BOGOTA, Colombia — Last week, I was lucky enough to interview the European Union Ambassador to Colombia, María Antonia van Gool. She has pursued her diplomatic career all around the world, including Abidjan, the Ivory Coast, Lagos, Nigeria and The Hague, and was also Ambassador of the Netherlands to Bolivia, Kenya, Suriname, Romania and to the United Nations Environmental Program.
She first came to Colombia 30 years ago, acting as a cooperation diplomat with the Dutch embassy. Since the creation of the European External Action Service (EEAS) by the Libson Treaty in late 2010, she has held the position of Ambassador to Colombia, representing the European Union.
Cambria Arvizo: Can you briefly explain the relationship between the E.U. and Colombia? Do they have a good history and how is the relationship currently?
Ambassador van Gool: The relationship between Europe and Colombia has its roots in the discovery of America because of the cultural and historical links between Spain and the outcomes of other migratory flows from different Member States of the Union. But actually, the relationship with the E.U. can be linked to the last century in the (1990s,) when a special cooperation programme with Colombia and all the Andean countries came into force, and even before the opening of the Delegation of the Commission of the European Communities in Bogota. It was established in June 1993. Since then, the E.U. has evolved and so has its relationships with Colombia, but always in three dimensions: bilateral, with the Andean Community and with the Latin American region as a whole. The aid for development is just one of the aspects of our deep relationship with Colombia that covers political aspects, including human rights issues, and commercial and investment exchanges.
CA: In what ways does the E.U. provide aid to Colombia? Has that aid been helpful?
VG: The aid for development in Colombia is given in the three dimensions as explained before, but I would like to describe the bilateral cooperation that is given in a multi-annual scheme. The last one ran from 2003 until 2013 and consisted of 164 million euros divided in three priorities: 1.) Peace, Stability and Alternative Development consisting of 70 percent, 2.) Democracy, Justice and Human Rights consisting of 20 percent and 3.) Trade and Competitiveness consisting of the last 10 percent. As for the other dimensions (Andean and Regional), another 150 million euros have been distributed. Regarding your specific question as to whether this cooperation has been helpful, I would believe yes. Colombia has come to be one of the middle-income countries and is now being accepted as candidate member of the OECD. The aid for development does not consist of the solution of all the problems of a population, but providing technical assistance to grow and working together to reach their own goals and following their own ways to reverse this situation.
CA: How would you describe poverty in Colombia? What demographic suffers most from poverty in Colombia and South America as a whole?
VG: Poverty in general is a consequence of inequality in the distribution of wealth; a matter of unfair treatment and management of resources. And so, Colombia, like other Latin American countries, is not the exception. But to illustrate to you about alleviating poverty in Latin America (answering this question and the next two,) I would like to quote the words of the European Commissioner for Development, Mr. Andris Piebalgs, in a speech given recently: “Our regional cooperation is making a real difference to real people. I am delighted that we have been able to contribute to the impressive progress that Latin America has achieved over the last decade. The figures speak for themselves. Since 2002, 60 million people from a total population of 580 million have been lifted out of poverty, giving the continent an historic opportunity to eradicate poverty for good.”
In these last two questions, she chose to quote this same speech.
CA: As an ambassador, do you believe global poverty needs to be addressed by the rest of the world? Is there need for more aid?
VG: “In the ongoing global debate on a post-2015 framework, we have repeatedly said that the world as a whole has the resources to eradicate poverty in our lifetime. We want the help we give to our partner countries everywhere to be as relevant as possible. For it is not just Latin America that has changed; in a matter of years, the world as a whole has become a very different place.”
CA: In your opinion, what do you think more developed countries should or could be doing to address global poverty?
VG: “To remain relevant and effective, the (E.U.’s) development policy needs to reflect these huge global shifts. The result is a new policy framework based on a blueprint in the form of our Agenda for Change. The Agenda for Change underpins the aims of eradicating poverty while securing sustainable development. It focuses on good governance, inclusive and sustainable growth and human development. It is about getting more impact from our policy with the resources we have, targeting them where they are most needed, have a comparative advantage and bring real added value, so that people, in particular the weakest, can move out of poverty and stay out of it.”