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26th Oct 2020

EU declares Africa 'most important' global partner

  • Ethiopia is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. The EU's latest Africa strategy builds on past and new promises spanning everything from governance to climate change, migration, digitisation, security and energy (Photo: EUobserver)

The European Commission has declared it wants a new partnership with Africa - three years after making similar such pronouncements.

"This is one of the most important, maybe the most important international partnerships, that we are going to work with," the EU's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters in Brussels on Monday (9 March).

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His comments follow the publication of the European Commission's strategy on Africa, on Monday.

The latest iteration builds on past and new promises spanning everything from governance to climate change, migration, digitisation, security and energy.

Borrell spelled out a sense of urgency and importance in a strategy whose full details will not, in fact, be worked out until this autumn.

"Our growth and security depends on what happens in Africa, maybe more than any other part of the world," he said.

He added that the EU's future will be shaped by an expanding African youth, in regards to their political and economic aspirations. Some 375 million young people are expected to reach working age in Africa in the next 15 years.

His predecessor, Federica Mogherini, said almost the same at the EU-Africa summit in November 2017.

"We need to increase even more our cooperation; on global issues like climate change and environmental issues; to economy, investments, creation of jobs, education," she said at the time.

The 2017 summit focussed on youth and job creation but ended up denying them a voice with many unceremoniously sidelined.

The summit was followed by a commission plan to leverage over €40bn of private investments by the end of this year and create some 10 million jobs over the next few years. The latest plan says it intends to build on those initiatives.

Africa: 60% of world's fastest-growing economies

Jutta Urpilainen, European Commissioner for International Partnerships, said the latest strategy is needed because of shifting realities in Africa.

"The old narrative of Africa, as a continent of instability and threats, is challenged by huge emerging opportunities," she said.

According to 2018 figures, presented by the commission, six of the ten fastest growing economies in the world were African and 30 African states are middle-income or high-income countries.

But the continent also has some 390 million people living below the poverty line and is mired with conflicts in places like the Sahel, an African region south of the Sahara the size of Europe.

Borrel last month declared that the European Union would supply conflicted states battling instability with guns from the so-called European Peace Facility, once launched towards the end of 2020.

With the strategy published, the plan now is to consult member states, financial institutions, civil society and African counterparts.

The aims is to have a political declaration at the Africa-EU summit sometime in October.

The last time the EU presented a strategy on Africa was in 2007. "The world has changed a lot since then," point out Urpilainen.

But not everyone is happy with the commission's masterplan.

The general secretaries of Caritas Africa and Caritas Europa, development NGOs, say the commission strategy is likely to backfire.

They say it focuses too much on African domestic problems, while neglecting the negative spillovers of EU policies in Africa.

"If the EU does not stop giving with one hand and taking away with the other, this new proposal to foster sustainable growth and development in Africa will be doomed to failure", they said, in an emailed statement.

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