Germany seeks key role in new EU-Africa policy

According to government sources, the EU will announce the distribution of 29 million COVID-19 vaccine doses at the summit, of which 21 million are to come from Germany. EPA-EFE/GEERT VANDEN WIJNGAERT / POOL [GEERT VANDEN WIJNGAERT/EPA]

*Updated with statements by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, final declaration of the EU-Africa summit

The German government hopes the two-day EU-Africa Summit that ended on Friday (18 February) will mark a new beginning in Africa policy, with development and energy policy, in particular, being at the forefront. EURACTIV Germany reports.

In the press conference following the summit, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz stressed the importance of close collaboration with African states.

“Whether it is climate protection, global health, the future of the multilateral, rules-based order, peace and security, or migration. Europe and Africa can only answer the big questions of our time together. Our relationships are of strategic relevance for both sides,” Scholz emphasised.

Germany is one of Africa’s largest donors and investors, and its colonial legacy in the region is relatively small compared to France and several other EU states.

German MEP Udo Bullmann, development policy spokesman for the socialist S&D group in the European Parliament, told EURACTIV that “in this respect, German involvement has never been tempted to be as one-sidedly territorial as it has been in the UK or France along linguistic borders or former colonial zones”.

Around €8.5 billion in foreign direct investments from Germany flowed to various African states from 2016 to 2020, according to a report by consulting firm EY. This makes Germany one of the major investors on the continent, though it still only invested half as much as France, the EU’s largest investor in Africa.

Germany is also the world’s second-largest donor state in the field of development cooperation – behind only the US –  according to OECD figures.

The government in Berlin has welcomed the EU’s new flagship project, the Global Gateway Initiative, intended as an alternative to the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, through which around €150 billion will be invested in the African market.

Around €20 billion are planned to be invested in Africa yearly to create incentives for private investments, Scholz announced.

EU-AU summit: Seeking a partnership with a purpose

Two years after the EU set out its blueprint for a ‘strategic partnership’ with Africa, the EU-African Union summit designed to seal the deal takes place in Brussels next Thursday (17 February). A series of glossy initiatives and promises will be unveiled but much still hangs in the air.

Fighting the pandemic

At the EU-Africa summit, the focus was placed on fighting the COVID pandemic and ensuring equitable vaccine distribution.

The vaccination rate in Africa is currently at a meagre 10%, well short of the 40% target for 2021 set by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

To reverse the trend, the EU pledged to distribute around 700 million vaccines in the coming year, most of them under the so-called Covax Facility. If implemented, Africa would lack only 200 million doses to reach the WHO’s 70% vaccination target for 2022.

Germany also aims to increase the production capacity for vaccines in Africa and assist in technology transfers to the neighbouring continent. According to Scholz, many African leaders have already pitched their projects for local production to the German vaccine producer Biontech.

At the same time, the EU and Germany are also trying to cushion the far-reaching secondary effects of the pandemic.

“We risk losing an entire generation in Africa because of the pandemic if we do not take care of education. Therefore, public infrastructure, education, and training are the focus of what we have to address strategically,” Bullmann stressed.

EU sets out plan to support Africa for the next pandemic

The EU has made a coordinated push to help support African states to prepare their health systems for the next pandemic, but without appearing to give any ground on the main short–term demand of African leaders to allow them to produce COVID vaccines.

Regional value chains

However, the German government also hopes for a general direction shift in Africa policy, with the aim of embedding the continent more strongly in the global economy and deepening regional value chains.

Until now, Africa has been integrated into the global economy almost exclusively as a producer of raw materials, which is why the “regional value chains must be expanded and deepened”, said Bullmann.

Here, the focus is particularly on the expansion of renewable energy sources – a field where a number of African states are moving rapidly, notably when it comes to solar energy.

Although the energy mix in Africa has so far been based mainly on coal, oil and biomass, according to forecasts by the International Monetary Fund, this is set to change. By 2100, around 60% of Africa’s energy production could come from solar energy, the IMF said.

This opens up avenues for increased cooperation for the German government since the surplus solar energy could be used for the production of green hydrogen – a highly sought-after commodity, especially in Germany.

According to the Berlin government’s forecasts, 40-60% of the country’s hydrogen will have to be covered by imports in the future.

This offers a “great opportunity for partnerships,” a high-ranking German government official stressed in the run-up to the Africa Summit. The government is counting on technology to be transferred to Africa, especially in the field of hydrogen production.

There is a “healthy self-interest” of German industry for future investments on the African continent, along the entire value chain, the official said.

EU aims to make Africa a world champion in hydrogen exports

Europe wants to get out of fossil fuels and build a hydrogen economy. Without enough internal supplies, it is looking to import large quantities of hydrogen from countries in the Global South. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Rivalling China 

The interest the EU and Germany have in Africa is also clearly shaped by the “inter-system competition” with China, which has already become one of the largest investors in Africa, with its Belt and Road investment offensive.

From the German side, an infrastructure project in Egypt is seen as a blueprint for future investments in the region. There, Siemens is currently building several high-speed railway lines for passenger and freight transport.

“This simply shows that we are not dependent on letting China’s Belt and Road Initiative stand-alone in African countries,” a high ranking German official told journalists, adding that “we are definitely competitive there.”

In this context, the European and German side is keen to invest more sustainably in the Africa investment strategy.

Bullmann stressed that “our projects must be embedded in a logical development policy, which includes more than industrial investment, but also education, social infrastructure and collective goods – from hospitals to schools”.

“They must not be helicopter projects. That is precisely what the Chinese are accused of, that they are splurging with large-scale infrastructure projects that offer little added value to the general public,” the socialist MEP concluded.

Austrian businesses aim to up exports to Africa

Austrian businesses see significant export potential in Africa, the country’s chamber of commerce has said ahead of the EU-AU summit in Brussels between 17-18 February.

“Many African countries are important markets of the future and hope for the domestic export economy …

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic and Benjamin Fox]

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