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It is not easy to determine the nadir of the great pivot from the EU to Africa.
Europe’s change in direction was announced with great fanfare by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Council President Charles Michel at the start of their term in December 2019. But the low points since have continued to occur.
Did the relationship hit rock bottom in December 2021 when South African President Cyril Ramaphosa criticized the EU for banning travel due to the new Omicron variant of COVID, and accused rich countries of ” vaccine apartheid” and refuse to relax intellectual property protections?
“We have to respect each other,” Ramaphosa said during a speech in Dakar, Senegal. “But from Europe I just got a message saying, ‘We have a travel ban. Thank you. Bye. See you next time.’ This is not the way to conduct relationships.
It may have been June 2021, when the EU’s special envoy for Ethiopia, Pekka Haavisto, warned that the government led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed – Nobel Peace Prize laureate – was planning “ to annihilate” the population in the Western Tigray region.
Was this the moment in October 2020 when African Union officials complained that a delegation led by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell risked creating a superspreader event by insisting on a visit to Addis Ababa to publicize the donations of 7.5 tons of test kits?
Or was it two months later, in early December, when African leaders, in abject frustration, abruptly canceled a videoconference with their European counterparts to discuss plans for a summit that had been postponed or canceled twice before?
As heads of state and government from across Europe and Africa, as well as heads of EU and African Union institutions, finally gather in Brussels on Thursday and Friday for the long-delayed summit, intercontinental relations are severely tested.
Partly because of the terrible fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, but also because of what officials and diplomats describe as a series of political missteps and lingering cultural deafness, EU-Africa ties are arguably worse, not better, than when von der Leyen made a point of visiting AU headquarters in his very first week in office.
“Of course, we are currently in a disappointing situation with relations,” said Tomas Tobé, a Swedish member of the European Parliament from the center-right European People’s Party and chairman of the parliament’s development committee. “We haven’t made great strides towards creating an equal partnership.”
Iratxe García, a Spanish MEP who leads the centre-left Socialists group, echoed this point in a recent article. “We are neighbours, but we don’t know each other well enough,” she says. “We share borders, we share a sea, we share challenges, but our communication is still full of stereotypes, misconceptions and a heavy burden of the past.”
When von der Leyen, Michel and other EU officials ushered in their pivot with a flurry of trips to Africa in late 2019 and early 2020, they proclaimed the goal of ending the old pattern of Europe- Africa based on development aid, which they said had turned the EU into a sometimes resentful and resentful benefactor.
“The African Union is a partner I count on,” von der Leyen said at the time. “And I can’t wait [to] work with you in the spirit of a true partnership of equals.
The pivot, in the words of Alexander Rondos, then EU Special Representative for the Horn of Africa, was “that the EU be seen and felt in Africa – and by other interests in Africa – as something something more than an ATM”.
To the shared dismay of both sides, this partnership of equals has not emerged – having been rendered impossible by the pandemic, which, from both a health and economic point of view, has only illustrated and exacerbate the huge inequalities between the rich North and the impoverished South.
“The pandemic has made it clear that when the going gets tough, the tough guys look inward and choose self-interest over principle,” said Lidet Tadesse Shiferaw, associate director of the European Center for Development Policy Management, a think tank based in the Netherlands and focused on Europe. -Relations with Africa.
“The difficulties in obtaining protective equipment and now vaccines have demonstrated to African stakeholders that multilateralism is more rhetorical and does not always deliver to Africa,” she said, adding that although the participation of ‘about 40 African leaders at the summit is significant, there is more enthusiasm on the EU side.
While the EU canceled its summits planned with Africa in 2020 and 2021, the major annual meeting in Beijing, the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, was held without interruption.
And China continues to flood Africa with easy funding – albeit with less money than before the pandemic – expanding its reach and influence without attaching conditions related to democracy or human rights principles. men that are typical of Europe’s economic assistance programs.
“[The EU’s] the pivot to Africa was delayed due to COVID even though other meetings continued during the pandemic,” said Assita Kanko, a conservative Belgian MEP. “It felt like COVID was just a good excuse, like the one you would use not to visit your in-laws.”
The bloc is now focusing on efforts to help Africa develop its own vaccines and recently announced additional development and investment assistance, including 150 billion euros by 2030. This is part of the EU’s Global Gateway program, partly a geostrategic response to China’s Belt and Road initiative.
But even as African leaders began arriving in Europe on Wednesday for a dinner in Paris, hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron, the summit came in the shadow of difficult security events, notably in Mali, where France about to end his nine-year term. -long anti-terrorist operation.
The end of this mission comes after two soldiers led Rebellion in Mali over the past two years, as well as the increased presence of mercenaries from the Russian Wagner group and public demonstrations against the presence of French troops in the country.
The political unrest in Mali is part of a series of unrest, including a coup last month in Burkina Faso that resulted in the exclusion of four countries – Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali and Sudan – from the summit this week because they are suspended from the African Union. .
Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, set out a series of goals for the summit, but also warned that the EU-Africa relationship risks becoming mired in concerns over illegal migration.
“We need to look at Africa with a positive eye – not just through the prism of migration issues,” Borrell said in a speech to the European Parliament.
Tomas Tobe, chairman of the parliament’s development committee, said the summit was a last chance to put relations back on track.
“It has to be a turning point,” he said, adding that an equal partnership was “always the right thing to do.” With vaccine production and food aid remaining urgent priorities, Tobé said it was time to focus seriously on longer-term goals like trade and job creation.
Kanko, who was born in Burkina Faso, expressed some skepticism.
“The way the EU solves things is to sprinkle money,” Kanko said. “But in the meantime, Russia, Turkey and China are expanding their influence.”
“It’s not just about Africa,” she added. “It is also a geopolitical battle over fundamental values, democracy and freedom. If the influence of the EU in Africa declines, it is not only a loss for Africa. It is also a geopolitical loss for the EU against countries like Russia, China and Turkey.
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