NEW European Union (EU) ambassador Philippe Van Damme has described President Robert Mugabe as “an intelligent man who is sharp”.
Van Damme, who presented his credentials to Mugabe on October 2, has been meeting key players in Zimbabwe’s political landscape in an effort to understand the political climate as well as to forge ways of normalising the relations between Zimbabwe and EU member states.
In an interview, Van Damme said besides Mugabe, he had also met MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai as well as members of civil society.
“I met President Mugabe, senior government and Zanu PF officials and I have also met the MDC-T leader Tsvangirai so as to get an appreciation of the political climate,” Van Damme said. “We had a lovely chat with Mugabe where we discussed real issues as we try to look for ways to help this country. I found him to be a very intelligent and sharp leader in our 55-minute meeting. We had a constructive discussion.”
Van Damme also said since the lifting of targeted sanctions under Article 96 of the Cotonou Agreement, the EU is ready to engage government on developmental issues, policy dialogue and institutional implementations.
“Re-engagement is a gradual process and can only be successful if there is mutual trust from both parties,” he said. “We are still in the process of re-engaging, but this should be on both sides. The steps might be small, but very significant in building a mutual relationship between the EU and Zimbabwe.
“We can now help government on strategic approaches to various issues and we are now allowed to give support to the implementation of the International Monetary Fund’s Staff-Monitored Programme.”
He said the EU’s involvement would enhance positive visibility of Zimbabwe on the international scene and assist in building investor confidence.
Zimbabwe is set to receive about US$300 million in development assistance from the EU in 2015 after the bloc lifted measures under Article 96 of the Cotonou Agreement which it imposed in 2002 in the aftermath of gross violations of human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law by government.
Van Damme said the assistance would be given in terms of the Partnership Agreement the EU signed with Zimbabwe and 77 other African, Caribbean and Pacific countries in Cotonou (Benin) in 2000 aimed at promoting sustainable development in these countries.
He also said he hopes Zimbabwe will now be in a position to rebuild an enabling environment in terms of attracting investors who are the “oil” to drive the economic engine of the country.