The European Commission has kick-started a new programme to help integrate African countries and regions, with a €415 million cash injection between now and 2017 and a further tranche of €430 planned before 2020.

The revenues will be used to fund projects for better trade relations, election observation missions run by the African Union, academic exchange programmes and initiatives to improve the governance of migration and mobility within Africa and the EU.

The first areas to benefit will include sustainable agriculture, environment, higher education, infrastructure, migration, information technology and research and innovation, according to an EU press release accompanying the launch. 

"The challenges with which we are faced can no longer be tackled within national borders,” said the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso. “This is why I have proposed to create a Pan-African programme to find solutions at regional and continental scale and support the process of African integration.”

“The alliance between Africa and Europe is indispensable, today more than ever,” he added. “This programme will make it even stronger”.

Barroso first announced the Pan-African programme at the 4th Africa-EU summit last April, as Africa’s continental integration emerged as a key priority for the EU. The programme is part of a €28 billion investment plan to strengthen economic and trade ties between the two continents.

In February, the EU and negotiators from West Africa agreed a €42 billion-a-year free trade deal after a decade of talks, but landing similar agreements with the East African Community and Southern African Development Community states has proved more difficult.

"The major innovation of this programme is that it allows the EU to link up the cooperation it has with Northern Africa, South Africa and sub-Saharan Africa,” The EU development commissioner Andris Piebalgs said. “It will also help us to achieve better policy coherence for development by building synergies between development cooperation and other EU policies."

Earlier this month, the US president, Barack Obama, announced a $33 billion investment package for Africa, with $14 billion of that sum coming from American companies, and the other $19 billion being channelled through the Power Africa initiative.

“Wealthy nations must open our doors to goods and services from Africa in a meaningful way,” Obama said.

Despite its poverty-stricken image, Africa contains six of the 10 fastest-growing economies and China is the continent’s largest trading partner.

Last year, while the US earned $85 billion from bilateral trade with Africa, China took home $210 billion.