The European Union-Africa Summit hangs in the balance. Africa is concerned with the way Europe is cherry-picking African participants for the indaba, among other issues. Our Political Editor Hebert Zharare (HZ) caught up with EU Ambassador to Zimbabwe Mr Aldo Dell'Ariccia (DA) to discuss these issues. The following are excerpts of the interview.
How advanced are preparations for the EU-Africa Summit on the 2nd and 3rd of April?
They are progressing very well. There have been meetings of the steering committee on March 14 and another one at the beginning of this week on the 24th and 25th of March. There will also be another meeting on March 31 and on April 1.
We know that on the African side there has been a meeting of the Permanent Representatives Committee of the African Union, which has made the recommendations that were reported in your newspapers. As for these recommendations, as the word indicates, they are just recommendations.
It will now be up to the president, the chair of the African Union, Mauritania, who was present as far as I know in the Council of Ministers to transmit to the member states of the African Union and a decision will be taken on what follows from that.
These recommendations came as a surprise to us. We will see how things will follow.
Are these developments not going to affect the preparations of the summit?
The preparations should continue as normal. If there is a decision from the side of the African Union to postpone the event, then we will see the reaction of the European Union.
You have to consider that so far 48 African countries have confirmed their participation of which 41 are represented at the level of the Head of State and Government. All 28 states of the European Union will attend the event of which 23 are represented at the level of the Head of State and Government.
You can imagine that to mobilise 64 Heads of State and Government is something which is complicated and if the proposal is to adjourn or to postpone the meeting, then I am not sure if it will be easy to find another date that will be suitable for everyone. Of course, this is something that can be decided at the highest level.
The fact is that this Summit has been prepared for a long time, beginning just after the end of the previous summit in Tripoli in Libya in 2010. This is a complicated event to organise: you can imagine the protocol, the security and the logistics.
Explain how you chose participants? On the list there are some countries like Egypt where president Mohamed Morsi was deposed with the assistance of the military and the AU has made its position clear on that.
You have to consider that the EU-Africa Summit is the meeting between the European Union and African continent. I want to be very clear on that, it is not the AU-European Union meeting. Participation is not guided by the membership of the African Union.
This event is the highest incidence of political dialogue between the European Union and Africa and the intention of the European Union is to make it possible to talk to all who are relevant to the subject of the event, investing in people, prosperity and peace and be able to talk very frankly with them and to have progress in these partnerships between the European Union and this region.
That is why Egypt has been invited despite the fact that it has been suspended from the African Union.
So can you explain why countries like Eritrea and Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic have been left out?
Let me correct that misconception. Eritrea has been invited at the level of the president and the president declined and we were told the vice president is coming. We got confirmation that the Minister of Foreign Affairs will attend the event.
As for the case of Western Sahara, the European Union resolved that they could not invite a country which is not recognised by the whole international community. So there we have a problem, we cannot invite them as fully-fledged partners.
Morocco was invited against the AU wishes, while Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was not invited, while his country was invited. Could you please give the reasons?
For Morocco, like I said before, the relationship here is between the EU and the African continent and the participation is not guided by the membership to the African Union. The presence of Morocco is extremely important.
Just consider the common problems the two regions have, immigration, transit, et cetera, means Morocco is an extremely important partner in this dialogue.
It's a country that withdrew from the African Union when the African Union decided to accept Western Sahara, but considering the high level nature of this working summit between the European Union and the continent, the EU decided it was important to have Morocco on board.
On the issue of the Sudanese president Mr al-Bashir, we have a particular situation which is there concerning an international arrest warrant which has been issued by the International Criminal Court against him.
Because all the EU countries signed and ratified the Rome Statute, the ICC has jurisdiction on all the EU countries and this binding jurisdiction means the EU is bound by the decisions and actions of the ICC. This means that if President al-Bashir had been invited, he would have been arrested as soon as he set foot on any territory of the EU. This is not something optional, we are bound by the Rome Statute.
So Sudan was invited because it is important to discuss the situation there; their invitation was extended to the vice president.
African countries feel that the EU does not treat them as equals. What is your take on this?
In Tripoli we established a partnership of equals. The logic of establishing this summit is to have a partnership of equals. I do not see why one side should feel belittled. The idea is to go beyond what has been the practice before, the idea of development aid, but to discuss the issues of common concern and interest as equals. I do not think we are looking down on Africa, I can assure you that it's not an abusive position from the EU point of view.
On the contrary, we want this summit to be a success. Because of this high level of political dialogue, that is why President Mugabe has been invited despite the travel bans, despite the fact that he is one of the last two people left on the (EU sanctions) list.
There are some countries in Africa with serious human rights abuses but the EU seems to have no problems with that and the bloc just invites them for such summits. May you explain why?
All countries are treated differently depending on the relationship the EU has with those countries. The common denominator is our commitment to social and economic development and full respect of democracy, human rights and rule of law.
The fact that the type of present and political dialogue and the economic co-operation that the EU has with those countries depends very much with the specific situations in the country, but I will not call it discriminatory.
African countries also have different levels of co-operation with the EU countries depending with political interests.
What is the significance of these summits to Africa and the EU?
This is the fourth EU-Africa Summit and on the occasion of the second Summit in Lisbon (Portugal in 2007), which President Mugabe attended, the Joint Africa Strategy was adopted and the strategy is a general framework in which the relationship between Africa and the EU is laid down.
The move is to accelerate a partnership of equals based on political and economic co-operation, trade and investment. If you take trade, for example, there have been in these summits some discussions economic partnership agreements.
In March 2012, President Mugabe signed the ratification of the Interim Economic Partnership between the EU and Eastern, Southern Africa and Indian Ocean region.
Thanks to that, Zimbabwe exports to the EU enter the markets of 28 countries with a total of about 80 million people, free of duty and this is a great for trade.
From the political point of view, I think the invitation that was extended to President Mugabe to the attend the fourth summit and the exceptional measures that were taken to make sure that he participates is a demonstration the willingness of the EU to engage in dialogue with Zimbabwe.
To the EU, this is extremely important, I am sure is the same on the side of Africa.