Ivan Surkos has headed the European Union delegation to Egypt since February 2017. Between 2011 and 2015 he served as Slovakia’s ambassador to Syria, Lebanon and Jordan and earlier in his diplomatic career was posted to Tunisia, Iraq, Yemen and Egypt.
He spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly about EU-Egyptian cooperation, particularly in the water sector.
Cairo Water Week (CWW), organised by the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation in cooperation with the EU delegation in Egypt, was held last week to raise awareness about water scarcity, climate change and desertification, and to promote investment in Egypt.
How important was the first Cairo Water Week for Egypt?
The challenges posed by water scarcity in Egypt require rapid action to rationalise consumption, develop modern irrigation systems and reduce waste.
Cairo Water Week offers a platform to meet ministers of water resources from different countries, as well as many other organisations. It is a significant venue for addressing the challenges and identify opportunities and solutions.
Within the framework of Cairo Water Week the European Union delegation holds two main activities:
The first is the EU-Egypt Water Business Forum which was designed to find the best way to promote Egypt and invite investors and international financial institutions to invest in the water sector.
The second was the Egypt-EU Water Dialogue, which saw discussions on how best to improve water management. The EU has a vast experience in this field which we can share with our Egyptian partners.
Cairo Water Week has both a local and international appeal, facilitating coordination between investors, the private sector and donors. The event allows for the coordination of efforts to mitigate the negative effects of water shortages and to promote more responsible use of water.
The EU was an early supporter of Egypt in the area of water management and has contributed €450 million to establish projects since 2007. These grants leveraged €2.5 billion in funding from European financial institutions.
The EU is committed to supporting sustainable water management in Egypt through development projects and dialogue with decision-makers.
Cooperation between the EU and Egypt in the sector includes programmes covering 12 Egyptian governorates which will improve the lives of 12.5 million Egyptians.
The programmes involve extending 6,000 pipelines and upgrading existing water treatment plants or else building new ones. We also offer technical assistance in areas in which we have expertise.
The EU for Water in Egypt Programme will be implemented in 2019/2020 at a total cost of €120 million with the aim of improving water management in Egypt by contributing to infrastructure building and modernisation.
Is cooperation over water part of the wider Egypt-EU partnership to achieve sustainability?
Our aim is to support the efforts of the Egyptian government to achieve sustainable socio-economic development. We are involved in many areas to this end — energy, agriculture, irrigation, education and supporting small and medium enterprises.
We support many different projects that will contribute to the fulfillment of the Egyptian Sustainable Strategy 2030.
Renewable energy is another area of cooperation. How important is it in the sector?
Renewable energy is the future. Egypt has set an ambitious goal — to generate 30 per cent of its energy needs from renewables by 2030, which is higher than Europe’s own target of 27 per cent.
Egypt can benefit from our experience in overcoming the problems European countries faced at an earlier stage of energy transition, accelerating the process of transition to renewables in Egypt.
Renewable energy projects like the Gulf of Zayt wind farms are being built to be environmentally friendly.
Radars will be employed to detect migratory birds, automatically halting the mills as flocks approach to protect migratory species.
Egypt has the potential to quickly grow its renewable energy sector but this must go hand-in-hand with energy efficiency. People need to know that energy efficiency is about more than turning off an unnecessary light bulb.
It is also about constructing buildings in an energy efficient way which involves working with the construction sector, for example.
How important is the Egyptian market to the EU in terms of trade?
The EU is Egypt’s biggest trade partner, and this says a lot about the level of cooperation. For years now the EU share of Egypt’s total trade has been around 30 per cent.
In 2017 the EU’s share of Egypt’s trade increased 2.5 per cent to reach €28 billion. Egypt’s exports to the EU increased by 20 per cent to €8 billion while imports from the EU decreased by 3.5 per cent to €20 billion.
The EU is also Egypt’s biggest source of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Net FDI inflows from the EU countries represent about 65 per cent of the total of FDI inflows to Egypt.
There has been a steady increase of EU FDIs to Egypt, from $5.6 billion in 2012/2013 to $8.7 billion, 55 per cent growth over the last five years.
Overall, EU investment reached €42.7 billion in 2016.
What are the sectors where investment is concentrated?
EU investment is concentrated in the oil and gas sector, electricity generation and, more recently, renewable energy.
EU companies are also investing heavily in transport infrastructure, including the construction of Cairo’s new metro line and modernising and extending the railway system. EU companies can also be found in the retail, manufacturing and telecommunication sectors.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 25 October, 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Sustainable partners