Half a Century of Solidarity: The EU-Bangladesh Journey

I have had the pleasure and privilege of serving in Bangladesh twice and have witnessed first-hand how the country has dramatically transformed in recent years. From expanding infrastructure and educational opportunities to major improvements in key development indicators and poverty reduction, EU-Bangladesh relations have similarly expanded rapidly, as exemplified by the warmth and substance of the meeting between Hon. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and President von der Leyen in Brussels last October.

European Union (EU) Head of Delegation Ambassador Charles Whiteley with Honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina

Over the past five decades, the EU has stood not just as a friend but also as a partner in Bangladesh’s remarkable journey. Today, 23 years after the EU and Bangladesh signed their first Cooperation Agreement, both sides stand at a point where they want to strengthen their bond further in the context of current-day priorities. The new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, which we have started negotiating this year, will address the pressing challenges of our era: climate change, education, digital space, and security.

On the economic front, the EU’s Global Gateway Strategy, a visionary initiative to bolster global infrastructure, has already made a landmark investment in Bangladesh’s future with a €400 million commitment to renewable energy, including the Bangladesh Renewable Energy Facility. This investment is a testament to the EU’s dedication to aiding Bangladesh in its quest for a green economy. Complementing this is the Team Europe Initiative on Green Energy Transition, where Germany and the EU are collaborating with Bangladesh to promote eco-friendly operations. The initiative’s projects, valued at €1.3 billion, promise a future of cleaner energy and sustainable growth. Through our upcoming European Chamber of Commerce, we will explore further opportunities for European companies in Bangladesh across all industries.

 

Ambassador Charles Whiteley, Head of the EU Delegation to Bangladesh, officially inaugurates the roadshow at the ‘Information Session on Erasmus+ Opportunities’ organized by the EU

Labour standards – a priority of both the EU and Bangladesh – are also at the forefront of this partnership. The EU’s active engagement in improving working conditions in Bangladesh is evident in the “Advancing Decent Work” in Bangladesh programme, which aims to align the nation’s labour laws with international conventions. These steps are also vital for Bangladesh on its path towards upgrading its trade relations with the EU after graduation to a developing country and qualifying for the preferential GSP+ trade scheme.

The humanitarian crisis resulting from the Rohingya fleeing Myanmar continues to be a focal point. The EU supports Bangladesh in its much-appreciated efforts to host more than a million refugees on its territory. EU humanitarian funds and cooperation projects provide resources to accommodate the Rohingya and contribute to their security. Given the scale of the crisis, the EU and its partners are furthermore looking for opportunities to foster self-reliance where possible and to create benefits for the host community. At the same time, the EU is keeping up the pressure on the regime in Myanmar by extending and renewing sanctions against members of the Junta. Our common goal is to work towards creating conditions that would allow for a safe, dignified and voluntary repatriation of the Rohingya people.

Paola Pampaloni, Director for Asia and Pacific at the European External Action Service (EEAS), with the EU team in Dhaka during a visit to Amar Joti Special School

The spectre of illegal migration has become a topic of concern on the European agenda. The number of people who are risking their lives on the deadly sea route crossing the Mediterranean is rising and Bangladeshi citizens are among the largest group of people falling prey to the false promises of unscrupulous traffickers. In response to this global phenomenon, the EU has introduced the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, seeking to create a fairer system and discourage dangerous journeys. With our new Talent Partnership programme, we work on opening up new legal pathways for skilled Bangladeshi workers to enter Europe.

With global warming as a critical concern, the EU has legally committed to climate neutrality by 2050. Bangladesh, being highly vulnerable to climate change, stands to benefit from the EU’s commitment to both mitigation and adaptation efforts. The €1 billion Climate Adaptation Pact between France and Bangladesh is a significant milestone in this endeavour. Similarly, as Bangladesh embarks on a digital transformation, the EU’s support for this journey is unwavering: the EU’s new programme on
e-Governance responds to the need for services to be more responsive, transparent and accountable.  To make this ambition a reality, we support Bangladesh with a €120 million infrastructure project to make sure that everybody has access to fast and reliable internet, even when living on a remote island.

On education, the Erasmus Plus scholarship programme, which has enabled 140 Bangladeshi students to study in Europe last year alone, is a bridge to help to foster education and skills and support the next generation of leaders for a “Smart Bangladesh 2041”. In the country itself, we support the “Shoktikonna” initiative that promotes young women’s engagement in the energy and power sector in Bangladesh – it is great to see more women entering the tech sector in decision-making roles.

On Europe Day 2024, Social Welfare Minister Dr. Dipu Moni hailed Europe as “a proven friend and development partner”. The EU-Bangladesh relationship, having evolved from a developmental alliance to a robust trade and economic partnership, stands ready to face the future together, united in their pursuit of shared goals and mutual prosperity.

 

Ambassador Charles Whiteley,
Head of Delegation,
Delegation of the European Union to Bangladesh

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *