What was on the table in Abidjan?

External Relations

“Africa’s problems are EU’s problems”. This is how President Tajani opened the High level conference towards a renewed partnership with Africa on November the 22nd, in Brussels.

The aim of this high-level conference was to keep on raising the visibility and the intrinsic importance of the existing partnership between the EU and the African continent, as well as to open a debate on the need to make existing instruments and resources more efficient, in view of discussing the post-2020 EU budget. The conference also came with a perfect timing – just one week before the fifth African Union-European Union summit held in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

More than ever, during the summit the magnifying glass was placed on “Investing in youth”, a crucial priority for both Africa and the EU. Of course, representatives from both sides gathered in Abidjan in order to tackle a broader range of relevant topics: peace and security, governance including democracy, human rights, mobility and migration, investments and trade, climate change, and skill development and job creation.

Ten after year the adoption of the joint Africa-EU strategy, 2017 is giving signs to be crucial in the relations between the two continents as many political and legislative measures taken at the EU level will strengthen the ties. In May, the High Representative for the Foreign and Security policy Madam Mogherini together with the European Commission issued a joint communication for a renewed impetus of the Africa-EU partnership. In June, the European Consensus on Development was signed and the Council adopted conclusions stressing the EU’s strategic interest in deepening its partnership with Africa. Last, in September, the European Parliament and the Council adopted the European Fund for Sustainable Development (EFSD), the centerpiece of the EU’s new External Investment Plan.

The Abidjan summit represented the edge of a long path paved by the European Parliaments which took the lead in encouraging other EU institutions and Member States to be more ambitious, going beyond the existing financial instruments and partnerships. Representatives of both sides conveined on a common priority: a comprehensive Investment Plan for Africa. The EFSD showed to be a first step in this direction, otherwise its means are limited compared to the “radical” goals the EU and AU agreed on. The interventions spotted the importance of the new economic and academic diplomacy, needed today more than ever, focusing on infrastructure, technology transfers, resource efficiency, vocational training and a conducive environment for private sector growth. The EU should promote legal migration while cooperating with third countries on fighting irregular migration. Further, leaders discussed further support for scholarships for African students under the Erasmus+ programme and extending cross-border exchange programmes for young entrepreneurs to African countries.

The EU-AU dialogue is something that has been going on since decades. The EU approach has changed over time, on the contrary. From providing assistance, working for Africa, now the EU leaders want to work with Africa.

As far as external relations and security are concerned, the summit in Ivory Coast highlighted a broad range of shared priorities.

The human treatment of migrants in Libya, is one of the hottest topic nowadays. People trying to escape violence and famine risk to be killed, or worse, enslaved on their way to freedom. Cooperation is meant to be crucial between the two sides of the Mediterranean. On the contrary, this cooperation has to be translated in concrete and consistent actions in order to eradicate those tragic violations against human rights. Working together with the UNHCR, the European Union managed to close some of the detention camps settled on the Libyan coast saving about 15.000 lives. “A drop in the ocean” as HR/VP Mogherini said last week during a press conference, always endorsing the direction that the EU actions have finally taken.

Further, as far as migration is concerned, the summit in Abidjan highlighted that 80% of total African refugees travel inside their continent and just a small amount of them actually is striving reaching the European coasts. In that direction, a task force to free migrants illegally detained in Libya backed by both the European Union, the African Union and the United Nations is to be set up as soon as possible. Even if the details remain still unclear, the French President Macron stated that this new instrument will be “a joint policing and military operation to clear illegal detention centres and dismantle smuggling networks”. The work of the Task Force will be closely coordinated with Libyan authorities, even if several different voices at the summit said that no foreign troops will be sent to Libya. Of course, the implementation of such an instrument requires the strong commitment of the AU member states which will be in charge to repatriate nationals freed by the task force.

In addition, the summit has been a strong opportunity for leaders from the EU and the AU to speak about how to benefit from this movements of people between the two sides of the Mediterranean. In particular, leaders spotted the opportunity to launch a coherent plan for Africa – a Marshall Plan – consisting of an investment plan and security projects. Only the 4% of the global flux of FDI come to Africa. Being not considered a reliable place where to invest, the EU and AU together planned to deploy 44 billion euros in order to invest in the African private sector by 2020. The addressee of these funds will be mainly the African SMEs in perfect concordance with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Investments will focus on renewables and sustainable solutions for the digital market.

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