EU resumes direct engagement with Zim

via EU resumes direct engagement with Zim 30 October 2014

The European Union (EU) today formally announced its resumption of direct engagement with the Zimbabwean government, denying it ever imposed sanctions on the country.

The new EU ambassador to Zimbabwe, Phillipe van Damme, reported at a media briefing at the bloc’s headquarters in Harare: “I am happy to announce that the EU Council has confirmed the decision to reengage with Zimbabwe made in February this year”.

In February, the EU met and decided to resume direct engagement with Harare by November 1, acknowledging that Zimbabwe had made some progress in addressing governance, democracy and human rights concerns that had led to the country’s suspension in 2002.

 Then, Zimbabwe came under intense international criticism for a controversial fast track land redistribution programme that forced out about 5,000 commercial white farmers, alleged electoral fraud and the persecution of political opponents.

Under the Cotonou Agreement’s Article 96, the EU decided to seize direct cooperation with Zimbabwe as part of its appropriate measures to ensure the country adhered to essential elements spelt out in a the 2000 protocol.

The Cotonou Agreement stated respect for human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law as some of the key essential elements of the international protocol signed between the EU and 78 African, Carribean and Pacific countries, of which Zimbabwe was also a signatory.

The EU, when it made the February decision, singled out the adoption of a new constitution in 2013 as one of the indicators of the progress Zimbabwe had made.

During the reign of Article 96, the EU channeled aid and other forms of support through multilateral agencies such as the United Nations bodies, in addition to civil society.

The lifting of the appropriate measures today that entail cooperation with the EU at various levels, means that the government will be a direct recipient of European aid.

Van Damme, however, said details of the direct engagement would follow, and did not dismiss the involvement of non-State agencies.

“We have reached a very important step towards normalisation of our relations with Zimbabwe. This, however, is an ongoing process and we hope to achieve a more inclusive, strategic and sector-based approach,” said Van Damme.

He added that the EU would base its re-engagement with Harare on three pillars, namely governance, health and agriculture—which are also vital in the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Social and Economic Transformation (Zim Asset), the latest economic blueprint.

“There is a strong link between aid effectiveness and governance. We will also ensure re-engagement around agricultural reform for food security. We can now fully engage on development aspects.

“But it is important that we have to build trust between government and other institutions for a conducive investment climate,” said Van Damme.

He denied that the EU ever imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe, saying the bloc only adopted the appropriate and restrictive measures, which included putting some individuals and companies on a ban.

“The EU and the US are by far the most important donors during the period Zimbabwe was under restrictive measures, contributing close to 2 billion American dollars,” he said.

While most of the individuals and companies from the original list have been removed, President Robert Mugabe, his wife Grace and the security chiefs remain.

Their status will be reviewed in February next year when the EU convenes. Van Damme said the EU would also support ongoing programmes such as parliamentary, justice and electoral reforms.

He hoped that direct funding to government would start rolling in by the second quarter of the year in 2015.

He was flanked by several ambassadors, among them those from Greece, Denmark, Britain, the Netherlands, Italy, Portugal and Germany.