signed in 1996. What has changed after February First is that due to the new political situation we are reviewing our cooperation. Which, in a pragmatic way, means ongoing projects will continue but pipeline projects for the time being will be on hold. For future cooperation we will make an assessment soon and act accordingly.
And what are the conditions that need to be fulfilled for you to resume aid in the pipeline?
As I said before, we have not stopped it but in order to improve our current and future cooperation we will have to work in line with our EU-Nepal Cooperation Agreement where both sides accept respect for human rights and democratic principles as the basis for cooperation between the parties. As you know we believe in multi-party democracy systems, therefore, we would like to see in Nepal a return to a democratic situation soon and the re-establishment of fundamental rights, in particular the right to association, freedom of expression, rights of the media etc...in short, a political program aimed at the re-establishment of a multiparty democracy.
The argument justifying February First is that the political parties made a mess of it but you say the EU will only resume aid if the same parties are restored to power.
This is an issue that should be dealt with internally. But once again, we maintain we want to work with democratic governments. Therefore, the sooner Nepal returns to democracy the better for both sides and we will in that framework be able to ameliorate our cooperation.
Have you offered any help to facilitate a peace process or mediation role?
During the last EC-Nepal Joint Commission in September and Troikai's visit in December 2004 to Nepal we have manifested that possibility. The EU has always envisaged the possible use of mechanism oriented to help solve the conflict problem. We are still committed to that offer but in the context I mentioned before.