Sri Lankan Foreign Policy Towards EU and NORDIC countries
By Srimal Fernando Global Editor, The Diplomatic Society
New Beginning German - Sri Lanka relationship German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena
If one looks closely at Sri Lanka’s relationship with the European Union and the Nordic countries, there is no doubt cooperation has expanded significantly beyond the realm of diplomacy.
European Union- Sri Lanka Relations
The diplomatic relationship between Sri Lanka and the European Union (EU) member states continues to expand and grow. Sri Lanka sees itself as a small but important partner for the European Union. Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s administration is actively restoring its relationship with the European Union (EU) and member countries through meaningful dialogue. In his first tour to European Union countries after assuming duties of the top office, President Sirisena’s and his delegation paid official visits to the United Kingdom, Germany, the Vatican and Austria, a clear indication of Sri Lanka’s commitment to cooperation with Europe.
According to the latest figures the bilateral trade between Sri Lanka and the EU is around $5 billion. The Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) Plus status from the European Union agreed to trade concessions for the apparel sector which is key to Sri Lanka and that accounts for over half of the export share to Europe. Sri Lanka began the formal process to reapply for key trade concessions and regain trade benefits which had earlier been suspended over various concerns. This would allow the country to easily achieve the export target of US $ 8.5 billion-per-annum according to the Sri Lanka Chamber of Garment Exporters in 2015.
European Union Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development Hon. Neven Mimica with Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe
Of the total EU assistance to Sri Lanka approximately EUR 750 million has provided over the past decade. In total, Euro 162 million (LKR 24.3 billion) in aid to victims of both the conflict and natural disasters was provided by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection since 1994 . In its 2014-2020 country strategy for Sri Lanka the EU will be focusing support on rural development. In addition, an amount of €210 million has been allocated by the European Union for the same period. With a mandate to advance the bilateral commercial interest the European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Mr. Neven Mimica, EU Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development accompanied by a high level EU delegation visited Sri Lanka from 15 - 17 March 2016 . During the visit, EU Commissioner said “For the last twenty years we helped the people who were affected by tsunami and by the war” “During the 2014-2020 periods we have decided to double our aid”.
Nordic Council - Sri Lanka Relations
Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, right, with his Norwegian counterpart, Borge Brende
Sri Lanka and the Nordic Council countries have enjoyed a longstanding relationship for more than sixty years. After a prolonged period of diplomatic turbulence Sri Lankan diplomatic links with Nordic Council countries was renewed with the formation of a new government in Sri Lanka in 2015 when Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende visited the island nation. During the Sri Lankan peace process Norway played a major role in facilitating the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in February 2002. Later the peace process was monitored by Norwegian, Icelandic and Scandinavian countries. Norway’s total support to Sri Lanka between 2009 and 2012 was 656 million NOK – (USD (107, 7 million) according to the Royal Norwegian Embassy. Similarly it was only few months after Foreign Minister Brende stopover to Sri Lanka that the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sweden Margot Wallström made an official visit to Sri Lanka to further strengthen the bilateral ties. The far-reaching significance of the visit illustrated how Sweden began providing development co-operation assistance to Sri Lanka from 1958 and has contributed almost $US 1.6 billion development aid to Sri Lanka in the past fifty years (Swedish International Development Co-operation Agency (SIDA) foreign assistance to Sri Lanka 1960- 2018).
The Swedish Government had welcomed Sri Lanka's policy of active engagement: Sri Lanka's Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera (R) with Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström
A year and a half into the formation of the new government in Sri Lanka , the island nation has seen an upward trend in foreign-policy performance with the Nordic Council countries and the European Union member states. Even though the foreign policy of the country with the West is on the right track working towards a stronger partnership with Nordic Council countries and the European Union in the fields of economic and development cooperation, will be significant for the future economic advancement of Sri Lanka.