Former Slovenian President Dr Danilo Türk on Saturday said the United Kingdom is very important for Bangladesh as far as its political relations with the European Union (EU) are concerned.
“As far as co-relation between the European Union and Bangladesh is concerned, of course there’s no substitute for the UK. The UK is unique. The UK is great and the UK is outside the European Union,” he said.
Türk, who served as the President of Slovenia between 2007 and 2012, made the remarks while delivering the keynote speech at a symposium titled ‘EU and the Contemporary Global Scenario: A Reflection for the Future’ at a city hotel.
Cosmos Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Bangladeshi conglomerate Cosmos Group, arranged the symposium under its Distinguished Speaker Series.
Chairman of Cosmos Foundation Enayetullah Khan delivered the welcome speech opening the dialogue.
Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, Principal Research Fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore, chaired the session.
Dr Türk suggested Bangladesh to work closely with the European Commission, noting that the bloc is going to become an important partner for the country.
“[My suggestion is to] go and see Josep Borrell [the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and Vice-President of the European Commission]. He’s one of your first partners,” he said.
Ties between Bangladesh and the EU have been growing ever stronger since 1973. The bloc is one of the largest development partners of Bangladesh. Every year, Bangladesh receives about € 70-80 million as development assistance. All the EU assistance to Bangladesh is provided as grants, according to the government.
‘Bangladesh: A quiet success story’
Türk said the success of Bangladesh was a big thing that experts often describe as “quiet success”.
“Bangladesh has established itself as the key player in textiles and garment industry, and an important player in the questions of social progress,” he said adding, “For tomorrow, we also have to think about climate change. The way Bangladesh has experienced climate change and is making itself a factor in global discussions about climate change.”
At the interactive discussion after the keynote speech, Rensje Teerink, Ambassador of the European Union to Bangladesh, pointed out that trade facilities provided by EU to Bangladesh has been a “major instrument” that has really helped the country more than bilateral aid portfolio.
The facilities are provided to about 45 LDC countries but Bangladesh is the one which made the most out of it.
“Bangladesh has reaped about 70 percent trade facilitation of all goods that go into the European Union, mainly based on the readymade garments (RMG) sector,” she said.
“I think this has been enormously helpful. There’s no other organisation in the world that grants this kind of privilege to Bangladesh.”
According to the Export Promotion Bureau, Bangladesh’s export to EU was worth $10.74 billion in the first two quarters of the current fiscal year. The World Trade Organisation’s World Trade Statistical Review 2019 said Bangladesh became the leading services importer among LDCs.
“It’s in Bangladesh’s interest to work with us (EU)…” Teerink said.
‘Sheikh Mujib was a household name’
Dr Türk, also a Slovenian diplomat, professor of international law, human rights expert, and political figure, was the first Slovenian Ambassador to the United Nations, from 1992 to 2000, and was the UN Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs from 2000 to 2005.
Türk said he was glad to be in Dhaka around the time of the birth centenary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. “I remember the developments in 1971 and ‘72 very well,” he said. “Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was, in fact, a household name in Slovenia and in former Yugoslavia and throughout Europe.”
Bangabandhu, he said, was able to articulate the issues in a way which resonated throughout the world.
Türk said it was a “very important experience” for him as a young student who started thinking about such fundamental questions of development of an identity of a nation, intervention of big powers, use of force, humanitarian problems and humanitarian assistance.
He said they became aware of all the big questions in the context of the independence of Bangladesh which coincided with big shifts at the global level.
‘Borders are disappearing’
In his welcome remarks, Enayetullah Khan said throughout the past year, Cosmos Foundation remained focused on its goals. “We’ve dedicated ourselves generating among our friends, strategic insights on pressing issues of the day offering policy options in addressing them.“
He said the foundation has held a number of stimulating events with distinguished speakers from across the world on thematic topics as well as Bangladesh’s external relations.
“In February, we’re planning a symposium that should be of interest to all those interested in the theoretical aspects of foreign policy making. It’d be a debate on the values that shapes as policy in the east and west,” Khan informed the audience.
Dr Iftekhar said the world is now too interconnected, and the borders of regions are disappearing.
“More so than borders of individual countries which are protected by rules of sovereignty, regions are not. Regional organisations are often hostage to relationship between principal protagonists like Saarc has been rendered dormant by the acerbic relations between India and Pakistan,” he noted.
But, he said, the EU remains a supreme example of nations burying the hatchet and coming together. “If there’s collaboration between countries at a functional level, then eventually the core dispute at more critical levels will dissipate.”
Dr Iftekhar, also a former adviser to the caretaker government, said Brexit will have its impact not just on Europe, but even on countries like Bangladesh.
“Europe will for all intents and purposes be a priority in our external relations.”
Former ambassadors Farooq Sobhan, Shamim Ahmed, Rear Admiral (retd) ASMA Awal, Shahed Akhtar, ex-MP Ziaur Rahman Khan, BIPSS President Maj Gen (retd) ANM Muniruzzaman, Prime Minister’s ex-Principal Secretary Nojibur Rahman, prominent businessman Salahuddin Kasem Khan, Dr Faizzul Islam Chowdhury, Gallery Cosmos Director Tehmina Enayet, Cosmos Group Deputy Managing Director Masud Khan and Vice President Nahar Khan, among others, took part in the interactive session.
British High Commissioner Robert Chatterton Dickson, Canadian High Commissioner Benoit Préfontaine, UNB Chairman Amanullah Khan, Dhaka University Zoology department Prof Md Anwarul Islam, former and current diplomats, and scholars were present.