Alex Enumah in Abuja
The European Union has again reaffirmed its commitment towards the realization of full integration of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), stressing that integration and cooperation are major tools the region need in overcoming its numerous challenges.
Â Ambassador/ Head of the European Union Delegation to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Ketil Karlsen,Â who affirmed theÂ EUâ€™s position identified issues such as high cost of energy and prevalence of non-tariff barriers to free trade as major obstacles to industrialization and economic integration of the ECOWAS region.
Â Karlsen, who stated this at the just concluded ECOWAS Annual Development Partnersâ€™ Meeting in Abuja, was of the opinion that finding solutions together would make the two regional blocs stronger.
Â Karlsen, represented by Head of Cooperation at the EU Delegation, Kurt Cornelis said, â€œWe areÂ Â strategic partnersÂ Â and theÂ Â challenges thatÂ Â we faceÂ Â are common and must be solved together. This is why the EU over recent years has increased its support to ECOWAS.
Â â€œThrough theÂ Â 11th EuropeanÂ Â DevelopmentÂ Â Fund,Â Â the EuropeanÂ Â Union hasÂ Â allocated moreÂ Â thanÂ Â 1Â Â BillionÂ Â Euros for the periodÂ Â 2014-2020.Â Â Â Â With thisÂ Â funding,Â Â we areÂ Â supporting the priorities identified by ECOWAS, in the areas of Peace, Security and Stability,Â Â Infrastructure,Â Â Trade andÂ Â Economic developmentÂ Â and agriculture.
â€œThe overall objective is the reduction of poverty in the region, by creating stability.Â If thereÂ Â is any secretÂ Â to theÂ Â success ofÂ Â EUÂ Â contributions,Â Â it is supporting regionally led initiatives. Supporting your policiesâ€.
He emphasized that though the EU was ready and willing to share experiences with ECOWAS, the way forward must be laid out by the region itself.
Â In a goodwill message, UN Resident/ Humanitarian Coordinator and UN Development Programme Representative Edward Kallon, reiterated the support of the UN to the implementation of the Protocols of Free Movement.
Â Kallon, disclosed that both the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) supported a free movement to develop policies and guidelines on border management, free movement, labour migration and labour migration information system, adding that 11 out of 20 UN agencies are in partnership with ECOWAS.
â€œILO is currently supporting the commission in developing its sub-regional Decent Work Programme and elimination of Trafficking in Personâ€™s by developing a tool to strengthen Law Enforcement Coordination.â€
Also speaking, President of the ECOWAS Commission, Marcel de Souza, assured that all obstacles to free movement of goods and persons in the sub-region would be uprooted by the year 2020, in line with the target of a four-year timeline given to a committee set up in that regards.
Heads of State and Government of the ECOWAS had in December 2016 agreed to the setting up of a Presidential Task on free movement among member states of the regional block.
â€œThe task force has a four-year mandate and it has been about a year now since they started. They will be looking at corrupt practices in the course of implementing free movement at the borders, challenges to implementing the right to residency and the right to the establishment.
â€œThey have gone to eight countries and have seven countries left and essentially, they look out for obstacles to free movement on roads, ports and also the bordersâ€, he said.