3 April 2014

Africa: EU and Africa Wrap Two-Day Summit

Photo: A AU
United Nations Chief Ban Ki-moon with African Union head Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma in Brussels.

The European Union and Africa pledged closer cooperation at a two-day Brussels summit, but differences emerged over issues such as gay rights.

It would appear Europe is rediscovering Africa. European representatives in Brussels were ceaselessly underlining the continent's importance and the common ground it shared with Europe. Trade between Africa and Europe has expanded quickly in recent years and some of the world's fastest growing economies are now in Africa.

President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, said both continents were also obliged to cooperate with one another because of the common problems they shared . "If terrorism spreads in the Sahel or on the Horn of Africa, or refugee flows become uncontrollable, then that is a threat for Africa as well for Europe," he said.

European troops in demand

Europeans and Africans are already working together in Central African Republic, one of Africa's more worrying trouble spots. Both sides agreed in principle that Africa should solve its own problems and that includes security issues. But that was not always possible as African Union President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz admitted. "Even when we have troops who can intervene in a crisis, we lack transport and deployment capabilities. This is where the European Union plays an important role ," he said. It is a role the European Union intends to enlarge.

Development solves many problems

Both sides are convinced that there can be no development without security. And Africa needs development so that its expanding population can find jobs. African Union Commission President Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma says that if young Africans have jobs then "they'll be better equipped to fight off crime, drugs and human trafficking." Moreover, even fewer will then try to come to Europe in search of a new life - such is the thinking of European officials. The European Union is under domestic pressure within European countries to stop irregular African migration to Europe. That is why the European Commission is trying to persuade African governments to assist in combating illegal migration, in other words to prevent their own population from leaving for Europe.

Shrinking Lake Chad

With regional security issues clamoring for attention, there was the risk that climate change could get squeezed off the agenda. As UN General Secretary Ban ki-Moon warned "The situation in Ukraine, in Central African Republic or in South Sudan may be serious, but we have to think of global issues." Chadian President Idriss Deby said "climate change is a global phenomenon, but the continent which contributes the least to it - Africa - is the one which suffers directly from the consequences. Lake Chad, Deby said, was on the point of disappearing altogether. Its surface area was now just one tenth of its size in 1970.

Tension in the air

A highly controversial issue dividing Africa and Europe acquired a personal dimension at this summit. In a speech at the welcoming banquet, Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo called on the heads of state and government to respect the rights of minorities, including those who were being persecuted on account of their sexual orientation. Di Rupo himself is openly gay. Among his guests were the presidents of Nigeria and Uganda, which only recently passed draconian legislation tightening the criminalization of homosexuality. There were no reports of the pair responding to die Rupo's speech in any way, but everybody in the room must have sensed the tension in the air.

EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy, always in search of consensus, sought to deliver appropriate remarks suitable for such areas of contention."Even if we don't agree, we can discuss things with one another honestly and look for common ground so we can move ahead together." If the summit hardly yielded anything concrete, most of the participants seem to think that the good atmosphere that pervaded the meeting was in itself highly laudable.

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