Exclusive interview with outgoing Ambassador of the European Union to Seychelles, Marjaana Sall | 26 June 2019
‘I will be leaving Seychelles knowing that the EU-Seychelles friendship is a solid one’
Before ending her four-year stint as Ambassador of the European Union to Seychelles, Marjaana Sall called on President Danny Faure yesterday at State House to bid farewell.
Seychelles NATION caught up with Ambassador Sall for an interview which we are delighted to share with you.
Seychelles NATION: Your Excellency, this is your last visit to Seychelles. What is the purpose of your mission?
Ambassador Sall: My mandate comes to an end at the end of August. I am taking the opportunity of this last visit to Seychelles to bid my farewell. Yesterday, I met with the President, Mr Danny Faure and it was an opportunity to reaffirm the friendly relations that we have with Seychelles.
Seychelles NATION: What are your feelings about this visit?
Ambassador Sall: I am happy, because during the last four years, the EU and Seychelles have worked together in important areas and our joint work has brought some concrete results. I will be leaving Seychelles knowing that the EU-Seychelles friendship is a solid one. I am confident for the future of our partnership. But there is obviously also a certain sadness when your mandate comes to an end.
Seychelles NATION: What is the state of the EU-Seychelles partnership?
Ambassador Sall: Seychelles and the EU have diplomatic, political, economic and cooperation ties. We also share common values such as democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. During my four-year mandate, we have been working closely with the government but also with the civil society, the private sector and other partners in a number of key areas including maritime security, economic growth, environmental protection and social development. I would like to highlight four areas. First of all, we have the annual political dialogue with the government where we have discussions on how to advance our partnership and work closer together for example to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. But we also discuss how to advance our political partnership for example to promote multilateralism and a rules based global order with the UN at its core. Several non-resident EU member States have participated in the annual political dialogue which shows the importance of our partnership with Seychelles.
Second, Seychelles and the EU are longstanding partners in promoting a regional approach for maritime security. The EU and Seychelles have both chaired the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia.
Third, we maintain solid trade ties which are governed by the Economic Partnership Agreement that we signed in 2009. The EU funds the rehabilitation and extension of Port Victoria to boost competitiveness of Seychelles' exports. This is our flagship project in Seychelles. We also have a fisheries partnership agreement which supports the fisheries sector policy and the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
Four, the EU is a key partner of Seychelles to adapt to climate change and promote a transition to sustainable energy.
Seychelles NATION: Key projects that you remember
Ambassador Sall: There are two projects that I would like to mention. The first project is about gender equality. Achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls is among the EU’s priorities. I was happy to inaugurate with the Minister for Family Affairs the first women shelter in Seychelles in November last year. The shelter provides a safe place for women in situation of vulnerability.
The second project is about climate change. The EU is a global leader in the fight against climate change and a driving force behind the circular economy and environmental protection. I was glad to visit La Digue where I had the opportunity to launch the EU-funded climate adaptation project. I also met with the local community there to learn about the climate challenges they face and what they expect from EU support.
Seychelles NATION: Talking about climate challenges for communities in La Digue, countries like Seychelles are particularly vulnerable to climate change. How is the EU supporting Seychelles in this area?
Ambassador Sall: The adverse effects of climate change are being felt around the world and pose a threat to our planet and its people, in particular for small island developing states like Seychelles. We are supporting the government of Seychelles in the preparation of a climate change policy. We have mobilised a long term technical assistance who is working with the Ministry of Environment to ensure that climate change is mainstreamed in all the policies. We also help to better protect communities from increasing coastal erosion and floods on La Digue. We also support the country's energy transition: the EU has funded energy audits for four Seychelles' companies. These will be used to assess how much energy can be saved with energy efficiency measures. The EU also provides support to the government for the finalisation of a long-term action plan for waste management. Moreover, for the rehabilitation and extension of Port Victoria project, we will carry out a study to assess the potential environmental and social impacts of the project and propose appropriate mitigating measures.
Seychelles NATION: The EU and Seychelles have developed a longstanding partnership in the area of maritime security. Will the EU continue to support Seychelles and countries of the region in this area?
Ambassador Sall: The European Union and the Republic of Seychelles have effectively developed a strong partnership in this area – which is a prerequisite for the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth. As demonstrated by a recent attack off the coast of Somalia, we have to remain vigilant and pursue our efforts to ensure maritime security. The EU is supporting countries of the region, including Seychelles, to step up cooperation under the regional Maritime Security (MASE) programme. Ownership of countries is essential. In this regard, Seychelles is playing an important role in promoting maritime security, including the signature by the government of two regional agreements on regional information sharing and on undertaking regional joint patrols at sea. This is really important. Last week, the second Ministerial Conference on Maritime Security in the Western Indian Ocean and the 22nd Plenary Session of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS) took place in Mauritius. In the margins of the Ministerial Conference, I had the opportunity to participate in a round table on Maritime Security in the Western Indian Ocean at the University of Mauritius with the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Barry Faure. Mr Faure represented Seychelles during the Ministerial Meeting and the 22nd Plenary Session of the CGPCS where he spoke on behalf of the chair of the Indian Ocean Commission Council of Ministers. The two events have been organised with EU support and are a concrete example of how the EU is working in this region. The EU will continue its support to countries of the region to make the Indian Ocean safe. For this, the EU will provide funds for joint actions at sea to be undertaken under the aegis of Regional Coordination Operational Centre based in Seychelles. We have also recently signed a new regional programme for port security with the Indian Ocean Commission. It will support Seychelles and countries in the region to track illicit trade, drug trafficking and smuggling of weapons. The EU remains a key security provider in the region with EUNAVFOR Operation Atalanta which was launched in 2008 to address piracy off the coast of Somalia. The naval force has greatly contributed to maritime security in the region, and continues to work closely with national maritime agencies to develop stronger capabilities. EU NAVFOR was recently in Seychelles for a full-day training of the Seychelles Coast Guard and Seychelles Air Force. We welcome very much the continued collaboration of Seychelles for the prosecution of suspected pirates caught by EU NAVFOR.
Seychelles NATION: Seychelles and the development of the blue economy. What are your views?
Ambassador Sall: Seychelles has an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 1.37 million km2. Fisheries and tourism, which are based on the country's coastal and maritime assets, are the two main pillars of its economy. The blue economy is hence a key priority. The two regional programmes that we have signed with the Indian Ocean Commission relate to sustainable fisheries and fight against illegal unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and port security. The blue economy also relies on healthy oceans. I am glad that the EU is also contributing to the protection of marine biodiversity in the region notably through its partnership with the Indian Ocean Commission. For instance, the EU is supporting the Seychelles Island Foundation to minimise the entry and spread of invasive and pest species on the Aldabra atoll – one of the largest coral atolls in the world – and to mitigate the harmful effects of those species on this world heritage site. Marine protected areas play a vital role in protecting marine and coastal biodiversity; they can also play an important role in protecting populations from the effects of natural disasters. Seychelles is well known at international level for its advocacy efforts and bold initiatives to preserve the ocean. It is remarkable that the President, Danny Faure has been nominated AU Champion for the Blue Economy. This shows the important role that Seychelles plays in this field.
Seychelles NATION: The EU and Seychelles have a longstanding cooperation in the area of fisheries. What are the benefits of these agreements for Seychelles?
Ambassador Sall: Thanks to the Fisheries Partnership Agreements that we have signed and to the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), Seychelles is today the third biggest exporter of canned tuna and loins to the EU market. The Fisheries Partnership provides a clear legal framework for our relations in this area. As part of the partnership, the EU gives a financial contribution in exchange of the right of EU vessels to fish in Seychelles’ waters. The EU has provided almost 30 million Euros (R470 million) over the last six years in support of the development of the fisheries sector. The current Protocol on Fisheries will expire on January 2020 and we expect to launch negotiations with the government soon. The key shared principles that will guide the negotiations are: sustainability, the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and support to artisanal and semi-industrial Seychellois fleet. This includes the set-up of small scale facilities including fish markets, gear stores and processing facilities for local and export markets as well as training and scholarships for young people.
Seychelles NATION: EU and the Republic of Seychelles signed an EPA in 2009. What are the advantages that Seychelles gets with this agreement?
Ambassador Sall: The Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) offers Seychelles quota-free and duty-free access to the European Union market. The EU remains Seychelles' top trading partner and is also the main source of Foreign Direct Investment and tourists’ arrivals. Our trade relations are solid. They have the potential to be further developed in the context of the EPA deepening process with negotiations on trade-related issues like services, investments and Intellectual Property Rights. We are also working with the government and relevant stakeholders to allow Seychelles' operators reap the full benefits of the agreement. In that context, we are funding two projects to boost investment in Seychelles. The first project amounts to R160 million. It will promote new high-value products with high export potential and help to explore new markets. A second project is the Port Victoria rehabilitation and extension. The EU provides a grant of R80 million and two European financial institutions – the European Investment Bank and the Agence Française de Développement – provide loans for a total amount of R475 million. The project is expected to be completed in 2022. It will increase the port's capacity, boost competitiveness, create jobs and promote access of local consumers to cheaper goods.
Seychelles NATION: We know about EU-Seychelles cooperation in the areas of trade, fisheries, maritime security and climate change. What about social development?
Ambassador Sall: In the context of our bilateral programme, we currently work in two areas: governance and gender equality and women empowerment. For this, we partner with the government and civil society organisations. We fund a project of Transparency Initiative Seychelles to sensitise and educate citizens and stakeholders on the issues of governance, accountability and corruption. The project includes an outreach programme, which is implemented together with the Anti-Corruption Commission of Seychelles to raise awareness of children in public and private schools. We also fund the project of the Citizens Engagement Platform Seychelles (Ceps) for the protection of women who have suffered gender based violence and women using drugs. Moreover, the European Union supports the government to develop a comprehensive rehabilitation programme with the aim of reintegrating participants into gainful employment. I am also glad that the University of Seychelles is participating in Erasmus +, the education programme of the European Union which provides opportunities to Seychellois students and lecturers to go to European universities for studies and exchanges. The University of Seychelles takes part in the Erasmus Mundus European Master in Tourism Management which includes semesters at universities in Denmark, Slovenia and Spain. The University of Seychelles also participates in an international credit mobility programme that will allow two staff members to undertake training in four universities in Portugal.
Seychelles NATION: What about the future: the Post Cotonou negotiations are ongoing? There is the Brexit? Will this have an impact on the EU budget for external relations?
Ambassador Sall: Regarding the negotiation on the Post Cotonou which started in September last year, the EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries have made steady progress since then. We had consultations at regional level; the EU Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Neven Mimica was in Eswatini in May for the consultations with Africa. Negotiations will now have to continue in order to have a new agreement before the Cotonou Agreement ends in February 2020.
As for the Brexit, some have expressed concerns about a possible decrease in EU funding. Let me say that the European Commission has proposed a budget increase of 30% for the EU external action compared with the current budget. This is a sign that despite uncertainties in the world, the EU strengthens its role as global player that is reliable, responsive and predictable – politically as well as financially. At this stage this is a proposal, and the Member States and the European Parliament need to adopt the final budget.
Seychelles NATION: Will Seychelles continue to benefit from EU support?
Ambassador Sall: Seychelles achieved high income country status in 2015 and we have to take this into account. This means that we will lay more emphasis on instruments like blending (mixing loans and grants) and guarantees, for instance with the Port Victoria project. We will also strengthen our collaboration with the private sector and promote sustainable investments and jobs. It is important to note that Seychelles also benefits from regional cooperation; the EU has recently approved an additional budget of €225 million under the regional programme to strengthen job creation and stability. This is part of the Africa-Europe Alliance for sustainable investment and jobs.
Seychelles NATION: What have you appreciated the most in Seychelles? Your hopes for the country?
Ambassador Sall: I have always received a very warm welcome whenever I have visited Seychelles. Seychelles is such a beautiful country and I truly appreciate the fact that your country has a well preserved environment. The government and civil society organisations have implemented bold initiatives notably to address the issue of plastic pollution. I am particularly impressed by the strong engagement of young people to protect the environment and particularly the ocean. This is encouraging! I hope that this engagement will continue because nature is one of your most valuable assets.
Seychelles NATION: Thank you Ambassador Sall.