OP-ED

EU Expansion, Commitment in Yemen

Two years of incredibly active participation supporting of Yemen’s development and progress have given Mr. Michele Cervone D’Urso, the first European Union Ambassador to Yemen unprecedented and unique analytical insight into our enigmatic country.

He shared with the National Yemen his views on the role and impacts of the EU in Yemen and his beliefs on how to enhance its development.

The first thing that impresses and somehow intimidates me about him is probably his towering height. But it takes only a moment to see his gentleness and experienced patience, and to fathom why he deserves the genuine respect his staff regard for him.

Originally appointed Chargee d’Affairs for Yemen in 2008, Michele Cervone d’Urso was appointed as the first EU Ambassador to Yemen. Prior to that he had 14 years career experience with the EU, joining after he graduated from St Andrews in Economics and International Relations and his post-graduate studies in Exeter University.

Describing his 24 months in Yemen he evaluates the changes he witnessed in the country.

“I have indeed seen positive developments: the ceasefire process in Sa’ada, the establishment of an IMF program, the preparation of a National Dialogue campaign, and of course, the Friends of Yemen; an initiative which raised the international profile of Yemen.”

Even though these are all very encouraging signs, it is impossible to turn a blind eye on the more threatening issues.

“What we also witnessed is a general deterioration in the security situation. I used to travel all over the country at the beginning of my mandate, now it’s rare and difficult for me to do so in several national regions,” the Ambassador said.

Terrorism threats obviously backfire on the whole economy of the nation. Fields that are strictly influenced by stability and security, such as foreign investment and tourism, are now so negatively affected.

“In the end the ones who losing out are the Yemeni people,” he said.

Mr Cervone D’Urso has two words for Yemen’s tourism: “Untapped Potential” which succinctly summarize all there is to know about the current situation.

It is not only tourists that Yemen needs to attract the support of. Yemen is in dire need of joining the international community, and meeting international standards in a variety of fields.

Yemen’s agriculture and industry might well be under-developed with respect to its foreign counterparts, but the usual reaction to developing it effectively – flagrant negligence – is not the solution.

Having reached the era of an ever-globalizing world, Yemen should look forward to catch up and try to align to the rest of the countries. The truth is that even if many friendly countries are offering development and help to Yemen, the rest of the world will not wait for Yemen to catch up.

According to Mr. Cervone d’Urso Yemen’s accession to the World Trade Organization has high likelihood; such an opportunity will give its population the chance of better future livelihoods, despite the initial challenges they might face.

The EU Ambassador went on to express his satisfaction on effective EU dialogue with the government

The EU has biannual formal consultations with the state, in which they meet with the Minister of Planning & International Cooperation Mr. Al-Arhabi.

The European Union had initially only a technical assistance office, but was soon followed by an entire delegation from the European Commission with a Chargee d’Affairs under the EU regional headquarters in Jordan. Initially this was much smaller than what it is today, but its continual growth, if anything, tangibly demonstrates Europe’s commitment to Yemen.

Last year the Yemeni government requested an upgrade of the European Union’s representation to Yemen.

T he Lisbon Treaty, enforced in December 2009, saw the previous European Commission delegation become an European Union delegation with the appointment of HE Michele Cervone d’Urso as the EU’s first Ambassador in Yemen. Since the 1st July 2010 the mission represents locally all EU states.

The EU is one of the most important and largest donors to civil society in Yemen, and is involved in the areas of state building, human rights protection, health, security and economic development operations to mention but a few.

Alongside that, the delegation is nurturing several regional projects programs.

“Many of our food security programs are in the Tihama area where we established a food security information centre,” Mr Cervone d’Urso said.

“The EU cannot do everything everywhere but we are trying to focus on certain governorates and make a difference there,” he said.

At the same time, however the EU is keen to help those who need it most, with the collaboration of local and international NGOs.

There are about 5000 civil society and non-governmental organizations in Yemen.

“Some civil society organizations are big and capable, others might be small but we believe they can have an impact on the grass root level on the lives of the poorest. I’ve seen it myself in governorates such as Ta’iz or Hajja,” he affirmed.

A phenomenon that is causing a progressively growing concern is the fallacy of inadequacy of coastal security and arms and human smuggling.

“Because it is a regional problem no solution can be achieved by Yemen alone – We need a regional approach. Its beginning is the development of a regional information centre, and the sharing of data on piracy.”

Mr. D’Urso is convinced that enhancing the coast guard and the Yemeni navy, in addition to the an implemented regional approach are the keys to address maritime crime related issues.

“Friends of Yemen specifically deals with this issue with its 10 year plan for supporting the coastguard and the creation of an information center which will hopefully enhance cooperation between one side of the Bab-Al-Mandab strait and the other.”

“There are basics systems and functions of a state that the EU can support in Yemen, this was not the case in Somalia” the EU Ambassador added.

“Yemen has its own problems but is negatively affected by the practices of the whole Horn of Africa which ranges from trafficking to smuggling to piracy. Peace and stability in Somalia could have a direct knock on effect in Yemen,” he outlined.

But despite the good work of the EU on multiple fronts and at multiple levels on development, food security and conflict prevention in Yemen, the EU Ambassador saw another underlying issue.

“The future of Yemen lies in its people. If youth are educated and we are able to give them a sense of direction, a sense of hope, I can see a brighter future for Yemen.”