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View the documentThe opening ceremony of 'Europe House'

The opening ceremony of 'Europe House'

by Fortunatus DAWODU

We are just giving practical support to Nigeria, which is, after all, the 'giant' of Africa'. The senior European Commission official who said this to me was neatly summarising what the opening of Europe House in Abuja Nigeria's new federal capital, stands for. The new building is the temporary home of ten of the European Community embassies and of the EC Delegation to Nigeria.

Presiding over Europe House's inauguration ceremony were the Minister for the Federal Capital, retired general Gado Nasko, representing the Nigerian Government; Peter Pooley, Deputy Director-General for Development, representing the Commission and Christopher McRae, the British High Commissioner in Nigeria representing the Presidency of the European Community. The ceremony was attended by many leading figures, both Nigerian and European.

In his welcome speech, the main host for the occasion, Balduin Zimmer, who is Head of the EC Delegation in Nigeria, stressed that the idea of joint premises for the European nations and the Commission Delegation had been mooted in various parts of the world for some considerable time. Nigeria, however, was the only place where the idea had, thus far, borne fruit, Abuja being a completely new capital and the Maastricht provisions regarding a common foreign policy also being relatively new.

Mr Zimmer said that he hoped, in the years to come, to see Europe House carrying out its task of making the already friendly and fruitful relations between the European Community and Nigeria even closer, as well as strengthening the links of cooperation and friendship between the Member States.

Christopher McRae expressed his pleasure at the realisation of the project, recalling that in 1980, he had chaired the first interdepartmental meeting at the British Foreign Office, on the then still nebulous proposals for a new Nigerian capital. He said that thanks to ever-closer cooperation among the Member States, there was every reason to believe that, like Abuja itself, European unity was a dream come true.

Peter Pooley echoed previous speakers when he observed that the opening of Europe House was both a gesture of solidarity with the Nigerian Government and a symbol of greater than ever unity among the EC Member States.

Mr Pooley later held a press conference, attended by more than 50 Nigerian and foreign journalists, at which he emphasised Europe's intention to remain a loyal partner in Nigeria's development process. He dealt with a wide range of issues including the problem of ACP debt, the possibility that aid might be diverted away from the ACPs towards Eastern Europe and the GATT negotiations.

One of the high spots of the ceremony for hundreds of interested spectators in Abuja was the launching and flight of the Community's '9 May' hot-air balloon, to celebrate the opening of Europe House.