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15th Nov 2019

Commissioner suggests solution to EU-Africa summit dilemma

EU external affairs commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner has suggested that a government minister could represent Zimbabwe at the forthcoming EU-Africa summit as a solution to some EU capitals' refusal to sit at the table with president Robert Mugabe.

In an interview published on Tuesday (4 September), Ms Ferrero-Waldner suggested "a high-ranking government minister, like the foreign minister" could attend the summit and represent Zimbabwe, instead of Mr Mugabe who is accused of human rights abuses by the west and by human rights groups.

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"I understand that the British naturally have a big problem (over this issue) but we should not let our political relationship with Africa fall apart because of Mugabe," the commissioner told the German daily Financial Times Deutschland.

Portugal – which currently holds the rotating EU presidency – plans to host the first EU–Africa summit in seven years on 8-9 December 2007.

But the issue of how to deal with the Zimbabwean leader is casting a shadow over the event.

Mr Mugabe, in power since his country's independence in 1980, currently has an EU travel ban against him. The red light was issued in 2002, after his ruling Zanu–PF party won in what the EU considers a rigged election.

However, several African nations have threatened to boycott the high-ranking political meeting if Mr Mugabe is not allowed to attend, whilst on the European side, some capitals – particularly London – are likely to oppose his presence at the summit.

"Almost all Africans want Mugabe to be present," an EU official said, according to Reuters. "The Africans are really making this an issue. It could be difficult to sort this out."

The same row indefinitely postponed a summit scheduled for 2003.

Portugal's president Anibal Cavaco Silva called Tuesday (4 September) on Europe and Africa to show "imagination" over who should be invited to a summit of the two continents' leaders.

"It's very important to have this summit in Lisbon," he said during a press conference in the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

Brussels wants to launch a ‘strategic partnership' with the African countries to get closer political and economic reforms, and Lisbon views the December summit as central to that goal.

The EU is wary of the waves of illegal immigrants arriving from Africa as well as China's increasing economic influence on the continent.

"Europe's inertia in relation to Africa may carry a heavy strategic price for the union," Mr Cavaco Silva said. "Now is the time to speak with Africa instead of speaking merely of Africa and its problems."

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