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Andris Piebalgs

European Commissioner for Development

Closing speech

2011 European Development Days

Warsaw (Poland), 16 December 2011

Esteemed Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

So we come to the end of the sixth European Development Days. I would venture to say that they have been the best yet. I say that for a number of reasons. For instance, we have been treated to a fantastic venue hosting a well-organised event. We have heard some brilliant speeches. And we have taken part in some fascinating panel debates on a wide range of topical issues. So there are many reasons for us to leave here with renewed energy. And many people to thank for that.

Let me begin by warmly thanking the Polish Presidency of the Council, and especially minister Stanowski. Our Polish colleagues have been the most considerate and professional hosts. They have managed to organise this year's event with minimum fuss and maximum efficiency. I would also like to thank my services at the Directorate-General for Development and Cooperation for their active involvement in the build-up to the EDDs here in Warsaw.

I must also extend my heartfelt thanks to the many speakers and moderators. Their thought-provoking contributions are what make these EDDs worthwhile. It is thanks to them that the EDDs are not a mere talking shop. Far from it. They are the springboard for discussions and ideas that will feed into our work over the months and years to come.

And we have much food for thought.

For example, we've heard from a number of our eminent speakers – not least former President Roza Otunbaeva, about how tyranny cannot withstand the aspirations for democracy and a life of opportunity, especially among the young, some of whom paid the ultimate price with their lives.

Her speech gave us a timely reminder that the road to democracy can often be a lengthy and bumpy one. It also reminded us, however, that the desire for freedom is not cultural, but human, and that revolutions like those which began in Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and elsewhere twenty years ago are now springing up in other parts of the world. This was brought home to us by the moving testimonies of our friends from Tunisia, Libya and Syria.

Tunisia's interim Prime Minister, Mr Essebsi, spoke of his country's ongoing transition to democracy, which he has so ably helped steer. It is clear that Tunisia is charting its own course. That course began tragically a year ago tomorrow, when 26-year-old Mohammed Bouazizi, stripped of the most basic human desire to provide for his family, set himself on fire. Mohammed's desperate act set off a historic chain of events. Through his sacrifice, millions of his fellow Tunisians – and people throughout the wider region – can now aspire to the better future he once sought for himself.

And now Tunisia is seeking our help as it embraces a democratic future. Not help that dictates terms – Tunisians have had quite enough of being told what to do. But help in the form of a constructive partnership that sees the country put down firm democratic roots and offers its people the kind of opportunities that Mohammed Bouazizi was so cruelly denied.

This afternoon Mr Abdul Jalil, Chairman of the National Transition Council of Libya, eloquently described Libya's path from dictatorship to democracy. I would like to pay special tribute to Libya's efforts to reintegrate into society the young Libyans who fought for freedom in their country through grants to study abroad, business start-up grants and military careers. Mr Jalil is absolutely right to highlight security, stability and the rule of law as vital precursors to growth and development.

We wish the peoples of all these countries well in their efforts to establish a democratic and inclusive society.

But we can do even better than that. We can be friends and partners, offering assistance wherever we can. My colleague, Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva, spoke for us all in saying that we're right behind Libya. The same is true with respect to all countries on the road to democracy, good governance, human development and respect for human rights.

Consequently, as we in the European Union look to up our game in terms of the results we produce from our development policy, we must realise that we are at a game-changing moment. We need to take a hard look at our approach to governance and democracy.

One message spelt out clearly for us here is that democratisation processes should begin at home. Ownership in building democracy and pursuing development goals is vital. But ownership is not an end in itself. As Rebeca Grynspan said this morning, it is about opening up policy options.

In a similar vein, yesterday evening Commission President Barroso reaffirmed that democratic systems are a choice, and that they take time to emerge and flourish. We will stand by our partner countries as they establish democratic systems, because democracy is not just the best means of securing sustainable and inclusive economic growth – it is the only means of doing so. President Barroso further underlined the EU's commitment to deliver on its aid targets, even in these difficult economic times. While there are people in our 21st-century world who do not even have enough to eat or drink, we will not abandon what he termed "the great cause" – development cooperation.

The days of interference and rule-setting are over. We are now in an era of partnership. As Hans Rosling put it in his entertaining and educational presentation, we are one world. No one has a monopoly on development – we can all learn from each other. Our partner countries are exactly that – partners in an enterprise in which we all have a stake.

We are all in this together.

Solidarity will be our watchword. Even 30 years on, I'm sure that for many of us the word "solidarity" brings to mind the movement to which we in the former Soviet bloc owe so much – Solidarność. It is fitting that its courageous leader and former Polish President, Lech Walesa, was here yesterday to share with us his thoughts on the how we must adapt to the future.

We have heard here of Poland's watertight commitment to assist democratisation processes wherever possible, and this goes for our entire European Union. .

We have also heard a lot about empowering local communities – from Minister Stanowski and other speakers and panellists. In this respect let me simply say that our work with civil society, parliaments and local groups will not wane. It will remain key to our partner countries' democratic growth and future development.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

There are some people I have not yet thanked – all of you. You have all played your part in making this year's European Development Days such a success. At our opening session yesterday I said to you that, in their short life, the EDDs have gained a reputation as a place where business gets done. Here in Warsaw you have shown that this is definitely true. You have all helped cement its reputation as a landmark event in the development calendar.

So we all have much to take away from this year's EDDs. We can now go away from Warsaw refreshed and ready to tackle the challenges ahead.

I for one am confident that in our proposed Agenda for Change we have the toolbox that will enable us to do this. Our discussions here have convinced me that we are going in the right direction. With our route planned out, it's time to start our journey.

In her 1996 Nobel lecture, the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Wisława Szymborska, said: "Any knowledge that doesn't lead to new questions quickly dies out".

There is no question of us letting that knowledge die. Instead, let's apply the knowledge we have gained here in Warsaw so that we ask the right questions – and, more importantly, find the right answers.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

On this optimistic note I will close. All that remains is for me to wish you all a safe trip home and to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Thank you.

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