French MEP: Europe needs to boost African development

PON_001-585x320 [Maurice Ponga]

This article is part of our special report EU-Africa Summit: Focus on youth, security, investment.

As the EU-Africa Summit kicks off in Abidjan, expectations are high on both sides of the Mediterranean. French MEP Maurice Ponga, who sees the problems faced by the two continents as increasingly interlinked, calls for a joint reaction.

Maurice Ponga is the French MEP of the EPP (Les Républicains). He represents the Pacific section of the French overseas constituency in the European Parliament and is the vice-chair of the commission dedicated to development.

Your “EU-Africa: a boost to development” report was voted by a large majority in a plenary session in the European Parliament in preparation for the EU-African Union summit in Abidjan. Could you summarise the report?

The world is changing and the challenges facing the African continent and facing the European continent are almost the same. The report prepares the summit in Abidjan based on five points: the challenges of economic development, security and terrorism, human development, migration and mobility, and finally the environment and climate change.

These challenges concern Africa and the European continent. Security, terrorism concerns Africa and it reflects on Europe. It must be approached in a comprehensive way, between the two continents. The text that has been voted by the European Parliament, therefore, represents the Parliament’s position for the Abidjan summit.

If Europe is so interested in Africa lately, it is because it suffers from the problems you mentioned: the migration crisis, terrorism. So we must suffer before deciding to act?

If Europe does nothing, and if Europe does not give a boost to Africa’s development, there is no need to speculate: we will be invaded by this migratory flow. In my opinion, it is important for Europe to be able to share but not mentor because African countries want to be treated as equals with Europe. They recognize, of course, that Europe is their big neighbour.

Europe is not the only geopolitical player. There is China.

Yes, there is also China, but you know the values that China stands for, if there are any. While the values that Europe develops in these countries, whether in Africa or elsewhere, are the universal values of human rights, the rule of law and good governance. Do you think China prioritises any of these?

There are African countries that prefer no interference in their internal affairs, that we do not look at whether they put journalists in prison, for example.

In this case, it is a world in which I do not wish to live. But I come back to this accelerator of Europe. The report revolves around resilience, that is, the ability of states to resist crises and adapt. There is political resilience, therefore the rule of law, which is the fundamental point of our relationship. Environmental policy is also very important.

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And to avoid repeating Europe’s mistakes. For example, do not invest in fossil fuels, when there are already technically feasible and inexpensive alternatives?

Right. The report points out that Africa is a weak emitter of greenhouse gases, while it is the continent that suffers all the climate anomalies of the planet.

There is also the problem of embezzlement as a result of bad governance, which deprives the continent of resources …

We have found that $50 billion is leaving Africa every year illegally. Resource management must become transparent. Tools must be put in place to control this tax evasion. The report says that the correction of this tax evasion must be the subject of international action. It’s international, it’s global, it’s not just European, it’s something that should be of concern for all leaders around the world.

Will this report be the contribution of this institution to the Abidjan summit, as presented by President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani?

Yes, Antonio Tajani will be there at the head of the Parliament delegation and it will be up to him to convey our messages.

You are vice-president of the Parliamentary Committee for Development in the European Parliament. What are your next projects?

I will tell you, I am elected to the Pacific constituency…

From New Caledonia …

Yes, and my next issue is the creation of a specific financial instrument for the overseas territories. You know that with Brexit there will be less money. This file will be my main goal before the end of my term.

France is already taking care of its territories overseas, so what are you expecting from the EU?

To put in place a much more flexible tool than the EDF [the European Development Fund], and maybe with a higher budget. But it will be a much more suitable instrument. Because the EDF is an instrument to fight against poverty, while overseas countries and territories are not in wealth, but not in poverty either. It is necessary to have a specific instrument adapted to these overseas countries and territories.

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What is your experience as a member of parliament, do you feel that your colleagues from the countries of Central and Eastern Europe are less interested?

No, not at all, I consider that my colleagues in the East have quite the same attitudes, they are very interested and very active.

Why is it relatively easy to cut development when the European Union has budgetary problems?

With the colleagues of the parliamentary committee for development, we have argued against the idea of touching development aid. If we touch on development aid, the topics we discussed will spill over. We have to make sure that people from the African continent stay at home, find work at home.

What are your relations with the European Commission?

With Neven Mimica [Development Commissioner] and Stefano Manservisi [Director General DEVCO] we work very well together. They tell us that they are very happy to come to our committee, where we share a lot of the same positions.

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