Mr. James Moran, Head of the EU delegation to Yemen Times: “We are extremely happy to see that Yemen is sending a full delegation to Doha next week for the very first time.” [Archives:2001/45/Interview]

November 5 2001

The European Union has become stronger than ever today. As a developing country, Yemen has been interested in strengthening its relationship with the European Union in all fields. As an important donor to Yemen, the EU has so far granted the country hundreds of millions of Euros for developmental purposes. Still, the EU is planning a three-year aid package of at least 130 million Euros in the form of financial and project assistance for Yemen. During his visit to Yemen, YT interviewed Mr. James Moran, the Head of the Amman-Based EU delegation to Jordan (and Yemen) to the Middle East who expressed his intentions to further concentrate on Yemen in the future as a country with huge potential.
Q: What is the objective of your current visit to Yemen?
A: It has been some time since I have last been to Yemen, and it is important to come in this particular time. I wanted to get an impression on how the country is progressing in terms of its modernization, and of course, more generally the great changes that have been going on in the world in the last month.
As you know, the European Union has been quite active in disassociating completely the idea of terrorism from Arab and Muslim societies. We have also been keen to reach out even more than anytime in the past to other countries to the Middle East and throughout the Arab world. We need to deepen dialogue and deepen understanding between us because we are all in this together. We have said, as indeed you have said in Yemen and many other Arab countries have said, that the attack was not against the United States alone. It was rather against humanity, freedom, values, and civilization as a whole. It is important to emphasize this point.
The visit is important not only to follow through, as you know there is intense cooperation and activity, but also to get an impression of Yemen.
Q: How do you assess Yemen’s reaction in this war against terror?
A: Yemen’s response was very rapid and very positive in the sense that Yemen recognized that the attack was on all humanity, as this is something that no one could accept. From my stay here for the last couple of days I feel that this is being said by many people. However, people are deeply affected by the conditions of Afghanistan, and that is understandable.
Yemen, like most countries of the world, was affected by the terror attack against New York and Washington DC and it also has to deal with alleviating poverty and efforts for modernization. So, it is a challenging time for the society here. But it seems to me that both the levels of the government and people are very clear in their stance against terrorism, which is a positive thing.
Q: Even though the EU is not currently involved directly in the war against Afghanistan, how do you react to the latest demonstrations in Yemen against the US-led attack?
A: The reaction has been very limited. The EU has been very clear in its support and solidarity with the USA since the September attacks. People have been impressed by the measured response that has taken place. It is natural for people, such as those in Yemen, in times like these to worry about the future and where will this war will end. I do not want to exaggerate those protests, as I haven’t seen very much of that. Still, the September attack was a clear atrocity and it requires a measured response. It is the hope of all Europeans that only a measured response would continue. Of course, as we look forward things may change, but for the time being that is still the case. At the level of the political leaderships, there has been quite strong consensus and that is in place. We are all committed in the coalition against terror.
We are also very concerned that the root of the problems are addressed. We know that there is a great deal of work to be done, whether it is a question of poverty in the Muslim and Arab worlds, or whether it is a question of a better dialogue between people of the world, or whether it is a question of security cooperation. Whatever it takes, we are extremely concerned to do all that we can.
Q: Is there an official stance towards the continuation of the war against Afghanistan in the month of Ramadan, despite the fact that Muslim and Arab countries, including Yemen, don’t agree on this?
A: I don’t think there is an official stance on that in the time being. But we are a couple of weeks away from the month of Ramadan and time is moving fairly quickly in conditions like this. There is no clear position at the moment of the EU. All that we know is that in whatever shape or form the campaign manifests itself, it is going to be a long campaign. This is not the military strikes alone, but also the legal, developmental, cultural, and economic battle against terrorism, which will take a lot of time, effort and resources to win.
Q: What are the new projects and development aid to Yemen by the EU?
A: We are close to signing a three-year program. As you may know, we have a 135 million Euro in the form of around 50 projects. Mr. Rainer Schierhorst, Head of Office in Yemen, could provide information about those projects. The new program is going to concentrate on alleviating poverty through food security projects and through the social fund and other actions. We are looking after the improvement of the demographic aspect in the country. As you know, the population rate is still at 3.5% which is a challenge for Yemen.
Importantly, we are supporting Yemen’s joining the World Trade Organization (WTO). We are extremely happy to see that Yemen is sending a full delegation to Doha next week for the very first time. This is a long-term process and will take probably four to five years. In the meantime, there are great challenges that Yemen needs to overcome. This includes advocacy of the private sector and other measures needed to join the organization. That is going to take a lot of effort and substantial resources, but we are prepared to do that for Yemen. We are truly excited about this, which is considered a new form of cooperation. We will also be doing a few more things including the support of democratization, civil society, freedom of the press, and human rights. The European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights announced earlier this year dozens of elements which are relevant to Yemen. The field of women rights is an important one. It is encouraged to see that the newly formed Shoura council has two women members. This is an encouraging step for us to move on in this direction. We will also continue in supporting the democratic practice and elections and various democratic projects.
Q: Taking into consideration the newly formed local councils, are you willing to decentralize your aid to them independently?
A: I think the local councils are a very important step forward. For a country as big as Yemen and as geographically divided as Yemen, it is extremely important to get the government closer to the people. This is what we do in Europe more and more, as in the UK and other European countries. I think the local elections is a great step. But in terms of decentralizing aid and projects by providing them directly to those councils, it is still too early. It would be ideal if we could do that, and the pro-modernization people in Yemen surely agree on that. For that to happen, you need qualified technical staff, expert financial people with high administrative skills. The money paid must be accounted for. Our taxpayers who give money to Yemen are very demanding in that regard, and the same applies for everybody in this business.
We say “Yes” to the idea, but we need to make sure that the capacity is there before we move on in this step.
Q: Do you have projects for the private sector?
A: Yes, we actually provide assistance to small and medium enterprises in the country to organize their practices. Here we are looking at projects in the form of technical assistance for marketing, especially for those who are trading internationally and also for more efficient production practices. Whereby we could help pay for those services, maybe by asking for small contributions from those companies themselves who in the present circumstances clearly cannot afford it because under the current circumstances those teams are very expensive. We haven’t yet had the details of this, but we are certainly going on in this direction. At a business service center function which would give good information for business practices, it would rather be targeted to the Yemeni situation to know what is needed here. We are in the middle of identifying that, but it will take a little time. However, it is still one of our top priorities.
Q: Any final comments you may have?
A: Well, it has been great coming to Yemen. I haven’t been able to come as frequently as I used to due to the latest attack. This is my ninth time in Yemen, which I have seen some of and there is still much more to see. It is a bit frustrating not to be able to do that, but it has been important to be here on this visit. I had a positive experience in Yemen as usual. Traditional Yemeni hospitality is truly worth it.
By the way, I do hope that the tourism industry recovers as quickly as possible after the setback that happened this year. Inshallah let’s hope that next year will be more stable and calm for Europeans and people from all over the world to come and enjoy the beauty of this country.