EU to Myanmar: More, better aid

Myanmar President U Thein Sein and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso shake hands. Photo by: European Commission

The European Union has pledged more development aid for Myanmar, and human rights advocates warily keep watch.

When he set foot in Brussels yesterday to meet with key EU officials on aid advancements for Myanmar, Thein Sein became the first-ever Myanmarese president to visit the EU. The outcome: a new partnership between the EU and Myanmar, with vows of the delivery of more aid in support of Myanmar’s social, economic and political reforms.

Thein Sein met with EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy, European Parliament President Martin Schulz, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton.

The meeting, the latest leg in the Southeast Asian leader’s 10-day tour of Europe, is expected to kick off a new, rosy chapter in the EU’s relations with Myanmar.

“The EU wants to step up cooperation and develop a partnership with the government and people of Myanmar, focusing on three: enhancing democracy and human rights, developing economy and bringing our societies closer together,” said Van Rompuy after the meeting.

According to Van Rompuy, the meeting, coupled with Thein Sein’s recent strides to create a democratic and stable Myanmar, has resulted in a positive exchange of views on Myanmar’s future progress and the EU’s role in the process.

Van Rompuy vowed that the EU, a top aid donor to Myanmar, will retain and improve its development assistance to address poverty reduction and sustainable development in Myanmar.

“Rest assured that you have in the European Union a committed and long-term partner for the historic journey that Myanmar and its people have started,” added Van Rompuy, in addressing Thein Sein.

More and better aid

In a post-meeting statement, Barroso said: “More dialogue, more and better aid, more trade and investment and more people to people contacts.” 

He promised that Myanmar can look forward to the following assistance from the EU:

  • A double in value and scope of EU development cooperation. The EU will supply a package of €150 million ($195.5 million) for democratic reforms in line with Myanmar’s national development plans. 

  • €5.5 million of additional funding to support individuals displaced by ethnic tensions in the Rakhine state.

  • Support for the Myanmar Peace Center, as a central element in the country’s peace project.

  • Collaboration with the Myanmar electoral commission to ensure that the 2015 elections will meet the highest international standards.

This new pledge shows a steady climb in the EU’s support for Myanmar in recent years.

A fact sheet puts EU’s humanitarian aid to Myanmar in 2012 at €24.7 million on three areas: in response to the conflict in the Kachin state, in support of the victims of communal violence and discrimination in the Rakhine state, and to areas affected by conflict along the eastern border. Priority sectors included water, sanitation, food, nutrition, livelihoods, primary health care, and protection. To date, the EU has extended more than €200 million in development assistance to Myanmar.

Human rights issues

Human Rights Watch responded to reports about the talks between EU leaders and the Myanmarese president, demanding that the EU require Myanmar to adopt key rights reforms.

“They should of course encourage President Thein Sein’s reforms but also press him to address the hard reality of serious ongoing human rights violations in Burma,” said Lotte Leicht, EU director at Human Rights Watch.

The human rights watchdog claims that the Myanmar military has been guilty of violating international war laws, including assaulting civilians, doing summary executions, committing violence against women and using child soldiers, since its conflict against the Kachin Independence Army began in 2011. It also accuses the Myanmarese government of blocking humanitarian assistance to conflict-ridden states, leading to thousands of displaced civilians unable to get access to vital aid.

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About the author

  • Johanna Morden

    Johanna Morden is a community development worker by training and a global development journalist by profession. As a former Devex staff writer based in Manila, she covered the Asian Development Bank as well as Asia-Pacific's aid community at large. Johanna has written for a variety of international publications, covering social issues, disasters, government, ICT, business, and the law.