The European Union is increasing its grant assistance by nearly 40 percent a year for the next seven years in a show of its “continuing commitment” to Bangladesh.
Currently, the EU provides around €500 million grants each year.
The outgoing head of the delegation William Hanna made the announcement while meeting the diplomatic correspondents in Dhaka on Tuesday in his farewell press conference.
The ambassador, who in his nearly four years of assignment witnessed eventful times in Bangladesh both on political and business fronts, said it had been his “most challenging assignment”.
“I have greatly enjoyed my time,” he declared.
He made renewed call for political reconciliation in Bangladesh as he spoke on all aspects of 40-year relations between the EU and Bangladesh with democracy and human rights at the core.
He stressed on addressing the issues of sustainability of the environment and safety and fair treatment of workers in sectors like leather, shrimps and tea which enjoy duty-free access to the EU market.
“And we will soon be tightening regulations on ship-breaking,” he warned.
“The message should be understood. In today's world and tomorrow's world, market access and sustainability go together. You cannot have one without the other,” he said.
Diplomatic Correspondents’ Association in Bangladesh organised the talk, chaired by its President Mainul Alam. General Secretary Angur Nahar Monty delivered the welcome speech.
The ambassador will leave Dhaka this month. The deputy head of the EU’s Pakistan delegation Pierre Mayaudon will replace him, the EU earlier announced.
Hanna said the Bangladesh-EU partnership is based on “mutual respect and meaningful policy dialogue on shared priorities”.
“It is focused on reducing poverty. These priorities also include democratic governance, inclusion of the poor and marginalised, gender equality, responsible business practices, environment sustainability, resilience to natural disasters and climate change.”
He lauded Bangladesh’s success in poverty reduction, increasing enrolment at primary schools and lowering infant and maternal mortality rate and said in these areas the country is considered “a model country”.
Still, he observed, there was a large number of poor population and considering this, the EU decided to increase its grant assistance to Bangladesh.
“We will focus this new support on education and skills, food security and nutrition, and democratic governance,” he said.
He had expressed the EU’s concerns on several occasions about the state of democracy in Bangladesh, particularly last year in the run-up to the elections.
The EU did not send its poll monitoring mission for the Jan 5 elections as political major BNP stayed away.
The ambassador said later the local elections were questioned, with allegations of fraud and rigging for which he said “we look to the Election Commission – which is an independent body under the Constitution - to investigate all these allegations”.
The EU also condemned violence of all forms and called on all parties to engage in dialogue to find a way forward.
“Today we simply renew that call. Dialogue is as necessary as ever. Confrontation and violence is never the way forward,” he said once again.
According to Hanna, the EU support for democracy and human rights “is not one sided”.
“It is part of the contractual relationship in international law between the EU and Bangladesh”.
“This is why, in the past months, we have on several occasions expressed our deep concern about the shrinking space for civil society organisations and deteriorating respect for human rights in Bangladesh in the aftermath of the elections,” he explained.
He said the EU considered a vibrant civil society “essential for the enjoyment of human rights and democracy”.
“The EU cannot accept any leeway in extrajudicial killings,” he asserted and pointed out that the Europeans had consistently urged the government “to prevent and adequately address this issue”.
“We have called on the Government of Bangladesh to prohibit law enforcement agencies from abuses, and the excessive use of force and to make meaningful efforts to hold members of the security forces accountable.”
He said they remained concerned about the issues of abuse and excessive use of force by the law-enforcing agencies as well as the situation of minorities in Bangladesh.
“In particular we call for full implementation of the CHT agreement, and protection for the human rights of Rohingya refugees.”
Hanna also witnessed Bangladesh’s worst-ever factory building collapse in April last year that evoked worldwide concerns. The EU which is a major buyer of Bangladesh clothes, reacted in shock.
The EU rolled out a “sustainable compact” for ensuring factory safety and workers rights in the wake of the Rana Plaza collapse that killed more than 1100 people.
“Our approach was to ‘Stay engaged’ and work together to bring about real structural change in the sector,” he said, reminding all of the continuing progress under the ‘sustainability compact’ package.
Bangladesh’s exports to EU market grew by 57 percent in the last three years.
He credited it to the “dynamism, hard work and entrepreneurial spirit of Bangladeshis, as well as to the duty-free access” to the EU market.
The ambassador paid a farewell call to the foreign minister AH Mahmood Ali on Tuesday before meeting the diplomatic correspondents.