Europe’s lead man here wants more Caribbean civil society groups to let their voices be heard on the regional integration movement and to take the lead to make it a reality.
Eager to see full regional integration of the Caribbean, including the Single Market and Economy, European Union (EU) Ambassador to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Mikael Barfod today gave the assurance that the EU would not renege on its promise to assist where possible.
A passionate Barfod told Barbados TODAY he believed regional integration “should be accelerated at the moment because all the rules are in place”.
He contended the task now lay mostly with civil society groups.
“We believe that civil society can make up for regional integration that is not moving fast enough because nothing is going to hold civil society back,” said Barfod.
“Civil society will push and they will make their points. And I think civil society really is what the politicians need to push the envelop all the way to what was promised in the treaties,” he said on the sidelines of the launch of the second preparatory meeting of the CARIFORUM Civil Society Consultative Committee at the Accra Beach Hotel this morning.
The frank speaking Barfod said Caribbean leaders also needed to take chances and show courage for the good of the integration movement.
“You sometimes have to do things that hurt on the local market in order to promote regional integration and that requires political courage,” the diplomat stated.
However, he stressed that civil society groups, including labour unions, employers’ associations, environmental groups, women’s organizations and business organizations were best placed to hold the leaders’ feet to the fire and to “visualize” the single market that the region desired since they knew “where the shoe pinches”.
“They can say, ‘look, we need to be able to have direct investment there, we need to export this item there, we need to have less barriers to move our goods etcetera [and] we need our consultants to be recognized in another country’. All these things are easier when you know exactly where the shoe pinches and civil society often does,” he explained.
The EU allocated €1 billion to the Caribbean for the period 2014 to 2020, a third of which is for regional integration.
Europe also offers a range of technical support programmes to assist the region with its integration programme, along with ways to take advantage of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).
Asked if the Europeans would consider withdrawing assistance if the region did not achieve full unity by a specified time, Barfod told Barbados TODAY the EU was instead seeking other areas in which to assist.
“The EU is an historic example of the most successful regional integration ever. So we are very keen on having counterparts in other parts of the world that we can trade with so that we can prosper together,” said Barfod.
“But we believe it is particularly useful in this region here as a way of progress in fighting poverty and promoting equality.”
Barfod also said more Caribbean businesses needed to take advantage of the EPA, the trade and development agreement between Europe and countries of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) grouping.
“These possibilities are there to a much larger extent than before with EPA but they are not being fully exploited and this is something I talk to ministers of trade and foreign affairs regularly [about] and I think most of them agree that more has to be done there,” he said.