Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Meeting of a new Euro-African alliance

On 2-3 October 2006, ten European Commissioners met their counterparts of the African Union Commission in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia. This event deserved particular attention for many reasons. Not only because it was the first time that the Commission met outside of Europe. Not even because the Commission signed a series of new agreements, such as a support programme to the African Union worth €55 million and a memorandum for the exchange of officials. Rather, the meeting represented – in a symbolic and solemn way – a milestone in the relationship between Europe and Africa.

The relationship between the EU and the AU has strengthened to the point of becoming a political alliance between two continents that need each other more than ever. But why do Africa and Europe need each other in the 21st century? Europe matters to Africa: 60% of the aid – or €15 billion annually – that Africa receives is European. Europe is the world's most open trading bloc, importing more from Africa than the rest of the non-European Union G-8 put together. And Africa matters to Europe: economic development, social wellbeing and human security shouldn’t just be privileges for Europe or the western world. They should be global goods. But there’s more. Recent events involving African migrants at Europe’s borders shocked both Europeans and Africans. The threat of terrorism is spreading rapidly. And the need for energy is becoming more and more acute as Europe already imports around one third of its oil from Africa.

European Union Heads of State and Government adopted a new Strategy for Africa last December, a vision for a new alliance and a roadmap for action. Since then, we have accelerated the pace of our cooperation. And Africa is showing leadership. In the region of Darfur in western Sudan, the AU has deployed a 7,936-strong peacekeeping force. With financial support from the European Commission, the mission is improving the lives of millions of Sudanese in this region ravaged by war. Together we have also been working hard to improve Africa’s governance record. Most recently, the European Commission decided to dedicate approximately €2.7 billion to support governance reforms in African countries.

But more is needed to achieve the yearly growth of at least 7% which is needed to halve poverty by 2015. Together we foster the creation of integrated markets that facilitate trade, boost domestic and foreign investment and support more solid economic policies. We also address the lack of essential infrastructural hardware which makes any economic transaction a complex and costly enterprise. We are setting up a Europe-Africa Partnership on Infrastructure worth €5.6 billion, creating vast trans-African transport, water, energy and telecommunication networks.

As we sat around the table on 3 October 2006 we took stock of the progress made and the plans for the future. Business as usual is no longer an option. We should make this decade a watershed in the history of both our continents.

Article by Ranieri Sabatucci, Assistant to the Deputy Director General, DG DEV published in October 2006 issue of the eCourier - the online newsletter of ACP-EU development cooperation.

See the euforic dossier on Africa