Torben Holtze: “EC average annual disbursement to Yemen has risen by almost 30%.” [Archives:1997/46/Business & Economy]
Mr. Torben Holze is the EU Desk Officer for Yemen and Iraq. He took over the post 6 weeks ago. He had been to Yemen about 20 times before, between 1989 and 1993.
Q: What is the exact purpose of this visit? A: I have had to pick up the loose ends left behind during the last 4 years since my last visit. Secondly our delegation is trying to identify trade, development and economic programs which we can finance for 1998, recognising the spirit of co-operation between the EU and Yemen. This would include programs to encourage tourism , agricultural development, the fishing industries, control of chemical wastes as well as encouraging social and informational development.
Q: What are the on going projects? A: We have a total of 17 on going projects, some of them are big and others are small. We have just agreed on 7 projects for this year.
Q: What are the main areas of concentration which will receive EU assistance? A: So far, Yemen has been working on agricultural programs and we have a big project in the south. There have also been some small agricultural activities that we have been involved in. New projects have been approved by EU member states for this year. Our contributions in major projects involving the Social Fund amount to 15 million ECUs ($ 17 million). Some smaller activities and a vocational training program are planned for the Soccotra island costing one million ECUs. The second phase of developing the Soccotra tourist industry will also cost one million ECUs. We have two privatization projects in health and irrigation down in the south. It is after the floods you had last year that we have two projects for around 2 million ECUs. We are also involved in a food security project . An amount of 32 million ECUs is allocated to ongoing EC assisted projects. New commitments made in 1997 amount to 40 million ECUs. In addition, there is on average 5 million ECUs per annum of food aid channelled through the World Food Program (WFP). The total standing EC portfolio for Yemen amounts to approximately 75 million ECUs or $85 million.
Q: What is the average annual disbursement? A: Our commitment has increased. Our annual disbursement also increased by 25%-30%. It should be in the order of around 35 million ECUs a year.
Q: There are some considerations for continued assistance to Yemen. One of them is human rights. What are your thoughts on that? A: Human rights is an issue of concern not just in Yemen, but even in some EU countries. Human rights abuses have been documented in our parliaments and by individual groups in our countries. We are putting our priority on this issue concerning Arab countries. It is not an area we can solve easily. It is an area where a UN organ has to react. You do have facilities to help you in this respect. Some Yemeni NGOs are working to improve or advance human rights and try to minimize human rights abuses. They can make proposals and send them for our consideration for financial assistance.
Q: What is your assessment of the human right situation in Yemen? A: Before I came here, I was in Egypt for 4 years. In Egypt you have some problems too. Yes, Yemen has its problems. I have been here for a short time. Yemen has changed since 4 years ago. Then, there may have been a problem. At least the positive thing is that you can talk about it to the government to rectify the situation. It is also very difficult because you are talking about a different culture. It is hard to mention this human rights abuse based on Western values or values of your culture which are changing. The Middle East culture is changing fast. In this concept you have to look at your human rights issue.
Q: Are there any specific cases that have been brought to your attention? A: One case of interest to Europe is of Mansor Rajeh who was put in prison 15 years ago. We have written to the government, but have not received any reply.
Q: You have the Technical Office here. Are you looking into upgrading it? A: The ultimate goal is obviously to have a fully fledged delegation in this country. This is going to take place in may be 2 or 4 years. There are different considerations. We don’t have a timetable. Now the EU has put a limit on the number of offices. We have to re-evaluate our priorities. I am sure the EU will eventually address these imbalances, but this will take a few years.
Q: Could you tell us about the agreement signed by Yemen and the EU? A: This agreement will further cement our relations. It is going to follow the agreement we had in 1983. This was mostly development cooperation. The new agreement has been expanded into other areas. It is going to be signed in Brussels on 25th November. There is something interesting in this new agreement. It stresses regional cooperation which we did not have before. It clearly states that you are part of the so-called MEDA ccountries. It will be possible for Yemen to be a participant in a lot of this regional cooperation.
Q: What are the main elements of this agreement? A: There are 10 chapters. After the agreement is signed, it is no longer a secret. It becomes public. There is still emphasis on development aid because Yemen is still developing. It has all the power instruments. It has cooperation clauses in the fields of trade, financial assistance, the environment, tourism, science and technology, human resource development, information, culture, etc.