European and African leaders have opened a major summit seeking deeper political, economic and investment ties. The meeting will also focus on conflict prevention, like the violence in the Central African Republic.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for a new approach to Africa at the start of the two-day summit in Brussels, saying it was important for European countries to see "the opportunities" on the continent, "and not always just the problems."
"Our neighboring continent Africa is gaining greater significance," Merkel said on arrival at the European Council, calling for cooperation to entail "more trade, more investment and more empowerment - so that African problems can also be solved by Africans themselves."
Merkel was speaking hours after the EU began its military mission in the Central African Republic, where 1,000 peacekeepers will be deployed. Politically and religiously-motivated violence between Christians and Muslims in the country have forced roughly 1 million people to flee their homes, according to UN estimates.
The EU force will join some 6,000 African Union and 2,000 French troops already present. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, also in Brussels for the summit, described the existing forces in CAR as "far from sufficient," saying he intended to ask assembled European and African leaders to "strongly consider providing badly needed additional troops and police and also financial support."
'Investing in people, prosperity and peace'
French President Francois Hollande and Italy's Matteo Renzi were among the 13 European leaders attending, along with a dozen African leaders including Nigerian President Jonathan Goodluck and Liberia's Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. In an interview with DW prior to the summit, Sirleaf called for European countries to "give the [African Development Bank] program the fullest of support."
The meeting's motto is "Investing in people, prosperity and peace." It is supposed to mark a new, more equal chapter in relations between the two continents.
"I hope the summit will mark a new stage in our relationship with Africa," European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said, adding it was time for a "shift from development cooperation to a partnership of equals with trade and investment playing a key role."
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe boycotted the summit at short notice, saying he was protesting an EU refusal to temporarily suspend a visa ban on his wife. The EU relaxed sanctions against Zimbabwe earlier this year, but upheld visa bans against Mugabe and his wife for an extra year - granting the president an exemption in order to attend international forums. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, wanted by the International Criminal Court on genocide charges, was another notable absentee.
Merkel also discussed plans for a new approach to African development policy at the weekend in her weekly podcast, following new German Development Minister Gerd Müller's first trip to the continent last week, and preceding a Berlin visit by Senegalese President Macky Sall on Monday.