The European Union (EU) and the Royal Government of Bhutan (RGoB) held their ninth formal Consultations on 15 December 2020 via video conference. This was the first annual Consultation since it was agreed last year to increase the frequency of the previously biennial consultations in view of the positive momentum in EU-Bhutan bilateral relations.
During the consultations, held in a cordial atmosphere, the EU and Bhutan exchanged views on a wide array of subjects, reaffirming the good political momentum in their relations with several meetings at the highest levels over the recent years.
Bhutan thanked the EU for its rapid mobilisation of €12 million (over 1.07 billion Bhutanese Ngultrum) to help the country handle challenges posed by the COVID-19 crisis: to address vulnerabilities, stimulate the economy and labour demand, and support local service delivery. The EU and Bhutan agreed that the current COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of an effective multilateral system and underlined that the World Health Organisation (WHO) is central to our collective efforts to tackle the pandemic. The EU stressed that it is fully committed to making the COVID-19 vaccine accessible to low and middle-income countries in a fair and equitable manner. The European Union (Team Europe) is the largest donor to the COVAX Facility with a financial contribution of €870 million to purchase vaccines for the 92 low and middle-income countries (COVAX Advance Market Commitment). Bhutan is among the countries that are eligible for support from the COVAX instrument.
The EU expressed its appreciation to Bhutan for being a reliable ally in international fora, especially to enhance climate action and ambition, and on the environment. In this regard, the EU and Bhutan reconfirmed their Joint Declaration on Cooperation on Climate Policies signed in the margins of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 21st Conference of the Parties in Paris (COP21), recognising their important role in combating climate change as one of the greatest threats against humanity. In this context, the EU congratulated the Royal Government of Bhutan for organising, in their capacity as chair of Least Developed Countries (LDCs) in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the “Thimphu Ambition Summit: Momentum for a 1.5°C World” on 9 December 2020. The EU stressed its recent actions to enhance its climate ambition, including climate neutrality by 2050 and the increased 2030 targets of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% compared to 1990. The EU further underlined the necessity of ensuring a green recovery from COVID-19, linking ambitious climate action to progress under the Sustainable Development Goals. The Royal Government of Bhutan confirmed its commitment to remain carbon neutral, including taking ambitious action to ensure a sustainable, low-carbon and climate resilient development. The EU and Bhutan agreed that the upcoming UN conferences – the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) on climate and the 15th Conference of the Parties (CBD COP15) on biodiversity will present vital opportunities for the international community to make ambitious, meaningful commitments.
The Consultations provided an opportunity to discuss human rights, where Bhutan has taken significant steps to safeguard women and children’s rights and promote gender equality. The EU welcomed the recent vote of the Bhutanese Parliament to amend the penal code so that it no longer criminalizes homosexuality. The EU encouraged Bhutan to implement recommendations of the 2019 United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR). They also discussed good governance and democratic consolidation, poverty reduction and the importance of enhancing cooperation with civil society organisations.
The EU and Bhutan welcomed the passage by the National Assembly and National Council of the framework agreement between the Royal Government of Bhutan (RGoB) and the European Investment Bank (EIB). The RGoB had processed the agreement as an urgent bill, which enabled it to be passed in the same session of Parliament. The agreement will enable the Royal Government of Bhutan to access concessional financing from the EIB.
Priorities for the EU – Bhutan partnership in view of the 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework were also discussed. The RGoB proposed three thematic areas of climate change, good governance and socio-economic development and recovery as the priority areas for a reinforced future EU engagement. There was a positive indication on Royal Government of Bhutan’s proposal and participants agreed to continue preparation on programming of the next cycle engagement. The EU reaffirmed that its assistance to Bhutan would continue during, and beyond, the impending graduation in 2023 from the Least Developed Countries (LDC) category. In this regard, the EU encouraged the Royal Government of Bhutan to ratify the remaining human rights conventions in order to qualify in the future for greater preferential access to EU markets under the Generalised Scheme of Preferences + (GSP+) scheme. The EU reaffirmed its commitment to working together with Bhutan to ensure social and economic development with due consideration to the natural environment, and highlighted the possibility of blending grants and low cost loans from the EIB to support investments.
The EU welcomed the announcement of the recent agreements by which Bhutan established formal diplomatic relations with EU Member State Germany as well as with Israel.
The EU delegation was led by Ms Paola Pampaloni, Deputy Managing Director for Asia and Pacific, European External Action Service. The Bhutanese delegation was led by Mr Sonam Tobgay, Director, Department of Bilateral Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.