MANILA, (Mabuhay) – President Benigno Aquino III is embarking on a four-nation official tour of Europe from September 13 to 20, his first to the region since he assumed office in 2010, to pitch for investments and support for the Philippine position to resolve the conflict in the West Philippine Sea.
In a press briefing in Malacañang on Monday, Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Maria Zeneida Angara-Collinson discussed in detail the President’s schedule in Europe, where he is set to meet with leaders of Spain, Belgium, France and Germany before heading to the United States to attend the United Nations Global Climate Change Summit.
According to Collinson, the Chief Executive, accompanied by his official delegation, will depart on September 13 for Spain via a chartered flight, his first stop of the eight-day European trip.
In all of his visits to these nations, the President will also discuss with his counterparts common issues that include the Philippines’ Generalized System of Preferences or the GSP+ application, the illegal and unregulated fishing, the Standard of Training Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCWS) and the latest developments in the comprehensive peace agreement on the Bangsamoro.
In the Spanish capital of Madrid, President Aquino is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and His Majesty King Felipe VI to thank Spain for keeping the Philippines—its only partner in Asia in its Official Development Assistance program—a priority country.
The President is also expected to meet with the Filipino community in all four countries. According to Collinson, there are about 700,000 Filipinos in Europe, of whom 44,000 live in Spain, 6,600 in Belgium, 46,000 in France and 20,000 in Germany.
The President’s next visit is the Belgian capital of Brussels where he will sit down with European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, who was the former Prime Minister of Belgium, His Majesty King Philippe and Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo.
The European Union (EU) is the Philippines’ number one source of foreign direct investments and one of the major sources of tourists as well, Collinson said.
The EU, she added, has also been a strong supporter of the Philippine position in the West Philippine Sea.
According to Collinson, President Aquino will again invite King Philippe to visit the Philippines, as well as the Belgian Economic Mission to explore investment potentials.
One of the highlights of the Chief Executive’s trip to Belgium is a policy speech at the Egmont Institute in time for the 50th anniversary of the Philippine-EU relations. “It will center on the enduring partnership of the Philippines and the European Union based on shared values of democracy rule of law,” Collinson said.
In Paris, the President will meet separately with French leaders President François Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls to discuss bilateral issues, including the reactivation of the joint economic committee. He will also witness the signing of the Philippines-France Defense Cooperation Agreement and the air services agreement, and deliver a policy speech at a forum organized by the French Institute for International Relations.
In his last leg of the four-nation European tour, the President will have a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and another with Federal President Joachim Gauck. He is also scheduled to receive German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in a courtesy call.
Germany is the country’s number one trading partner in Europe and ninth overall among the trading partners of the Philippines, currently home to 200 German companies engaged in service-oriented industries, trading and manufacturing.
“We are looking at the signing of a Social Security Agreement and an agreement to establish the Philippine-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry. We are also looking at cooperation in technical vocational education and training,” Collinson said.
She added that the Philippines will also discuss ways on how to increase the deployment of Filipino health care professionals to Germany.
The government aims to deploy 500 nurses in Germany, and hopefully 200 by the end of the year, but so far only 25 nurses are employed since most of the applicants are having a hard time passing German language proficiency.
Aside from nurses, President Aquino is also expected to discuss with his counterparts the Philippine-German Maritime Cooperation to increase employment opportunities for Filipino seafarers.
The President will also deliver a policy speech at a forum organized by the Körber-Stiftung and the Asia Pacific association while in Germany. (MNS)