Today is Europe Day, the anniversary of the declaration by Robert Schuman, the former foreign minister of France, which is seen as the symbolic start of the integration of the formerly divided and war-torn European continent.
It is an opportunity to celebrate the European Union's achievements in promoting democracy, human rights, peace and prosperity on the continent. For that, the EU was awarded the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize. We see this great honour as a call not only to commemorate our past achievements but also look forward to how we can take this work further.
In today's Europe, democracy is a constant work in progress; it needs to be valued and protected. We share a responsibility to safeguard democracy, not just on our own continent, but around the world. Since 2009, the EU high representative Catherine Ashton has led the European External Action Service to this purpose.
Through its work, the EU promotes its values around the world. We have made human rights the silver thread that runs through EU foreign policy, assisting democratic transitions around the globe and helping minorities, social groups and non-governmental organisations voice their concerns.
By adopting a comprehensive approach to global challenges, the EU is able to bring under one umbrella all elements of our external action - diplomatic, political, trade, development and humanitarian aid, as well as military training. This allows us like no other country or international organisation to address all dimensions of a crisis and sow the seeds of deep democracy and prosperity.
We are also tackling new challenges such as the freedom and security of cyberspace, education, energy and water security, and climate change.
Established in 1993, the European Union Office to Hong Kong and Macau is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.
It illustrates our long engagement with the two special administrative regions and the EU's attachment to the principle of "one country, two systems". Annually, the EU has assessed the implementation of that principle.
The principle has continued to work remarkably well, as the rights and fundamental freedoms of the people of Hong Kong continued to be respected, the rule of law was protected and the market economic system and business environment were maintained. The report further notes the EU's continuing support for Hong Kong's substantial progress towards the goal of universal suffrage, in accordance with the Basic Law and the wishes of the people.
Bilateral relations between the EU and Hong Kong have continued to deepen, marked by a visit to the city last July by Ashton, when she met Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. The EU-Hong Kong structured dialogue has expanded steadily.
And last year, total bilateral trade in goods went up 6 per cent, reaching a record €44 billion (HK$446.8 billion): the EU is Hong Kong's biggest trade partner after mainland China.
Europe Day 2013 is therefore not just the anniversary of the EU; it is also a celebration of our healthy and solid relations with Hong Kong, which will continue.
Vincent Piket is head of the European Union Office to Hong Kong and Macau