As Zimbabweans go to the polls to elect a new president, the European Union ambassador to the country, Aldo Dell'Aricia, speaks about relations between the EU and the country ruled for over 30 years by Robert Mugabe.
DW: What is the European Union expecting from these elections?
Ambassador Aldo Dell'Aricia: These are crucial elections and what the European Union wishes for the people of Zimbabwe is that they will be able to choose the government that they prefer through an election that is credible, transparent and peaceful. We expect the result to empower the party that the people of Zimbabwe want to have empowered and that the result will indeed genuinely reflect the will of the people. It is the Zimbabweans who have to decide if they want to continue with the political party which has been dominant for the past 30 years or if they want a change. It's their choice and we will take note of this choice. The European Union has been very clear that we are ready to cooperate with whichever government results from a process which is credible, transparent and peaceful. Let's see if this process indeed corresponds to these criteria and then we'll be able to act in consequence.
The European Union and the United Nations have been barred from observing these elections. How hopeful are you that these elections will meet international standards?
We have a very important observation mission of the Southern African Development Community - SADC. There are over 700 observers from SADC around the country. I think I am not wrong if I say it is the most important observation mission that SADC ever fielded. They are very well trained and prepared observers. We also have 10 long term and 60 short term African Union (AU) observers. COMESA, the Common Market of Eastern and Southern Africa, is fielding experts as is the SADC Parliamentary Forum and the SADC Electoral Commission Forum. There are altogether 20,000 observers fielded in this process, of which several thousand are from civil society organisations. So the process is being scrutinized, the standards that are adopted by the AU and SADC are very much in line with international standards and so we are confident that, even though we have not been invited, these other respectable regional organizations will be able to provide a good assessment on the basis of which, together with other elements, we will be able to formulate our assessment of the process.
How have relations between the EU and Zimbabwe been developing recently?
We have been in a process of re-engagement for the last three years, based on certain progress observed in the development of the country. We still have some restrictive measures applied against a few individuals and companies in the country but in the last three years there has been a very significant process of re-engagement. We are now proceeding with Zimbabwe as with any other country in the African, Caribbean and Pacific region. Trade is flourishing. Trade between the European Union and Zimbabwe has doubled since 2009, since the establishment of the government of national unity and on March 14 last year Zimbabwe ratified the Interim Economic Partnership Agreement between the European Union and the Eastern and Southern African region which permits the products of Zimbabwe to enter the European market free of duties and free of quotas which will further boost trade between the two regions. So all in all, relations are good and improving and we hope the electoral process will permit the completion of this process, provided of course that it is peaceful, credible and transparent.
If the elections are judged to be free and fair, will the EU lift the sanctions still imposed on Robert Mugabe?
Let's wait to see what is the result of the elections and the assessment of the process, and the European Council will take a decision accordingly.
President Mugabe has announced he will step down if he loses. Do you see that happening?
I think he is usually a person who delivers what he promises. So if he has said he will step down if he loses the election, then it is possible that he will do that. Very much will depend on the result of this election and at this moment we are only speculating. We should not pre-judge but should rather devote our energy to making sure that the process is credible.
Aldo Dell'Aricia is the European Union's ambassador to Zimbabwe.