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European Commission

[Check Against Delivery]

José Manuel Durão Barroso

President of the European Commission

A centenary to celebrate in Union and Unity

Nigeria Centenary Conference

Abuja, 27 February 2014

Mr President,

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

We were all shocked on Tuesday with the news of an attack in Boni Yadi which caused the dead of 29 young students, the latest in a series of brutal and unjustifiable attacks by terrorists on civilians. Let me offer my deep condolences to the families of the victims and to the Nigerian people. Radicalism, extremism and hate have no place in our societies and can only deserve our strongest condemnation and rejection. The European Union stands firmly with Nigeria in its fight against the scourge of terrorism.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

One hundred years ago, at the start of 1914, Western Africa changed for good. The amalgamation of two parts of what was then the British Empire would be the first step, the second being the declaration of independence 46 years later, towards what is today one of the most powerful and vibrant countries in the region, and indeed in the whole of Africa.

Your country, Nigeria, has grasped this historic moment to think about its future role as a key player in West Africa's development, in Africa as a whole, and internationally. Nigeria's people, while strong growth continues and plenty of potential still remains untapped, are eager to work towards their future – united and indivisible.

One hundred years ago, in the course of 1914, my continent, Europe, took a turn for the worse. The escalation that led to the First World War set our countries on the way to unprecedented and incomprehensible destruction. That war, and the next one, would change the world view of generations of Europeans – slowly but irreversibly – so that they would take the first steps towards mending their fractured continent, to take it forward to a better future. In a different way, they too wanted and needed to be united and indivisible.

The European Union they created will always be mindful of the value of peace, development and human security, because it has seen the other side, because it is itself a product of war, strife and missed opportunities. We take the lessons we have learned with us in the partnerships we set up internationally.

For that reason, we are – and will always be – eager to work with the whole African continent and Nigeria in particular, as they energetically prepare for the next one hundred years.

For that reason, we are ambitious to find, as the framework for EU-Nigeria relations calls it: a joint way forward.

And I have no doubt that – together - we will succeed.

Ladies and gentlemen,

There is plenty to build that success on.

This economy of more than 170 million people is one of the two biggest in the continent. With one in two West Africans being Nigerian – a remarkable one in four people in the whole of Africa - it is a massive pool of consumers and a great source of entrepreneurship at the heart of a fast-growing internal market.

And with an impressive stock of energy resources, there is a lot of wealth to start from. No wonder the economy is growing at a healthy pace – about 7% this year.

But even more important than Nigeria's natural strengths is what the country makes of them. Nigeria realises not even an economy of that size can ever be an island unto itself, that such promising resources need careful handling and that talent needs to be nurtured.

As one of your main partners, we too believe in that approach, and we want to help.

The European Union’s relationship with Nigeria is broad and deep. Nigeria has one of the biggest diaspora communities in Europe.

The European Union is Nigeria’s largest trading partner accounting for 35.4% of its exports, worth 82.4 billion euros and 30% of its imports, worth 43.4 billion euros. Nigeria is already the 4th supplier of oil to Europe and the 6th supplier of natural gas. Nigeria is also one of the most frequent destinations of European investment and businessmen in Africa.

In addition we have a long and positive tradition of working with the government of Nigeria to increase economic growth and expand social equity. Over the past six years, European Development Funding came to nearly €700 million (or around 150 billion Naira) aimed in particular at helping to improve access to water and health services, supporting post-crisis reconciliation and security in the South and strengthened governance, making peace and security more sustainable.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Important as it is, Nigeria's partnership with Europe goes much beyond the mere bilateral relationship.

Housing the headquarters of Economic Community Of West African States here in Abuja, Nigeria plays a decisive role in regional integration which the European Union also actively supports. An important landmark in this field has been reached with the adoption of a common external tariff at the latest ECOWAS Summit which will further increase regional economic integration. This important step has in turn significantly contributed to the successful conclusion of negotiations on the Economic Partnership Agreement. I would like to commend West Africa for its constructive attitude in his process which made it possible to move forward and reach a deal after more than 10 years of efforts.

This agreement, expanding the possibilities for trade and investment, is also fully supportive of the region's development prospects and needs. It will stimulate growth in all countries. The next step is the political endorsement by ECOWAS Heads of State on 24 March, so that we can turn this political agreement – which is so promising for all West Africa’s economy – into economic reality as soon as possible.

But ECOWAS is also making great strides in the peace and security field and Nigeria, as the region's political powerhouse, is taking a lead in tackling challenges of migration, instability and insecurity that affect all countries. It is one of the largest providers of peace-building troops in Africa, most recently playing an important role in Mali and in Guinea Bissau. And diplomatically, as temporary member of the United Nations Security Council, Nigeria has now an extra voice and weight in deciding how such efforts should be undertaken.

That too is something we want to support. Because if the opportunities come from linking up all countries in the region, the challenges also demand cooperation by neighbouring countries, and beyond. The threat of extremist forces and religious radicalism is affecting Nigeria, but also its partners like Niger, Tchad and Cameroon. Instability also spreads across the Gulf of Guinea.

We are determined in assisting the countries in the region to tackle these threats in its widest sense, focusing on the underlying causes of instability and not just on the symptoms. As a telling example we are currently designing a Strategy for the Gulf of Guinea, covering the coastal states from Senegal to Angola, in order to support the countries in the region to coordinate and strengthen their efforts to overcome the threats to maritime security in the Gulf. Only collective efforts will succeed.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The relationship between Nigeria and the EU is also embedded within the broader EU-Africa relations governed by the jointly agreed EU-Africa Strategy. There is no other continent as close to Europe as Africa. We are bound by a common past, but more importantly by a common will to build our future together.

Both of our continents continue to change – to become more united internally, to be more ambitious internationally, to take up a more proactive role in the world, and to work together hand in hand to achieve these goals.

Africa is now more than ever a place of hope, continuing to record impressive growth figures. In 2012, for example, 8 out of the world's 10 fastest growing economies were African. The IMF predicts Africa’s economic growth will be 6% in 2014, the highest rate since the start of the crisis and 1% more than last year. Private capital inflows have doubled since the outbreak of the crisis. Africa’s population is also expected to double in the next 30 years, making it the youngest continent in the world.

As ever, Europe has been at your side in continuing its commitment to African development through financial assistance and economic partnerships. In 2012, for instance, the EU disbursed over half of the world's official development assistance of 50.6 billion euros in total.

Trade with Africa has almost doubled compared with 2007, when the Joint EU-Africa Strategy was agreed. The EU is the main trading partner for Africa, accounting for one third of Africa's total trade. Through its Everything but Arms regime the EU has the most generous and far-reaching trade system in the world, with duty free and quota free exports for the Least Developed Countries.

We must continue to evolve together.

At the upcoming EU-Africa Summit at the beginning of April in Brussels, the European Union and African countries will get together at the highest level to further strengthen this relationship and to define our common priorities for the years to come. People, Prosperity and Peace will be the leitmotiv of our Summit.

No country in any part of the world can prosper with the burden of a conflict tearing it apart, or can be secure while its population is deprived of basic needs. Without peace, security and political stability, no development and sustainability are possible. Recent cases demonstrate that nowadays conflicts can be fueled by the unequal and unfair burden of poverty on different social and ethnic groups, bad governance and the denial of human rights and the rule of law. They can also stem from endemic corruption, a lack of accountability in political governance, exclusion and marginalisation of social and ethnic groups or lack of perspectives for its young people.

This why the recognition of the link between insecurity, poverty and governance is at the heart of the EU approach in external relations, in particular on regions such as the Sahel, the Horn of Africa or the Great Lakes.

This is also why we have been assisting in the full operationalisation of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) since its creation, by lending political support to the specific role of the African Union in peace and security matters, in articulation with the regional economic communities. Our commitment is firm; to support the African aspirations to provide African solutions to African problems. And not just we talk the talk as we also walk the walk.

The EU is by far the most important donor for APSA structures and policies, with the African Peace Facility (APF) being the major instrument for this purpose, through which we have channeled already over 1 billion euros for capacity building or peace support operations. We are actively supporting missions, from AMISOM in Somalia to MINUSMA in Mali or to MISCA in the Central African Republic. We support the principle of African solutions for African problems.

But besides political or financial support we also participate with personnel. We currently have 9 operations deployed in Africa with over 2.300 men and women serving in support of African efforts to consolidate peace, security and stability. And we are determined to work further with you in reinforcing African capabilities and capacities to take over the lead whenever and wherever you can.

We realise – just like you do – that in today's world, one country's lack of development hampers another country's growth too, that one country's instability poses a threat to another country's welfare as well, that we have to look for common solutions for common challenges.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This conference ends one year of celebrations paying tribute to those that made the country what is it over the last 100 years.

Tomorrow, the preparations start to make a better future for those that will live in it over the next 100 years.

Thank you very much.

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