The Maldives and the European Union (EU) have signed a financing agreement on “Improved Biodiversity Management to Support a Blue Economy in the Maldives.”

The agreement, signed on the sidelines of the Fifth Senior Officials Meeting between the Maldives and the EU on Sunday, allocates MVR 97.2 million under the EU’s Multi-Annual Indicative Programme (MIP) 2021-2027. The funds are earmarked for biodiversity protection and sustainable management of natural resources, aiming to build local capacity to manage multiple bioreserve areas.

The Fifth Senior Officials Meeting between the Maldives and the EU was co-chaired by Fathimath Inaya, the Maldives’ Foreign Secretary, and Paola Pampaloni, the European External Action Service’s Deputy Managing Director for Asia and Pacific. Both sides confirmed their mutual interest in further strengthening and deepening cooperation rooted in shared values and commitment to the principles of the United Nations Charter and international law, the Maldives’ foreign ministry said.

Cooperation and Economic Partnership

At the Fifth Senior Officials Meeting, the Maldives and the EU reaffirmed their commitment to cooperate in various sectors, including democratic reforms, the green transition, climate change mitigation and adaptation, good governance, human rights, and security. As a member of the Organization of African, Caribbean, and Pacific States (OACPS), the Maldives is currently completing domestic legal procedures to sign and ratify the Samoa Agreement.

The biodiversity agreement is a precursor for the Maldives to negotiate its accession to an interim Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between a regional group of OACPS and the EU, which provides for tariff-free access to the EU market.

Governance and Human Rights

During the meeting, the Maldives highlighted ongoing initiatives to improve the governance system, build economic resilience, strengthen democracy, promote the rule of law, and protect human rights. The Maldives also elaborated on plans to integrate human rights protection and promotion into development strategies, particularly to enhance protections for vulnerable groups, including women, children, and persons with disabilities, the ministry said in a statement.

The Maldives also expressed gratitude to the EU for implementing projects on green recovery, good governance, and other various support measures through the EU’s MIP. In this regard, the country also extended appreciation for the generous assistance provided through the EU-UNDP partnership agreement “Accountability and Integrity Matters—AIM Project,” valued at MVR 74.8 million, aimed at strengthening the rule of law and enhancing transparency and integrity within relevant institutions.

Waste Management, Energy Security and Global Gateway Support

At the meeting, the Maldives stressed the significant challenges in waste management and ensuring energy security and sought support from the EU to establish comprehensive and sustainable waste management solutions and secure funds to develop renewable energy systems capable of providing 33 percent of the nation’s electrical needs in the next five years, according to the ministry.

The country acknowledged the ongoing support provided through the Global Gateway strategy, notably the Sustainability Energy Development Programme implemented by the European Investment Bank (EIB). This operation is a EUR 45 million EIB loan guaranteed by the EU budget, which enables the Maldives to reduce diesel usage and bring down the cost of electricity generation, enhance the use of renewables, provide affordable power to unserved and underserved businesses and residences, and reduce CO2 emissions.

Health Sector Efficiency and Climate Change

The Maldives further recognised other Global Gateway support that increases resilience to pandemics and the efficiency of its health sector with a EUR 18.5 million EIB loan equally covered by an EU guarantee to establish a modern national health laboratory and expand regional hospitals on atolls with infectious disease wards, according to the foreign ministry.

Both parties also acknowledged the increase in harmful extreme weather patterns, especially in regions already particularly vulnerable. The world needs to deepen and accelerate climate action to avoid runaway climate change while stepping up climate financing for adaptation to protect people, property, and livelihoods, the ministry said.

Multilateral Cooperation

The Maldives and the EU reaffirmed their commitment to strengthening cooperation in the multilateral forum. The Maldives emphasised the significant strides made during SIDS4, hosted in Antigua and Barbuda from 27 to 30 May 2024, including the adoption of the “Antigua and Barbuda Agenda for SIDS,” unanimously adopted by all Member States, which outlines sustainable development goals for SIDS over the next decade and identifies the support required from the international community to achieve them.

IUU Fishing and Security Cooperation

During the meeting, the Maldives and the EU reaffirmed their shared commitment to combating illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing on a global scale. They expressed their mutual desire to maintain strong bilateral cooperation in this field. Both parties lauded the outcomes of the 28th session of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) and discussed the necessity of continuing their collaboration to ensure the sustainable management of fish stocks in the Indian Ocean, as noted by the ministry.

The two sides also emphasised the critical importance of security in the region and acknowledged the Maldives’ significant role due to its geographic location. They agreed to explore avenues for further enhancing ongoing security cooperation, particularly in the maritime security domain. This includes the active involvement of the Maldives in the EU-funded Critical Maritime Routes Indo-Pacific (CRIMARIO) initiative that offers countries IORIS—a secure platform for communication and coordination at the national and regional level, with satellite data, thus strengthening maritime domain awareness and allowing for coordinated responses to incidents.

Visa-Free Travel

Bolstering people-to-people ties has been a key focus for both parties, with the Maldives reiterating its request for visa-free travel for Maldivian nationals to EU member states. The EU informed that the Maldives’ request for visa-free travel would be considered during the upcoming review of visa lists. The Maldives welcomed the decision made by the Council of the European Union in November 2023 to begin digitising the Schengen Visa procedure, highlighting that this would streamline the visa process and make it more convenient and cost-effective for Maldivian citizens, the ministry noted.