This article was originally published in The Ethiopian Messenger, the quarterly magazine of the Embassy of Ethiopia in Brussels.
Louis Michel is chair of the newly established Ethiopia-European Parliament Friendship Group. We interviewed him on the occasion of the launching ceremony.
Ethiopian Messenger: When did your particular interest for Ethiopia start?
Louis Michel: I felt [late Ethiopian Prime Minister] Meles Zenawi had a vision, he was a Statesman who wanted to be very ambitious for his country. Very often in the [European] Parliament some voices are very strongly criticizing the system there. Of course, there is a lot to do to make progress. But all in all, when you see the particular difficulties, where [Ethiopia] is, and also its role for the stability in the region, it’s important to help them, and not just criticizing them, but also understand them. There is a reason why a group of friends in the European Parliament can help a lot, because we can speak frankly to them, we can speak in a very open-minded atmosphere, and we can listen to them, and they can listen to us. Of course there will be no subject, no issue, no topic which will not be discussed. We have just to listen, to see, and to try to convince. I remember, when I discussed with Meles Zenawi, and now with the Prime minister, I can speak in a very open way with these people, and they can listen to our arguments. And we have also to listen to their arguments. But all in all, when you see the progress that was made in this country the last years, I believe it is impressive, and we have to recognize that.
EM: What are the potentials of the relation between Ethiopia and the European Union?
LM: Ethiopia is the most important beneficiary of the public aid of the European Union, so the European Union is a main partner on development issues and also in economic issues, and I am even dreaming about a cultural relation with Ethiopia. You know that Ethiopia is a very rich country in the cultural field. We have to improve all this. We will have meetings together, we will invite them, they will invite us, we will try to work together, and we will try to pass ideas. We have to speak about democracy, but there is really a very important progress that was made on all these issues.
EM: There have been some sharp critiques towards Ethiopia coming from the European Parliament…
LM: Sometimes people are speaking very well about things they don’t know at all. When you want to give an opinion, a judgment, the first thing to do is of course to listen to the people, to learn [about] the situation, to see with your own eyes. Just having a kind of sensitivity, a kind of feeling with no arguments, based on rumors [is not enough]. Of course, there are things which are not acceptable but life is [about] correcting and making progresses, and they have made a lot of progresses [in Ethiopia].
EM: What is the overall aim of this friendship group?
LM: We have now to have an agenda, to regularly to meet together with topics on the agenda and with a real objective which is to have a mutual understanding, to be effective in our relations, and also to meet together, to discuss, to dialogue, to help them to make progress.