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20th Jan 2019

North Africa revolutions spotlight EU policy further south

  • EU Council head Van Rompuy (r) and African Union commission head Jean Ping at the previous Africa summit in Libya in 2010 (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

The recent wave of pro-democracy revolutions in north Africa and the implications for EU relations with the wider continent are among the thorny topics set to dominate an EU-Africa meeting next week.

Sub-Saharan Africa still counts a number of repressive leaders amongst its ranks, while discussions on conflict resolution in Libya could also prove divisive. The African Union favours a ceasefire in its member state, while European airplanes are among those actively bombing military targets near Tripoli and elsewhere in the country.

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The two-day meeting in Brussels (31 May - 1 June) will take place between members of the European Commission and the African Union (AU) Commission, with AU chairman Jean Ping among the eight senior African officials scheduled to visit the European capital.

Despite recent alterations to the EU's neighbourhood policy, under which funding for recipient north African and east European states will become increasingly tied to reforms, an equivalent tightening is less evident for sub-Saharan Africa.

"We are shaping a new policy ... but the question of repressive regimes is not as simple as saying 'now you don't get any more money'," Klaus Rudischhauser, director for African, Caribbean and Pacific countries with the commission told journalists at a briefing on Friday (27 May). "Things are a little bit more complex but they are on the agenda."

European development commissioner Andris Piebalgs is scheduled to publish a communication this autumn, outlining "new orientations" for the bloc's development policy, including aid criteria for countries with governance problems.

"The aim of our development policy is poverty reduction. That means finding a way to do something for people on the ground, without doing too much to support the government of which we may not approve," Rudischhauser said.

He also noted that the EU has been largely responsible for tackling the humanitarian crisis caused by the Libyan conflict, and pointed to divisions within the African Union itself: "As strongly as it acts when there is a coup d'etat, excluding governments which have an unconstitutional change of government ... Libya remains a member of the African Union."

Other key African developments are expected to appear on the agenda, including the recent installment of Alassane Ouattara as president of the Ivory Coast and Sudan's imminent division into two states.

A series of thematic sessions will precede a plenary session between the two colleges, with a meeting on security set to address issues of drugs trafficking and maritime piracy. Economic growth, regional integration, the Millennium Development Goals, climate change, agriculture and food security are also set to be discussed in the thematic meetings.

The subject of mineral exploitation has been added to the list of debates, with a recent EU raw materials communication underlying Europe's determination to secure sufficient access of supply.

At the same time, NGOs and some MEPs are pressing the EU to introduce new rules to stamp out 'conflict minerals' from entering Europe, with the control of lucrative mining businesses in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo widely reported to be fueling the region's ongoing bloody conflict, born out the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

The United States is in the process of introducing a system of 'due diligence' reporting for companies listed on American stock exchanges, under which firms must ensure minerals such as tin, tungsten and tantalum are sourced from de-militarized mines.

"The EU is considering this issue but has nothing planned for the moment," a source indicated to this website on the due diligence issue.

They also confirmed that an assessment over the need for EU special envoys could see the region's representative in the African Great Lake's region being scrapped. "There is a process of review underway at the moment. EU delegations under the external action service can do a lot of the work formerly carried out by special envoys," said the official.

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