Richard Butler | Exclusive Report by Daily Post VU | DEC 13th, 2022
Prime Minister (PM) Ishmael Kalsakau has requested from the European Union (EU) a window period from now until March 2023, for Vanuatu to sort out issues that led to the EU’s decision to suspend visa-free travel into EU countries.
PM Kalsakau confirmed this upon his arrival in Port Vila yesterday afternoon.
On the 2nd of December 2022, PM Ishmael Kalsakau undertook his first official Mission to Brussels to meet with the EU regarding two major matters of national interest to the Republic of Vanuatu.
The first was to discuss the issues surrounding Vanuatu’s visa waiver suspension, and the second was to convey his Government’s determination to re-negotiate an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union.
The PM’s delegation comprised of Senior Technical Officials from the Ministry of Prime Minister, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and External Trade, the Ministry of Finance and Economic Management, the Office of the Attorney General, three Members of Parliament and George Maniuri, Ambassador of the Republic of Vanuatu to the Kingdom of Belgium.
Vanuatu’s current visa waiver suspension by the EU is due to be cancelled on the 14th of February 2023, thus the urgency of this important mission. The main reason behind the EU’s decision is mainly to protect the Schengen States’ borders from terrorists and criminals.
Before leaving the country, PM Kalsakau addressed a letter to the President of the EU Council outlining the reforms his Government is currently undertaking in relation to the Citizenship Program and henceforth the request for an extension to the deadline of 14th February 2023.
The first meeting with the EU was held between PM Kalsakau and Ms Ylva Johansson, Commissioner Home Affairs within the EU. According to a statement released, the outcome of that meeting was very positive.
Commissioner Johansson raised concerns that since the EU started a dialogue with Vanuatu before the suspension was announced, there has been very little progress from the Vanuatu side. She stressed that Vanuatu needed to provide higher security scrutiny and added buffer in its citizenship applications screening processes.
Mr. Kalsakau outlined the current reforms he is currently undertaking to redress, strengthen and protect the Vanuatu Citizenship Program. That is first, through Administrative and Policy Reforms within the management of the Citizenship Office, the processing of Citizenships Applications, and the management of Agents’. Secondly through legislative reforms, through the amendment of the Civil Registration and Identity Management Act (Amendment) in the Statute Law Miscellaneous Provisions Act No. 3 of 2022 which came into force on the 20th of June 2022, and the amendment of the Citizenship Act and Regulation which will be passed by Parliament in the first quarter of 2023.
With the benchmark now set by the two leaders, Vanuatu’s technical officials are now required to ensure that all citizenship reforms required by the EU are completed with immediate effect in order for the EU to lift Vanuatu’s visa waiver suspension.
The second Meeting was held between the PM and Jutta Urpilainen Commissioner for International Partnership.
In this meeting, the head of the Vanuatu government raised four issues. First the continued funding assistance by the EU, through the extension of the current EDF11 program, towards Vanuatu’s productive sector, in particular funding towards adequate infrastructure to pave the way to enhanced value adding. Secondly, Mr. Kalsakau conveyed his Government’s intention to re-negotiate the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the EU to enable Vanuatu’s access to the European Market. Thirdly, Kalsakau called on the EU to sign the Samoa Agreement and sought the EU Member Countries’ support towards Vanuatu’s ICJ Resolution, which will be tabled before the 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).
In response, the Commissioner welcomed the Prime Minister’s intention to further engage with the EU and shared that the EU is now investing under the Global Gate Strategy 2020, which is mainly focused on Carbon Neutral and Digital Transformation. The Commissioner assured the Prime Minister that the EU will ensure that all its Member States sign up to the Samoa Agreement and assured the Vanuatu PM of the EU commitment to support Vanuatu’s ICJ initiative.
In Australia, PM Kalsakau met with the Assistant Treasurer of Australia, Stephen Jones to discuss the issues surrounding the correspondent banks. The meeting was very positive and both parties agreed to engage in constructive and productive ways to achieve common objectives. Australia assured the Vanuatu delegation of its commitment to send its technical team to assist Vanuatu in addressing the current hiccups in its financial sector to ensure that both countries can reach their final destinations together.
The Vanuatu PM reiterated to Vanuatu authority to engage deeply together for common goals rather than working independently. “I want to see this engagement within the Vanuatu Authority as early as January next year for the benefit of the country,” he concluded.