The deputy secretary general of the European External Action Service (EEA S), Enrique Mora, has said Bangladesh has grown economically in a “very impressive way” and the European Union (EU) wants to work together with this “important actor” to enhance the level and quality of bilateral relations, reports news agency UNB.

“It’s (Bangladesh) now an actor that we want to work with more comprehensively,” he told the news agency in an interview highlighting how the two sides can cooperate in the areas of maritime security, counterterrorism, cyber security; and food and energy security.

Mora, who left Dhaka on Friday after holding the first “political dialogue” between Bangladesh and the EU, said they have a scheme for maritime security and expect that they can work together with Bangladesh on that particular area.

"For us it is an important interest. I think it is also a key interest for Bangladesh,” he said, emphasising better understanding to each other for better cooperation.

At the political dialogue, partnering on maritime security was considered with specific focus on Bangladesh engaging in EU’s critical maritime routes in the Indian Ocean II (CRIMARIO II) initiative.

The need for a comprehensive, cross-sectoral and coherent approach to maritime security was also emphasised at the dialogue co-chaired by state minister for foreign affairs Shahriar Alam and deputy secretary general Mora on Thursday night.

It was envisaged that future cooperation would include information sharing mechanisms to counter non-traditional maritime threats.

Bangladesh seeks EU’s special attention to harness the benefits of the blue economy and to enhance capability of marine law enforcing agencies to better address Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

Improved Working Environment

Mora said Bangladesh-EU relations are developing and expanding quickly and next year the two sides will mark 50 years of their relations and that is a good moment to inject even more energy into the relationship.

Earlier this year, Mora said, a delegation of European MEPs visited garment factories to see first-hand how the safety standards have been upgraded and the working environment modernised.

“They (MEPs) came to Brussels with satisfaction. They saw a good standard of working conditions and safety for workers,” he said.

The MEPs expressed their satisfaction at much of what they saw and acknowledged that Bangladesh has come a long way – the country has now even become a leader in green factories, including through the highest number of LEED certified operations in the world, he said.

“Improvements in social and environmental compliance are very positive and show that industry in Bangladesh is positioning itself for the future. Obviously, the future of the industry will depend more on quality than quantity,” Mora said while responding to a question.

Such changes are partly driven by consumers in Europe who increasingly pay attention to how their garments are being produced, he said, adding that many leading brands in Europe have come to understand this and market their products accordingly.

Mora said Bangladesh is making great efforts to adapt to climate change and to switch to renewable. “I understand that the government has set the laudable goal of generating 40 per cent of electricity needs from renewables by 2041.

At the global level, the EU has made huge endeavours to recognise the legitimate needs of developing countries, including Bangladesh, he said, adding that, the EU and its member states are the largest provider of climate finance, with over 23 billion euro provided in 2021.

An agreement was reached at COP27 and the EU helped reach that outcome through its proposal on a “loss and damage” fund to help the most vulnerable countries.

In Bangladesh, the EU is assisting Bangladesh’s mitigation and adaptation efforts. “We will be delivering major support to the transition to renewable energy through blended loans and grants,” Mora said.

Rohingya Crisis

Responding to a question on Rohingya, Mora said it is not an issue for Bangladesh alone and it is not a bilateral issue between Bangladesh and Myanmar.

He said it is an international issue and the international community has to be concerned about this.

“We are putting pressure on the military regime in Myanmar through sanctions, an arms embargo and the suspension of development assistance,” he said, adding that, “Our message is very clear – necessary democratic transition in Myanmar and you have to cooperate to bring back your citizens – more than 1.1 million Rohingays.”

The EU reiterated its appreciation for the continued generous role and action of the government and people of Bangladesh for temporarily hosting more than a million forcibly displaced Rohingya from Myanmar for more than five years.

Bangladesh highlighted the potential threat to regional security and stability caused by the prolonged stay of the Rohingyas in Bangladesh and underlined the need for the international community to undertake effective actions to create a conducive environment in Myanmar for their repatriation.

Both sides stressed the need for voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable return of Rohingyas to Myanmar at the earliest.