On January 22nd, 2017, The American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS) welcomed the Ambassador of the European Union to Iraq, Patrick Simonnet, for a guest talk on the state of relations between the European Union and Iraq. The talk was the first in the newly launched Diplomatic Lecture Series that will feature senior diplomatic figures, and will explore issues of international and regional importance. The lecture was attended in large numbers by students, staff and faculty members. AUIS President, Bruce Walker Ferguson, and Founder and Board Member, Dr. Barham Salih, were also in attendance and welcomed the Ambassador on his arrival on campus.
The main focus of the talk was the role of the European Union in Iraq and its Kurdistan Region, including political and economic ties, humanitarian and development support, as well as initiatives for educational and governance reforms.
Ambassador Simonnet began his talk by looking back on Europe’s history and the idea behind forming the European Union. He went on to discuss the various challenges currently facing the EU: migration and refugee crisis, the debt crisis in 2008, growing terrorism incidents, and the wave of the nationalist, populist movement currently taking place all across Europe. “The reality is that none of the challenges that we have: economic, internal, external, terrorism, climate change...none of these challenges can be addressed by one single country alone,” he said, stressing that all members of the of the European Union will have to find solutions to these challenges together.
Ambassador Simonnet went on to say that 2017 will be another challenging year for the EU as key member states will be holding elections and the outcome can impact EU policies on several issues. Another challenge for the EU, he said, is to make itself more “relevant”, both within Europe and outside. That includes building a strong cultural “identity” based on their shared history and democratic values, and reforming areas of innovation, economy, and free movement that could impact everyday lives of the European citizens. Most of these challenges however cannot be attended to alone: “This is an idea that resonates in the Middle East, where challenges have become very regional,” he said, as there needs to be more collective action.
Bringing the conversation to relations with Iraq, he said that although the European Union is still a young partner to Iraq, there are very strong links that have been built over the years in areas of trade, economy, development and humanitarian support. He called Iraq “a key international partner and strategic ally” as both the EU and Iraq share mutual goals in the fight against terrorism, in supporting the refugees and IDPs, and in efforts to stabilize the newly liberated areas from Daesh. He explained that the EU is one of largest humanitarian assistance providers in Iraq and its Kurdistan region, providing 160 millions euros in humanitarian assistance in 2016 alone.
Strengthening trade and economic relations is an important objective for the EU in Iraq. The EU is Iraq’s second largest trading partner, and the third largest development partner investing in long-term projects in the region. “I hope there would be much more collaboration between the EU and Iraq in the business realm,” he said, adding however that strong regulations need to be in place. There is a need for political reform and reconciliation in Iraq, he said, saying it is the biggest challenge for Iraq in the long run.
The event concluded with an engaging Q&A session with students, moderated by Christine van den Toorn, director of the Institute of Regional and International Studies (IRIS). The students asked candid questions on diverse topics like the EU’s role in fight against ISIS, humanitarian and development aid, educational support, views on Kurdish independence, along with some international topics like how the EU is dealing with rise of the conservative parties in Europe, and EU’s relations with the United States after the American elections.
AUIS students welcomed the opportunity of an open dialogue with the European Union representative in Iraq, and the University looks forward to holding similar discussions as part of our Diplomatic Lecture Series.
Listen to Ambassador Simonnet’s talk in the podcast below.