I was just toddler when our founding fathers gathered in Rome 60 years ago to sign the Treaty which would give life to the European Union. In doing so, they also laid the foundations for Europe's development cooperation, one of the very first common policies.
As I pursued my education in my home town of Split, Croatia during the 1960s and 70s, so these early arrangements with overseas territories and former colonies also began to mature and develop. From 1959 to 1964 the first European Development Fund was implemented, the main financial instrument for development aid.
From 1963 to 1975 the Yaoundé Conventions governed the relations between the then European Economic Community and a number of French-speaking African countries. In the post-independence era this was an important shift towards a partnership-based approach.
In 1975 the Lomé Conventions extended European cooperation more widely in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific, including all of sub-Saharan Africa and other newly independent countries. It also introduced the principle of co-decision, which is a core feature of European cooperation. As I received my first degree in economics from the University of Zagreb in 1976, Europe's relations broadened to Latin America and Asia.
In the late 70s and 80s I gained my first taste of public service and foreign affairs. And from 1987 to 1997 I served as a diplomat, which included postings in Cairo and Ankara. During this time, Croatia declared independence from the former Yugoslavia. And the collapse of the Soviet Union meant that Europe's geographical priorities extended to neighbouring countries to the East in particular.
In 1997 I served as the chief negotiator for Croatia's accession to the World Trade Organization. The end of the Cold War and the turn of the new millennium also signalled a new era in international relations. The 8 Millennium Development Goals emphasised the fight against poverty. And the European Union had a large part to play in helping to halve child mortality, reduce hunger, increase education, and lift over a billion people out of extreme poverty.
In these years I helped to negotiate Croatia's entry into the European Union, and took up my first post as European Commission for Consumer Policy when Croatia formally joined on 1 July 2013. Under President Juncker's new Commission I became Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development in November 2014.
2015 marked a defining year for sustainable development worldwide. Agreements on development financing, tackling climate change, and the new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development have created a new global framework, applicable to all countries, involving all partners and requiring all sources of funding. The European Union was instrumental in shaping these ambitious commitments and we are determined to maintain leadership in their implementation by adapting our own approaches.
Today, the European Union is the world's largest development and humanitarian actor, active in around 150 countries. 75% of our support goes to the world's poorest countries, and we are the only donor to be present in all fragile or conflict-affected countries.
Over the last six decades our development cooperation has grown from strength-to-strength, whilst having the flexibility to adapt to changing global circumstances. With the pace of change and the extent of our interconnections only likely to increase, I look forward to the next successful 60 years of the EU in the World.