15th Oct 2019

EU tries to put aid pressure on Niger

  • Daily life in Niger - one of Africa's poorest nations, heading to become world number two uranium exporter (Photo: etrenard)

The EU has threatened to end support for Niger after a referendum extending the president's rule. But uranium and oil companies could reduce the bloc's leverage.

"I regret that the recent holding of a referendum in Niger was outside the country's constitutional norms," EU development commissioner Karel de Gucht said in a statement on Monday (10 August).

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"A rapid return by president Tandja to those constitutional norms would mean we don't have to open negotiations between the European Union and Niger ...and put our co-operation in danger."

The remarks come after Niger authorities said 92.5 percent of people in a recent referendum voted in favour of keeping the president in power until at least 2012 and potentially for life.

Opposition groups say just five percent of the population even took part. But pro-democracy campaigner Morou Amadou has landed in jail after calling for a general strike.

Denmark joined the EU commission in criticising events.

"A new and more positive development in Niger is necessary in order for the Danish development co-operation to continue as before," Danish development minister Ulla Tornas said.

The landlocked and arid Niger is among Africa's poorest countries with a GDP per head of less than €300.

European Commission assistance is worth €458 million between 2008 and 2013, along with trade perks under the so-called Cotonou Agreement. Denmark has put on hold a bilateral €21 million water and sanitation project.

But the aid sums are dwarfed by large-scale commercial investment in Niger's uranium and oil sector.

French company Areva is currently building Africa's largest uranium mine in central Niger at a cost of €1.2 billion. Niger supplies 30 percent of France's uranium needs, with French criticism of its former colony sounding less sharp than Denmark's.

Niger should "return to its constitutional and democratic framework," a French foreign ministry official said on Monday, AFP reports.

China National Petroleum Corporation last year also signed a €3.5 billion oil development deal with the country. China has kept silent on the referendum in line with its policy of non-intervention in sovereign states.

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