17th Nov 2019

Portugal struggles with EU-Africa summit guest list

The Portuguese EU presidency is struggling to find ways in which to formally invite Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe to Europe's summit with Africa while also ensuring that he does not actually attend.

"What is important for the summit to be a success is to be able to separate the bilateral relations from the relations between the two continents," Portuguese prime minister Jose Socrates said on Monday (2 July).

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"I'm sure that we will find appropriate diplomatic formulae so that the EU-Africa summit and dialogue can take place for the benefit of Europeans and Africans," he added.

Portugal is aiming to boost relations between the two continents, one of its top priorities at the EU helm.

But the guest list for the summit – the first EU-Africa summit in seven years – is causing a severe diplomatic headache.

Formally, the EU has a travel ban on Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe and over 90 members of his ruling Zanu-PF party put in place in 2002 due to reports of serious violations of the election rules in his country.

But Portugal is coming under pressure from some African countries to put Zimbabwe on the guest list for the projected December gathering in Lisbon.

However, an extension of the invitation to the Zimbabwean leader is likely to be met with strong opposition in some EU countries, particularly Britain.

British MEPs are already criticising the move. Conservative MEP Neil Parish called it a "disgrace" and a signal that the EU is "prepared to do business with dictators."

Glenys Kinnock, Labour MEP and the former chairwoman of the European Parliament's development committee has also criticised the idea, arguing that Mr Mugabe "cares little" about the issues that the EU-Africa summit should tackle, such as good governance and poverty, BBC reported.

Earlier this year, the bloc formally prolonged the five-year long sanctions against the African country but specific exemptions from the rule already allowed the then French president Jacques Chirac to host Mr Mugabe in February 2003 at a France-Africa summit, and Italy to let him visit the funeral of Pope John Paul II in April 2005.

Robert Mugabe has been in power in Zimbabwe since the country's independence in 1980. He has attacked any emerging political opponents of his government.

His country is currently facing the highest inflation rate in the world - 4,500 percent - for which economists blame his policy to print more money as a way of dealing with the budget deficit while ordering police raids in shops and supermarkets in a campaign against their owners for raising prices.

As part of its price controls, the authorities ordered cuts in basic food prices by 50 percent after retail prices had jumped up by 300 per cent in only seven days, UK daily the Telegraph reported.

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