Adam Thomson

British High Commissioner to Pakistan

Part of UK in Pakistan

19th April 2010 Islamabad, Pakistan

Why the EU matters for Pakistan

Many Pakistanis have never heard of the European Union.  Still fewer know what it is.  But when Prime Minister Gilani met 16 of the European Union’s Ambassadors in Peshawar recently, it was natural for him to do so.

The European Union is Pakistan’s largest trading partner (two-way trade was worth €7.5 billion in 2008, approximately PKR 100 billion).  EU member states are also responsible for a lot of foreign direct investment in Pakistan (with the UK responsible itself for very nearly half of the EU’s total investment).  And the EU’s members have a collective political weight.  By visiting Peshawar they sent a powerful signal of solidarity with Pakistan in its struggle against terrorism and violent extremism.

Here in Pakistan, after monitoring the February 2008 elections, the European Union made valuable recommendations about procedures to make elections genuinely independent.  It is currently working with the Election Commission of Pakistan and the Government to prepare for the next Federal elections in 2014 through reform of the legal framework for elections and through training for election officers.  The EU has also led the way in giving humanitarian aid to Pakistan.  At the donor’s conference in Tokyo in 2009, the European Commission pledged €485 million.  And EU programmes help Pakistanis in a whole variety of ways from renewable energy to rural development to earthquake preparedness to rehabilitating women who have suffered domestic abuse to scholarships for students.

The UK is arguing in the EU for a roadmap to a much broader, deeper relationship with Pakistan.  We want to see trade liberalised and the perspective of a Free Trade Agreement opened up.

True, the European Union is a strange animal for this part of the world.  Its 27 member states have pooled a certain amount of their sovereignty by treaty in a wide range of areas including economic policy and border controls. 

Nevertheless, the EU seems to have relevance too.  It was born of appalling, divisive, bitter war between close neighbours.  It used trade to lay the political foundations on which it is built.  It is a magnet that has persuaded east European countries to adapt their rules, tighten their action against corruption, alter their social legislation and make commitments about their political and economic governance.

Something worth listening to?