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Andris Piebalgs

European Commissioner for Development

EU supports Timor Leste on its way to stable democracy and sustainable development

Plenary session of the National Parliament of Timor-Leste

Dili (Timor-Leste), 8 March 2011

Mr President and Honourable Members of Parliament,

Esteemed Members of the Diplomatic Corps,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour and privilege for me to address the National Parliament of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste today. I bring with me the warm greetings of the President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso.

Since I met your President Ramos-Horta last year in Brussels, I have been determined to visit your country as soon as possible to see for myself the impressive progress Timor-Leste has made since its restoration of independence. I have come here not only to see and understand your country, but also to assure you of the European Union's continued and strong support to Timor-Leste.

Your country has overcome formidable challenges since the restoration of independence in 2002. Your past includes colonialism, civil war, occupation; but also awe-inspiring demonstration of the power of democracy and dialogue.

I remember following, like most of Europe, your critical steps towards restoration of independence. The referendum in 1999 where an overwhelming majority voted for independence was widely perceived as not only a success for Timor Leste, but also a success for the United Nations and the International community as such. True, the referendum was only the beginning of a long journey that is far from over yet. It is also true that the way the international community engaged could have been more decisive from the start.

Since the restoration of independence in 2002, the security situation has not been perfect, and your people have suffered, not least during the riots in 2006. However, the international community stood shoulder to shoulder with you and you succeeded.

The fact that Timor Leste held free and fair elections already in 2007 is proof of your determination to build a strong and vibrant democracy. That the former ruling party now plays the important role as a fair and constructive opposition is even further reason for my admiration. Therefore, this visit to the National Parliament is a very special moment in my visit to your country.

But it is also a special moment, since I was a Member of Parliament myself, just after Latvia, my home country, regained independence. The circumstances then were of course different, but my personal experience as a parliamentarian in a young – and small – country finding its place on the international stage explains the strong sympathy I feel for Timor-Leste. This is also why I understand the importance of building a strong foundation for a state, but at the same time I am painfully aware that this takes time, and demands a lot of willingness from society.

Timor-Leste's success is due in no small part to your efforts as a Parliament. Your willingness to work together constructively and responsibly, sharing the determination to overcome your difficult history and build and support your young and vibrant democracy. It is therefore a striking example of political maturity.

Naturally, I am not suggesting that it has all been easy. You have had, and still have, difficult and controversial discussions, especially in coming to terms with your painful past. In the whole of this process, the EU has been privileged to be your close partner. A decade ago, Timor-Leste was facing a dramatic humanitarian situation in addition to a fragile internal security. Consequently, our support focussed on humanitarian emergency relief and stabilization. As these challenges were addressed, our supported shifted to longer-term development interventions. Internal security and consolidation of state institutions remain key challenges – but you have come a long way in the stabilization process.

Our focus today is to consolidate what has been achieved, to strengthen state institutions and improve living conditions in rural areas in particular. But we also continue to support this House, and I will today sign an agreement with your minister of Finance. This financial support should serve to improve the efficiency of parliamentary operations and to help the implementation of your Strategic Plan for 2011-2014.

This support underlines a crucial message I want to say to you:

I am convinced that your work as a Parliament has been behind the economic and social development that Timor-Leste has seen since 2002.

Even if Timor-Leste is still a fragile country and has difficult issues to overcome, your country is among the 10 fastest growing economies in the world, and poverty has been reduced by 9% in less than three years.

This proves that democracy is a prerequisite for a stable, inclusive society, a society that puts its people first, a society that puts the fight against poverty first. Democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights are the foundation for building sustained and sustainable growth. Democracy plays a big role in maintaining your good relations with all your neighbours.

Let me highlight one final example of where I believe that your democracy plays a crucial role. Timor-Leste is blessed with important natural resources. But as we have seen in other parts of the world, this apparent blessing can turn out to be a curse if not properly managed. So far, your prudent management of revenues through the internationally acclaimed Petroleum Fund has ensured that they are indeed a blessing. I do understand that there is a difficult choice to be made between the needs of the poor today and safeguarding funds for the Timorese of tomorrow. This is exactly the debate that a democracy can and should have. I do believe that your transparent and prudent managements so far are an example others could follow.

Ensuring inclusive, sustainable growth to lift people out of poverty is a concern that we obviously share. As the European Commissioner for Development, I have recently launched a new set of initiatives aimed at increasing the impact of EU development aid. I am determined that the EU should do its work to help to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

For me, development aid which is spent in the right way and on the right priorities is simply the best investment in our future.

This quest is shared by many, and strongly by the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso. He announced last September a very specific MDGs initiative, to which the EU has allocated €1 billion. It will be used for actions and projects targeting those MDGs on which progress is slowest.

There is particularly slow progress on three pivotal MDGs: improving maternal health, reducing child mortality, and increasing access to water and sanitation. Therefore, these are the areas on which we wish to concentrate our joint efforts.

By fortunate coincidence, I am speaking to you on the International Women's Day. Let me therefore conclude by emphasising the crucial role of women in development and in society as a whole. Looking around me now, I am happy to see that I am preaching to the converted. In fact, with women MPs making up almost 30% of this House, you are doing much better than many other countries.

I also congratulate you on the important step you took last July with the enactment of the law against domestic violence. I hope and I believe it will be effectively implemented. Improving the daily life of women, mothers and children in the world should be one of our common priorities.

You are now approaching the end of your legislature and I believe that you can look back on four years of important achievements. Any democracy needs a strong and functioning parliament – as a forum for dialogue, as a legislator and as a watchdog of the executive. I do believe that you have achieved a lot, and that you have repaid the trust the Timorese people put in you almost 4 years ago. In the next elections it may be that not all of you are re-elected. But this is the core condition of democracy – to fight for people's trust.

The 2012 elections will be another milestone in the consolidation of your democracy. We, Europeans, admire the way you were able to handle the difficult circumstances and achieve free and fair elections in 2007. I believe that your elections in 2012 will be another milestone in the democratisation process.

Your country's motto is "Unidade, Acção, Progresso" ["Unity, Action, Progress"]. I will do everything I can to ensure that the European Union follows that same uplifting motto in its support for Timor-Leste. With that in mind, I promise that the EU remains firmly by your side, as a friend, and that you can count on our continued assistance to your country.

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