The Dominican Republic is well known throughout Europe. More than 1 million of our citizens visit this beautiful country every year, and many have chosen to live there. They go to the Dominican Republic for its stunning scenery, historical sites, and the well known Dominican hospitality. I went to there to mark the importance the European Union attaches to its relations with the country, and by extension, to its relations with the Caribbean and Central America.
The Dominican Republic enjoys a double affiliation. It is an active member of the Central American Integration System (SICA), and as such contributes to its integration process. Equally, it is an important actor within the Caribbean, notably through the Caribbean Forum (CARIFORUM). As an innovator of regional integration processes, the EU is convinced of the virtues of systematic regional cooperation, based on the acknowledgement of common interests, as a means to overcome rivalries, defeat challenges, and generate prosperity. There is no doubt that the Dominican Republic plays a crucial bridge-building role between Central America, the Caribbean, and Europe.
The 25th anniversary of Dominican accession to the Cotonou agreement offers an unparalleled occasion to highlight these facts and give renewed impetus to our relations. These are the questions I reviewed with President Medina during my visit, and we noted that our bilateral relationship was based on a joint commitment to democracy and human rights. We have agreed to continue nourishing it through regular political dialogue. We have also agreed that the Economic Partnership Agreement, signed between the EU and CARIFORUM, should be utilized in order to promote the trade and investments that are so important for the future of the country. The National Indicative Programme for cooperation, which we have just signed, adds further substance to these efforts, most notably through its support for education and vocational training as a means of contributing to social integration. In addition, we have seen that important challenges require improved regional and inter-regional cooperation. I am referring concretely to the fight against organized crime and the strengthening of resilience in the face of natural disasters, including those produced by climate change. With this very purpose the EU has just finalized a “Strategy on Citizen Security in Central America and the Caribbean."
The tragedy experienced by Haiti in 2010 put our regional and international solidarity to the test. Without doubt, the Dominican Republic responded swiftly and was among the first to offer support, demonstrating the goodwill and sympathy of the Dominican people. The European Union and its member states were also quick to follow, and billions of euros worth of international assistance have been invested over the past four years in humanitarian support and reconstruction efforts in Haiti. No country can be more concerned about the future of Haiti, nor can benefit more from its stability, and a re-launch of its economic growth, than its closest neighbor, the Dominican Republic. As an important partner of both countries, the EU remains ready to assist in the strengthening of Haitian-Dominican relations.
The EU was honored to have been invited to participate in this bilateral dialogue as an active observer. It brings to the table its long experience in regional cooperation and in cementing reconciliation and friendship among neighboring countries. This is the essence of the EU. We wholeheartedly support this dialogue; it has the potential to bring greater regional stability and shared prosperity for the benefit of both countries and their peoples. The EU is ready to step up its action, as and when our Dominican and Haitian friends take further steps in their cooperation. We as the union match our words with deeds by providing substantial financial support to bilateral cooperation in areas such as economic development, infrastructure links, public health, and the environment.
The Dominican Republic and Haiti have already reached bilateral agreements to improve security, combat drug trafficking, protect natural resources, and stimulate trade. The EU is ready to share its experience on migration, customs, border management, trade, health, and the environment to continue providing assistance for the implementation of the agreements reached in the framework of the high-level bilateral dialog, as it merits our support. The European Union will continue to support both states in their efforts to enhance cooperation and deepen their neighborly relationship.