Binding interests, a driver for closer EU-Africa ties

Friday, 2018-12-21 18:06:35
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European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (R) talks with President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani prior to the High-Level Forum Africa-Europe in Vienna, Austria, Dec. 18, 2018. (Photo: Xinhua)
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NDO – From the fact that the mutually binding interests between the two continents are increasing, the European Union (EU) officials have repeatedly referred to a “new partnership” between the EU and Africa. The EU took advantage of the great opportunity at the recent High-level Forum Africa-Europe in Vienne, Austria, to show its goodwill and realise its commitments in the roadmap of “returning to the Black Continent”.

Europe and Africa have historically fostered close ties concerning both geography and culture. The binding interests between the two regions are growing, especially in recent years when the crisis of African migrants making their way into the “old continent” broke out, making the stability of Europe much more affected by the development of the “Black Continent”. However, the relations between the two continents, particularly in terms of the economy, has not yet been properly positioned or promoted. Two-way trade has constantly decreased over the past decade, with the share of goods sold to Africa declining from 8.7% of total EU exports to 6.7% in 2018, while the export value of African goods to Europe also saw a sharp plunge. Such a reality has rung an alarm bell concerning the risks of the EU’s declining influence in a region which used to be a traditional “influential zone” of Europe.

Despite many socio-economic and security uncertainties, with its huge potential with regards to manpower and resources, including oil, Africa remains at the focus of the race between many economic powers, such as China, the United States, Japan and even Russia. Accordingly, Beijing has risen to become the leading economic and trade partner of Africa, although Washington has recently announced a “new Africa Strategy”, with impressive commitments towards the “Black Continent”. The strategies of “conquering Africa” have different points, but share the same goal of leapfrogging opportunities of economic boom and exploiting the abundant potential of the region with 1.2 billion people and a growth rate that is forecast to increase twofold by 2050.

The aforementioned factors are the reasons why the EU leaders cannot sit still, but must quickly decide to join the “race to Africa”. Setting aside disagreements between the two continents related to the migration crisis, the EU has adjusted its strategy and is seeking ways to accelerate the “returning roadmap”. In his annual message delivered in September, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker proposed a project on a “new alliance”, or a “new partnership”, between the EU and Africa. Supporting the creation of 10 million jobs in Africa over the next five years, together with efforts to increase bilateral trade and promote free trade agreements between the two sides are the specific targets. A greater ambition is to establish a new economic partnership based on the strategic investment pillars, job creation, educational investment, business environment improvement and the promotion of economic integration in the region.

The EU’s “return to Africa” efforts are clearly manifested through a series of visits by leaders of its member countries to the “Black Continent” in 2018, notably the visit of German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Senegal, Ghana and Nigeria, in the hopes of seeking support from “upstream” countries to curb the “flood” of migrants to Europe, or the Nigeria and Kenya visits made by UK Prime Minister Theresa May, with the ambition of expanding the trade and investment market for the post-Brexit UK. What’s more striking is Germany’s commitment to the “Marshall Plan with Africa”, which has been compared to the great support that the allies gave to Europe in its postwar “renaissance plan”. The new “Marshall Plan” also shows the urgent need and political determination of Europe to “renew” the partnership between the two continents.

The High-level Forum Africa-Europe has helped the EU realise its “comeback” goal with new commitments and projects to Africa, such as increasing investments for businesses in Africa to EUR750 million, supporting EUR45 million for small farm owners, or spending EUR6.1 million to support the construction of solar power plants. These are the first concrete steps in the roadmap to the “Black Continent” that the EU has decided to accelerate after a long time of negligence.

The mutually binding interests, in terms of both security and the economy, are the driving force for Europe and Africa to move closer together. Overcoming fears over the existing conflict stemming from the migration crisis, the EU and the “Black Continent” will share common goals and interests to foster new partnerships and equal and win-win cooperation.