At a time when the world is getting more complex, new EU Ambassador João Vale de Almeida says we should work for a more cooperative world order
It is a great honour to join London’s diplomatic community representing the European Union. I look forward to engaging with all my colleagues from around the world posted in this amazing capital. 2020 is a crucial year, which will set the foundation for the future relationship between the EU and the UK, and I feel hugely privileged to be here at this historic moment in time. I am grateful for the warm welcome already received from colleagues and can’t wait to meet many more. Allow me, with the help of Diplomat magazine, to introduce myself.
I am not your typical national diplomat; in fact I never set out to become one. Nevertheless, foreign affairs and the wider world have always fascinated me ever since I was a young journalist in Portugal. Growing up under the dictatorship, I was always wary of those who touted certainties and I learned that my way of contributing to a better world could be by using the simplest tools there are – dialogue and values. Common values unite the EU Member States and underpin their shared history, and when I was offered a job in the EU Delegation in Lisbon in 1982, I accepted it without hesitation. When Portugal later joined the then European Community, I moved on to Brussels, embracing a career within the European institutions.
I have had many roles since those formative years. I have had the privilege to work for more than 20 years for the European Commission in Brussels, inter alia as a spokesperson, as Director General for External Relations and as the chief of staff for Commission President José Manuel Barroso. Over the past 10 years, I served the EU abroad twice in the United States: in Washington as the first ever EU Ambassador, after the Treaty of Lisbon reorganised the external representation of the European Union; and then in New York as EU representative to the United Nations. It was fascinating to witness the American culture up close, to help strengthen trans-Atlantic ties and contribute to our goal of effective multilateralism at the UN.
Since 1 February, following the UK’s departure, I represent the EU in the UK, a country that will remain a key partner for the EU. Our relationship is rooted in shared interests that arise from geography and history and in shared values anchored in our common European heritage. This is the cornerstone on which to build the next stage of our relationship.
Our immediate priority is the proper implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement, particularly the provisions on EU citizens’ rights and the compromise on avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland. This is a joint endeavour really, requiring collaboration with all EU27 ambassadors, with whom I am already working in very close coordination. I am certain that by working constructively with our British friends we will find the right solutions.
My job is also to look beyond the immediate negotiations and strengthen the multiple bridges that exist between the UK and the EU at every level with the view of cooperating effectively on issues of shared concern. At a time when the world is getting more complex, more conflictual and more unequal, the only way to change it for the better is to work for a more cooperative world order, and to do so together – together as Europeans and better together with the EU’s partners and friends around the world, including of course the UK.
There is work to be done and this is what motivates me. My door is open to all colleagues within the London diplomatic community and my team welcomes your ideas on how to work better together. I look forward to a fruitful cooperation with our British partners and with the entire London-based diplomatic community.