Healthcare should be at heart of EU-Africa partnership, say MEPs

EU-Africa relations should prioritise healthcare as part of a new partnership of equals, EU lawmakers said as they set out their priorities for talks on a ‘strategic partnership’ between the two continents. EPA-EFE/KIM LUDBROOK

EU-Africa relations should prioritise healthcare as part of a new partnership of equals, EU lawmakers said as they set out their priorities for talks on a strategic partnership between the two continents.

On Thursday (25 March), MEPs adopted their own blueprint that, they hope, will feed into the discussions on a new EU-Africa partnership by 460 votes in favour to 64 against.

The two blocs “must move beyond the donor-recipient relationship”, the Parliament report said, a mantra used increasingly often under Ursula von der Leyen’s European Commission.

The report by Chrysoula Zacharopoulou, a French centrist MEP, calls for the EU to support African regional integration and domestic production to help reduce dependence on foreign imports as well as the African continental free trade area launched in January.

Speaking during the European Parliament debate on Wednesday, EU International Partnerships Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen said that the Commission was seeking “a joined-up approach and a renewed partnership with our sister continent Africa.”

However, talks between the EU and the African Union have been derailed by COVID-19, which was declared a global pandemic two days after the Commission published its strategy for a “sustainable partnership.”

At the heart of the Commission blueprint was a focus on the green transition, energy, and digital transformation. Those remain, with the EU executive anxious to ensure that the EU’s carbon adjustment mechanism will not hurt African exports. Additional priorities have also emerged in the wake of the pandemic.

The EU is one of the leading donors to the World Health Organisation-backed COVAX initiative, which has started to distribute COVID vaccines to African countries in recent weeks. MEPs want to build on this by stepping up EU-Africa collaboration on health research and innovation to boost local production of equipment and medicine.

“Our African friends are our allies and all Europeans have to grasp the importance and the opportunity that this partnership offers to us,” Zacharopoulou told lawmakers.

The French MEP added that this should begin by “reinforcing Africa’s healthcare systems; we also have to implement an EU-Africa Green Pact.”

The report also calls on international lenders, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, to do more to relieve the debt burdens of African countries, which have been exacerbated by the pandemic, pushing a group of countries, including Angola, the Republic of Congo, and Zambia into debt distress.

The G20 leaders are close to giving the green light for the IMF to issue $500 billion of Special Drawing Rights prioritising developing countries, to sit alongside the G20’s pre-existing Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI).

With most of Europe and a number of African countries now facing a third wave of the pandemic there are growing concerns that a planned EU-AU summit, which the Portuguese government is keen to host as part of its six-month EU Council presidency, will again be delayed.

[Edited by Josie Le Blond]

Partnership with a purpose: EU-Africa relations in 2021

The EU’s plans to strike a ‘strategic partnership’ with Africa were one the victims of the COVID-19 pandemic. After the European Commission set out its stall in a March 2020 strategic paper, summits were cancelled and it is unclear whether EU and African Union leaders will agree on an agenda with the ambition needed for a genuine ‘strategic partnership’ this year.

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