EU envoy seeking trade ties with PH turns to national artist, basketball

Cathy Yang, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 31 2018 09:11 AM | Updated as of Jan 31 2018 10:00 AM

European Union Ambassador to the Philippines Franz Jessen (far right) is shown in an event in Marawi City with National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose (second from left). Photo courtesy of EU Embassy in Manila.

MANILA - Europe's top envoy to the Philippines befriended a national artist and reserves weekends for basketball and polo to help him find opportunities for trade and investments.

European Union Ambassador Franz Jessen said he was "starting to get to know the country," even after four years on the job. During his term, he witnessed a handover of power to President Rodrigo Duterte from former president Benigno Aquino III.

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"It takes time. It's a big country. There are many things going on. There's been a shift in policy," Jessen said in an exclusive interview with ANC's The Boss.

The Danish born-Jessen said his job was to sift through "mixed messages" and paint a picture of the Philippines to European businessmen seeking to expand in Southeast Asia.

Jessen said he was a "great fan" of National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose for his "extraordinary perspective" on the country.

"I love talking to him because as an artist, he has an insight that normal people like me don't have," Jessen said.

"He's clearly somebody who is very keen on promoting Philippine identity. He's very fascinating to be with," he said.

European Union Ambassador to the Philippines Franz Jessen is shown with his wife, Wang Qi, and their son, Alexander

Jessen said his son has taken up basketball, a sport so popular in the Philippines that even boxing legend Manny Pacquiao shoots hoops professionally while also working as a legislator.

Weekends on the polo field, Jessen said, allows him to catch up with fellow diplomats in Manila while sneaking in some official business.

Despite Duterte's rhetoric against the EU, Jessen said the "basic relationship" between Manila and Brussels was "very good."

Jessen said Europe was committed to giving aid to the Philippines even after Manila rejected the P380-million Trade-Related Technical Assistance of TRTA package.

The EU also renewed the Philippines' tariff free privileges under the Generalized Scheme of Preferences, which Jessen said would help Filipino farmers.