Borrell: EU must improve its offer to Africa to remain its ‘first partner’

The EU will need to significantly improve its offer to the African continent if it is succeed in maintaining its position as its “first partner”, the EU’s chief diplomat said on Thursday (29 October). [EPA/STEPHANIE LECOCQ]

The EU will need to significantly improve its offer to the African continent if it wants to succeed in maintaining its position as its “first partner”, the EU’s chief diplomat said on Thursday (29 October).

“Africa has become a field for geopolitical competition. A competition for resources and influence. Third countries are playing against us against our capacity to be the partners of Africa,” EU High Representative Josep Borrell said in a video blog.

That appears to be a barely concealed nod to China, which has ramped up its investment and political influence on the African continent in recent years, particularly through large-scale infrastructure projects.

EU and African leaders have been working on a ‘strategic partnership’ between the two blocs this year although progress has been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The EU-African Union summit had been scheduled for this week but was postponed because of the second wave of the pandemic in Europe. A mini-summit has now been pencilled in for December.

Meanwhile, there has been some concern, particularly from civil society groups in Africa and Europe, that the EU executive has driven the agenda for the planned ‘strategic partnership’ through the prism of the EU’s interests.

“Our African partners will understandably look for quick wins,” said Borrell. “We have to table something serious if we want to keep the pace.”

“This is an opportunity for the EU to prove that it is the better partner for Africa. We have to focus on the areas where we have added value,” Borrell said, pointing to renewable energy as a sector where the two continents were well equipped to work together.

“On renewable energy, we have the expertise, the technology and the financing capacity, and Africa has a potential which is unmatched,” he added.

The EU’s chief diplomat also argued that Europe’s political support for Africa should be “more concrete and visual,” giving the EU’s support for Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the next director-general of the World Trade Organisation as an example.

Most EU countries are backing Okonjo-Iweala, a former finance minister, to become the first woman and first African to hold the director-general post. However, the United States is backing South Korea’s Yoo Myung-hee.

Borrell also repeated the need for the EU to lead global efforts for a debt relief and restructuring plan for African economies, which have been badly hit by the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic despite registering much lower infection rates and death tolls than Europe.

“It seems that Africa is handling this crisis much better than expected from a health point of view but the economic impact is going to be severe”, said Borrell.

At the autumn meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank and a G20 summit earlier this month, leaders could reach agreement only on a six-month extension of the G20’s debt service suspension initiative and a commitment to publish a ‘Common Framework for Debt Treatments’ in November, setting out debt restructuring proposals on a country-by-country basis.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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