The Ambassador of the European Union (EU) to Bhutan based in New Delhi, Tomasz Kozlowski, who was on a farewell visit to Bhutan from August 20 to 22, applauded the government for utilising EU’s development assistance effectively and efficiently.
As a result, according to the EU ambassador, 80 percent of EU assistance to Bhutan has been channelled through budgetary support to use fund according to the procedures and priorities of the Bhutanese government.
There are two main budget support projects that the EU is financing. The first project supports local governments and fiscal decentralisation, which is managed by the Ministries of Home Affairs and Finance. The other supports agriculture and climate-related agenda.
The EU has tripled its financial assistance to Bhutan for the period between 2014 and 2020 to €52million (Nu 4 billion) for self-reliance and inclusive socio-economic development.
As a long-term partner, the EU supports Bhutan’s efforts towards democratic governance, sustainable economic and agricultural development, climate change adaptation, and other national priorities through direct budget financial support.
The core of EU assistance, according to Ambassador Kozlowski, is provided through direct budget support to the government programmes according to its priorities. He also said that EU and the government were in consultation about the post-2020 envelope in line with Bhutan’s 12th Plan and the possibility to further support after Bhutan’s graduation from LDC status in 2023.
Including budget support and different regional and thematic projects, EU’s support to Bhutan has reached a level of €68.4 million between 2014 and 2020.
New areas of cooperation
While in Bhutan, Ambassador Kozlowski launched a new project to improve Global Research and Education Network Connectivity from Bhutan to the Trans-Eurasia Information Network under the umbrella of the Asia Connect project. The initiative, with an overall EU funding of €20 million (M), ensures that 24 Asia-Pacific countries are connected by powerful high-capacity, high-quality internet linkages.
The EU and Bhutan enjoyed a strong bilateral relationship and he was confident that this new project would further enhance our ties, Ambassador Kozlowski said.
“Strengthening our connections between research and education communities will not only improve Bhutanese citizen’s access to education and research resources but will also have a long-term positive impact on its economy and well-being,” he said.
Bhutan is one of the beneficiaries of EU funded Erasmus+ higher education programme.
Ambassador Kozlowski said: “We have different types of projects. For example, we provide support for the development of civil society in Bhutan because we think that civil society is an important element of a democratic society.”
One of the objectives of his visit to Bhutan, Ambassador Kozlowski said, was to understand the government’s priorities, expectations, and economic and social plans. His last visit to Bhutan was in April this year.
Regarding EU-Bhutan relations for which Ambassador Kozlowski has been responsible for the last four years, he said: “I have been personally engaged in promoting EU-Bhutan relationship. I am leaving Bhutan with a high level of satisfaction. We perceive Bhutan as one of the important partners on global issues.”
Both EU and Bhutan are important supporters of the implementation of the Paris agreement and all actions taken by the international community in the field of climate change.
“We are an important partner for Bhutan and Bhutan is an important partner for us,” Ambassador Kozlowski said.
Recently, the EU decided to provide additional assistance to Bhutan for the development of a national training centre for research and rescue. “We mobilised resources for the implementation of Water Flagship Programme,” Ambassador Kozlowski. We provide some technical assistance for migrational border control and production of organic food, a switch project from traditional agriculture to organic agriculture.”
On LDC status
Ambassador Kozlowski, who received an audience from His Majesty The King on August 21, said that Bhutan’s formal graduation from LDC status in 2023 would have some consequences because Bhutan then would not be eligible for certain forms of international support and using certain schemes.
This means Bhutan must look for diversification income source to finance her economic development.
“That is why European investment bank is ready to step in with concessional loan,” Ambassador Kozlowski said. “I hope Bhutan will soon enter into an agreement with the European investment bank, which is a key EU financial institutions.”
As a middle-income country, Bhutan could lose certain trade privileges but the EU was ready to maintain some privileges under the GSP+ system, he added.
“EU is committed to continue supporting the democratisation process, economic and social development of Bhutan even after graduation from LDC,” Ambassador Kozlowski said.
Ambassador said that he never visited Bhutan before his appointment as the EU ambassador in 2016. “I made regular visits to Bhutan thereafter and I know the country very well. I feel at home here,” he said. “I will be physically in Europe but I m not leaving Bhutan.”
While in Bhutan, the Ambassador met Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering, Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji, Agriculture Minister Yeshey Penjor, Home Minister Sherub Gyeltshen, and Gross National Happiness Commission Secretary Thinley Namgyel.
Ambassador Kozlowski met with Opposition Leader Pema Gyamtsho (PhD), other Bhutanese high-level officials, members of the mass media and other partners.
The EU, which consists of 28 countries and has had strong cooperation with Bhutan since 1982, has the world’s largest economy and its third largest population, after China and India.