Ms Maria Castillo Fernandez has been the Head of the Office of the European Union to Hong Kong and Macau since September 2008. With her four-year term coming to an end this month, she spoke to Macau Daily Times about the prospects for EU-Macau relations, as well as sharing some of her memorable experiences living in the region.
MDT - Looking back over your four years in the region, what have been the key issues in EU-Macau relations during your term?
Maria Castillo Fernandez (MCF) - The key issue has been to try to give more substance to our relationship, increase our cooperation and extend it to other areas beyond trade and economics. We have worked very closely with the Macau government and institutions on academic and student exchanges and put together a programme to promote knowledge of Europe and European policies in Macau and increase academic contacts which will be implemented by University of Macau and Institute of European Studies. We have continued expanding business and trade exchanges through our participation in Macau trade and environmental annual fairs, which also open contacts for us with the neighbouring Mainland regions. Exchanges of knowledge and experience on environmental legislation have been also a new area for cooperation with a lot of further potential. And finally legal cooperation, continuing our work to support the legal professionals and Macau rule of law based legal system.
MDT - What has been the proudest moment for you in your mission?
MCF - Every time we have managed to open a new cooperation field has been an important step towards enhancing our relations: in December 2008, some months after my arrival, we started the European Business Information Programme to enhance contacts and information on trade, economic, financial and business together with IPIM and the Institute of European Studies; in March 2010, we launched an update of the legal cooperation programme with the law department of the government and last July we initiated the EU – Macau Academic programme to enhance understanding and knowledge of Europe and Macau as well as promote academic exchanges.
MDT - The EU aims to promote the core value of democracy abroad. What do you think of Macau’s political reform process?
MCF - We welcome Macau’s latest step towards political reform and a more democratic process. We know the process is a gradual one, but democracy is a key value of our societies. Macao people throughout the consultation process have shown a willingness to go further towards a more democratic system.
MDT - What are the prospects for future EU-Macau relations?
MCF - There is a lot of potential to expand our relations and commitment from both sides to do so. That came from the meeting this January between Chief Executive Chui and President of the European Commission Barroso. People to people exchanges between Macau and the EU and an understanding of Macao’s role in Europe and Europe’s in Macao would be key for the development of our relations. Cultural cooperation is expanding, and there are still many things to do together in areas such as environment, regulatory exchanges, increasing trade volumes, and taking part in the role Macau plays with the world’s Portuguese speaking countries.
MDT - You have spent four years living in Asia - what have been some of your memorable experiences?
MCF - The most recent one was Monday 23 July when I took the last ferry from Macau to Hong Kong with the Typhoon 8 signal about to be announced and the roughness of the sea and waves.
MDT - What will you miss about life in Asia?
MCF - The warmth and openness of the Macau people; the fact that I feel as if I’m at home when I come to Macau with the ferry and feel so many European elements, from food to language to fundamental values to heritage and common history.
MDT - Who will take up your position next?
MCF - It is going to be announced soon, let us wait for the process to be finalised.
MDT -Do you plan to return to the region soon?
MCF - I hope I can return soon, my life will be always attached to Asia and this region.
-by Vanessa Moore, Macau Daily Times