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Newsletter April 2020

Newsletter April 2020 - Exclusive Insight on Belgian Relations with Arab countries

Exclusive Insight on Belgian Relations with Arab countries - From His Excellency Raoul Delcorde

HE Raoul Delcorde, Ambassador, Ex-director Middle-East/North Africa Ministry of Foreign Affairs

HE Raoul Delcorde, Ambassador, Ex-director Middle-East/North Africa Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Ambassador Raoul DELCORDE was the director of the Middle-East/North Africa division at the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs from September 2018 until March 2020. He certainly enjoyed the interaction with the Ambassadors of the MENA countries in Brussels. After a career of more than 35 years in the foreign service, Ambassador Delcorde retired in April 2020 and is now a guest professor at the University of Louvain. He is also working on a new book on diplomacy.

In this edition, he is eager to share his diplomatic experience with our readers and provides us with a clear picture of the relations between the Kingdom of Belgium and the Middle-East/North Africa (MENA) Region in 2019.

Relations between Belgium and the Middle-East/North Africa region have been very substantial in 2019.

1. Belgium and the Maghreb

Belgium enjoys a positive image in the Maghreb countries. This is due for a large part to the important Maghreb community living in Belgium and to our substantial trade exchanges. Maghreb is a gateway between Europe and Africa, which contributes to further develop our trade exchanges with Africa.

The Moroccan community in Belgium represents roughly over half a million citizens and they help to maintain the momentum in the relations between the two kingdoms. Cooperation between Morocco and Belgium covers a wide spectrum of activities, from development cooperation to education, from justice and police affairs to diplomacy and culture.

With 40 years of uninterrupted bilateral cooperation with Algeria, we have been able to develop strong ties between our two countries. We have a pattern of bilateral consultations, on an annual basis, and the last ones took place in Algiers in October 2019.

Year 2019 was marked by the celebration of 180 years of the Friendship Treaty signed between King Leopold I and Ahmed Pacha Bey, the ruler of Tunisia. After having supported the democratic transition in Tunisia, namely through financial assistance via UN funded projects (assistance to the constitutional process and to the national dialogue, to the security sector and to transitional justice), Belgium continues supporting reform projects in Tunisia, especially in the fields of democratic transition and inclusive economic development. Tunisia is also a favourite tourism destination for many Belgians.

In Libya, Belgium recognizes the Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli and established by the Skhirrat Agreement (2015). We are also following closely the efforts made by the Secretary General of the UN and his Special Representative to reach an inclusive and peaceful solution to the benefit of the Libyan people. In the context of the Libyan conflict, as an elected member of the UN Security Council (2019-2020), Belgium considers that only inclusive political solution can ensure Libya’s stability and can allow rebuilding strong institutions for the benefit of the entire population. Belgium has been repeatedly calling for strict compliance with the arms embargo. Belgium expressed regularly in multilateral fora its concerns about the humanitarian consequences of the fighting for the most vulnerable, including migrants and refugees in Libya.

2. Belgium and the Machrek

Bilateral relations between Belgium and Egypt are good. Belgium contributes to the economic recovery of the country, but there is still scope for the deepening of the economic cooperation. Moreover, Belgium recognizes the important role played by Egypt as a mediator in the Middle East Peace Process (MEPP) and as a major regional actor. It is important, however, that the situation of the human rights in Egypt remains on our bilateral agenda.

In Palestine, Belgium takes part in the political and financial support program of the EU in favour of the establishment of public institutions by the Palestinian Authority. In spite of stalled negotiations Belgium keeps supporting all the endeavours for a negotiated two-States solution with Israel, with Jerusalem as the capital city of two sovereign States. Belgium has a substantial development cooperation program with Palestine (Palestine is the fourth development cooperation partner of Belgium). Bilateral consultations take place regularly and Belgium has upgraded the status of the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Brussels. In 2019 a group of young Palestinian diplomats was invited for a two-weeks training program with Egmont Institute, which is affiliated with our ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Belgium enjoys a positive image in Jordan. Belgium appreciates the efforts of Jordan in terms of accommodating a large group of Syrian and Palestinian refugees on its territory. Our country contributes to the financing of several funds and projects aimed at supporting Jordan in its efforts. One has also to mention the excellent personal relations between the two Royal families.

Lebanon and Belgium can be compared on several accounts such as the sense of compromise, a political system based on cooperation and consultation between different communities, and the preservation of unity within diversity. Frequent high-level bilateral contacts are an indication of the excellent relations between the two countries. Belgium supports the efforts of the European Union, namely in the framework of the Association agreement EU-Lebanon, in order to reinforce cooperation between the two sides in fields like security and struggle against terrorism, good governance and rule of law, economic growth, migration and mobility. Belgium is very much aware of the huge impact of the war in Syria on the Lebanese society and economy, and of its efforts in hosting the refugees. This is why Belgium, via its support to humanitarian organizations active in Lebanon, tries to alleviate the burden of this small but important country.

Belgium is convinced that a political solution is the best option to put an end to the conflict in Syria. That is why our country supports the efforts of the UN to lead the political process to an acceptable solution. Belgium will continue to contribute to the international humanitarian assistance in favour of the Syrian population and has a specific role to play in this regard as the co-penholder for humanitarian affairs in the UN Security Council. The issue of the so-called foreign terrorist fighters is another important aspect of the conflict in Syria and is part of the important fight against Daesh to which Belgium continues to be engaged.

3. The Middle-East Peace Process

The Belgian government remains a staunch supporter of the two-State solution, with Jerusalem as capital of both Palestine and Israel, in order to achieve a just and lasting peace. The objective is to have a viable, contiguous, sovereign and independent Palestinian State existing side by side and living in peace with Israel within recognized and secure borders. Our country will not recognize any change to the borders of 1967, including Jerusalem, unless these changes are agreed on by both parties. Any (US or other) Peace Plan must respect the parameters set by the international community. Belgium will keep defending those principles at all levels including within the EU and at the UN Security Council. Belgium expressed its concerns at the highest level regarding the continuation of the Israeli settlement policy and the demolition of Palestinian structures in vulnerable communities including in area C. Along with European partners, Belgium keeps asking compensation to Israel following demolition of humanitarian infrastructures funded by its tax-payers.

Belgium is also in favour of lifting the blockade of Gaza, in line with the EU approach. The Palestinian Authority should be able to exert its mandate in Gaza, including in the field of civil administration and security. Belgium considers, like the EU, that Intra-Palestinian reconciliation process is important.

Ultimately, Belgium considers that the EU could play a more important role in the peace process, in close cooperation with other actors involved (Quartet and foreign actors).

4. Iraq

Belgium is deepening its diplomatic relations with Iraq. Our priorities with Iraq are the support to more “inclusivity” in Iraq’s political process, which means the participation of all the communities to the reconstruction of the country; it involves also fighting against corruption and providing basic amenities to the population. Improvement of the business environment is also an important element in our dialogue with Iraq. Our country is also providing support as a member of the International Coalition against Daesh.

5. The Gulf countries

The relations between the Gulf Cooperation Council’s countries (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrein, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, and Oman) and Belgium are regular and substantial. They extend to political, economic, educational and cultural fields, both at official and private levels. In 2019, high-level consultations took place in Riyadh, Manama and Muscat. A technical and economic joint committee meeting with Kuwait took place in Brussels. Several trade delegations from the Gulf countries visited Belgium. Among the topics on the agenda of the bilateral meetings are the regional situation, fight against terrorism and radicalism, and human rights (with a focus on gender issues). Numerous Belgian corporations are active in the Gulf countries in fields like dredging, construction, engineering, transportation, hospital management, etc.

Belgium is supporting all the mediation efforts in the ongoing crisis within the GCC, and hopes that this organization will be able to overcome its present internal divisions.

The war in Yemen is a humanitarian tragedy. Belgium supports the efforts of UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths and appeals to all the parties involved to contribute to the political process which led to the Stockholm agreement and then to the Riyadh agreement. Only an inclusive political process will lead to a lasting solution of the conflict.



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