The peace-loving economist

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Ledoux20141015GROWING up in Strasbourg in Eastern France—a region historically caught between the French and German conflict from World War I through the 1950s—European Union Ambassador to the Philippine Guy Ledoux is both honored and grateful to be part of what is now an avenue for peace and cooperation in the northwestern part of the world.

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“My region was in the middle of the conflict between France and Germany. For some years it was under the German rule, and for others, under the French rule, and I still saw remnants of what this rivalry had in my home,” the diplomat told The Manila Times in a one-on-one interview at the European Delegation’s offices in Makati City. “So I was very impressed with the formation of European Commission and what it has achieved since.”

With Strasbourg playing host to the European Parliament, it was common for Ledoux to see representatives from the EU’s 28-member nation come to his city for their monthly sessions. This in fact was what provoked his interest in foreign relations.

World economics also fascinated the young Ledoux, who after working summers at his father’s oil business eventually pursued a degree in the said discipline, and worked all the way to earn a Doctor of Philosophy in Economics at the University of Montpellier in France.

Combining his two interests together, he flourished in an eight-year career in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the World Bank.

“Economics is a very important aspect of life and international relations. We’ve seen major changes in the world where in the last 30 years the West had a disproportionate economic importance. But now, Asia is regaining its former level of growth,” said the numbers man.

As fate would have it, Ledoux finally had the opportunity to join the European Commission in 1990 when he was assigned to the Asia Department to work on Asia-Europe strategic relations. He was also responsible for what is called the “Philippines Desk” until 1994.

“My position in the Philippine desk allowed me to visit the country at least twice a year for two weeks at a time. It was quite an experience for me back then since the Philippines was my first Asian destination,” the ambassador recalled. “But coming back 20 years later, there may have been a huge change in population size but I knew where I was going and what to expect, so there wasn’t any difficult adjustment.”

Asian base
As part of the European Union, Ledoux has built a solid foundation in Asian and Middle Eastern relation, which spans two decades. He is excited by this side of the world because of its fast-emerging political and economic sectors.

“Asia is definitely the story of the 21st century. Asia is home to 60 percent of the world population and it is a success story both economically and politically. It started with the four Asian tigers—Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea—and then it evolved in the Southeast Asian region, China, India, north of Asia. It also has success stories of democratization in different countries. I think it’s a very impressive region and I have always wanted to see with my own eyes how it all happens,” the ambassador explained.

From his first post at the European Commission, he moved on as deputy head of the European Commission Delegation in Tunisia from 1995 to 1999. He successfully oversaw the EU-Tunisia Free Trade Agreement (FTA), among other assistance programs. He was then assigned to Middle East Department until 2001, where he was put in charge of EU relations with Israel.

Back in Asia, Ledoux became deputy head of the European Commission Delegation in South Korea, and also represented the EU in high-level missions to North Korea until 2005. He had a short stint back in Europe where he worked in Brussels at the European Neighborhood Policy Department until 2007. There, he used his economic expertise and Asian experience to develop new financial instruments for the region.

Ready for his next international posting, Ledoux headed the European Economic and Trade Office in Taipei from 2007 to 2010. It was during this time that he applied for his current position of EU ambassador to the Philippines along with some 50 other EU diplomats.

With his extensive background in Asia, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton installed Ledoux head of the Delegation of the European Union in the Philippines in 2011.

“People know that the Philippines is a beautiful country, and it’s also a fast growing economy so it remains an attractive position for the diplomatic service. The climate is attractive compared to other postings. I think the Philippines is a very dynamic country with many challenges, whether in poverty or infrastructure, and it all makes this interesting country to work with,” Ledoux explained.

Peaceful focus
Now on his final year as ambassador to the Philippines, Ledoux is putting all his efforts in support of the ongoing Bangsamoro peace process. In fact, the diplomat was just in Cotabato on October 9 to launch the EU Peace Journalism Awards that encourages local journalist to create more extensive reports about the Bangsamoro region.

“The EU was created with six founding members to try and find a way to stop war between the countries within Europe. Now we have 28 members, and one of the union’s core aspects is to promote peace. We don’t believe in solving conflict by starting wars, so we are promoting a peaceful process in different corners of the world,” the EU head explained.

Besides supporting the Bangasmoro negotiations, the ambassador has two additional goals, which is to further promote economic relations between the EU and the Philippines; and help strengthen judicial systems.

“Being one of the largest foreign investors in the Philippines, strengthening our economic relations is important. And in the near future we hope that the Philippines will benefit from what is called GSP+, which is the General System of Preference that will allow Filipino products to enter the European market with zero tariffs,” he said.

“Moreover, we are increasing our aid to the Philippines from 130 million euros from 2007 to 2013, to 235 million euros for the next seven years, or until 2020. We have chosen to concentrate in improving the judicial system because the EU itself is a law-based system that everyone follows, and it is also important for the business community to have a reliable system that they can work with.”

Rounding off his hopes for the nation, Ledoux stated, “My advocacy is to look for further economic reforms in the Philippines. Having been removed from the [Foreign Investment] Negative List, the country is opening up to foreign investors. Speaking for the EU business community, we look forward to the Philippines implementing a ‘competition law’ to encourage a level playing field among local and foreign businesses, customs laws and the like.”

At the end of his posting this year, Ambassador Guy Ledoux will return to Brussels where he is certain he will continue to keep a keen eye on the continuing success story of the Philippines and the rest of Asia.

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