Prior to the formation of the European Union (EU), the history of Europe has been described by historians in several literature as centuries of warfare – bloody wars among neighbours and countries in Europe which culminated into the Second World War.
In 1950, the European Coal and Steel community began to unite European countries economically and politically in order to secure lasting peace. This subsequently led to the formation of the geopolitical and geo-economic entity, the European Union after the deliberations and signing of several treaties.
The creation of the EU was inspired by some visionary leaders who without their energy and motivation at the time, Europeans will not be living in a climate of peace and stability today. The Founding Fathers was a diverse group of people who held the same ideals of a peaceful, united and prosperous Europe. Their actions led to the several activities of countries such as Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxemburg and the Netherlands which became known as the founding countries of the EU.
As the world joins Europeans to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the Treaties of Rome, a very important occasion leading to the formation of the EU, I met with the Ambassador of the European Union Delegation to Ghana, His Excellency William Hanna to reflect on the numerous gains by the EU, activities of the European Union Delegation to Ghana and discuss the relationship between the EU and Africa.
Together with the Protocol and Communications Officer of the Delegation and his Personal Assistant, the Irish diplomat welcomed me into his office for what will be an hour of exciting and informative interaction which ranged from his personal life and family, working as a diplomat to the role of the European Union and its external services.
Ambassador Hanna, who described himself as a determined and intuitive person is married to an Italian, Paola, who was born and raised in Tanzania. He was introduced to Africa in 1975 by Paola and the two later got married in Dar es Salaam in 1978. They have three children – two are working in Scotland and one is working in Ghana as a health economist. He is excited to have two of his grandsons also living in Ghana, a situation he describes as very rare in the life of a diplomat.
In 1973 when Britain and Ireland joined the EEC, Ambassador Hanna travelled to France to study French. He thought studying French wasn’t enough to get him a good job and for that reason, he opted to also study French and European Law, a move he has never regretted.
In response to whether he had ambitions of becoming a diplomat, the head of the EU Delegation to Ghana said: “I wanted to work for Europe. I saw Europe as a way of overcoming the narrow nationalism that was bringing my country to its knees. Becoming an Irish diplomat was a first step to working for Europe. I enjoyed the profession and once I joined the European Commission I continued to work in the external relations. When the EU set up its own diplomatic service, the EEAS in 2010, I was keen to join it.”
Before assuming his current role, he previously served in different positions on the continent and visited Ghana. In describing his Ghanaian experience, he said: “Tanzania was the ‘Alpha’ and Ghana will be the ‘Omega’. This is my ‘swansong’ – my last posting in a fascinating country which is in many ways a model for Africa, but which also faces many challenges.
The first time I visited Ghana in 1999, I came by road from Burkina Faso. I spent a few days travelling through the country before I came to Accra. It was a fascinating way to discover Ghana, and I still enjoy getting out of the city and travelling throughout the country.”
The aim of the EU Delegation to Ghana is to build a strong partnership with Ghana, promote democracy, human rights and prosperity and this is done through working closely with the missions of the member states in Ghana. Highlighting the unique role of the delegation, Ambassador Hanna indicated that his outfit is not involved in visas and have a limited role in consular work.
“The EU has delegations in 139 countries around the world. These are full diplomatic missions and the Ambassador is accredited to the President. The Ambassador chairs the group of Heads of Mission of EU Member States and we lead the regular EU political dialogue with Ghana.
We also lead on trade matters, which is an exclusive EU competence. We coordinate on development cooperation, where our EU programmes run alongside bilateral programmes of the member states. We are now trying to make these programmes more coherent, using a joint programming approach,” he added.
In the area of Arts and Cultural exchanges, Ambassador Hanna stated the position of the EU Delegation. “I am personally very interested in the Arts, especially painting and music, but until now in my work in Ghana I’ve been focussing more on democracy, trade and development cooperation. Some of our member states are closely involved in this area. They play the key role in investment promotion, promoting their own companies and making links with companies in Ghana. The diverse European cultures connect in many different ways – historical and innovative with Ghana.”
Ambassador Hanna further spoke about the White Paper presented by the European Commission last week on the future of Europe’s relationship with Africa.
“The White Paper will help structure the discussion at the Rome Summit and beyond. The Commission will use it as the starting point for a wider public debate on the future of our continent. The White Paper looks at how Europe will change in the next decade, from the impact of new technologies on society and jobs, to doubts about globalisation, security concerns and the rise of populism.
It spells out the choice Europe faces: being swept along by those trends, or embracing them and seizing the new opportunities they bring. The White Paper offers a glimpse into the potential state of the Union by 2025 depending on the choices Europe will make. It also covers a range of possibilities and are illustrative in nature. They are neither mutually exclusive, nor exhaustive.”
There has been much talk about the United Kingdom’s decision to exit the EU which is speculated to be connected to immigration issues, particularly the free movement of people. Commenting on this assertion and its implication for Ghana, Ambassador Hanna said it is regrettable, but can only be accepted.
“We regret it, but we accept it. I think we should relate the UK’s exit in terms of countries and in particular to Ghana as it is clear that in the short term to medium term there will be no implications.
Even if Britain decided to leave or is in the processes of negotiating her exit, the regime will remain the same for the next two years at least. I think the crucial thing here will be the trade and the trade relationship will not change, certainly not in the next two years and may not at all so we must wait and see,” he added.
With the pivotal role it plays, the EU Delegation and its activities ought to be promoted and their principles explained to people less informed about the EU Delegation. That remains one of the priorities of the Delegation according to Ambassador Hanna in addition to growing their relationship with Ghana.
“We need to explain better what we do and get our message out – not just in Ghana, but also back in Europe where most people do not know about our EU External Service.Our relationship will grow in strength because we have much in common in this world.
We share values of democracy and respect for human rights. Ghana continues to play a key role in Africa and in the world. There is huge scope for cooperation. I encourage the Ghanaian youth to be focused on their goals, work hard to achieve it and believe in themselves,” he said.