‘Partnerships’ to be at heart of EU-Africa strategy, leaked paper reveals

5th African Union - European Union (AU-EU) summit in Abidjan

The EU will seek to put a series of policy-themed ‘partnerships’ at the heart of its EU-Africa strategy which will be formally launched in early March, according to a leaked draft obtained by EURACTIV.

A draft outline of the strategy states that the EU executive wants to “change the narrative: look at Africa for what it is becoming: home to the world’s youngest population; largest trade area since the creation of the WTO; appetite for regional integration; women’s empowerment; all creating huge economic opportunities.”

It also spells out the areas the EU would cover: Partners for Sustainable Growth and Jobs; for a  Green Transition; for a Digital and Data Transformation; Peace, Security, Governance and Resilience; Migration and Mobility; and Multilateralism.

That reflects the focus on ‘partnerships’ rather than ‘development’ that has marked the early months of the Von der Leyen Commission.

The leaked Commission paper contains little substance on policy but does point the direction of EU-Africa policy in one of the key documents driving the so-called ‘geopolitical’ Commission of Ursula von der Leyen. It will be unveiled by the Commission on 4 March in the form of a ‘Communication’, EURACTIV understands, but is unlikely to become formal policy until an EU/African Union summit in October in Brussels

The process of drawing up the blueprint began with a meeting of EU development ministers on 13 February.

Ministers are then to adopt conclusions at a Foreign Affairs Council in April or May, and then at an EU summit on 18-19 June.

Africa policy has also been taken up by the Finnish government, which held the six-month rotating EU presidency until December 2019.

“Finland is also preparing its own Africa strategy. The two strategies aim to strengthen an equal strategic partnership between the EU and Africa and to boost their political and trade relations,” said Finnish Development minister Ville Skinnari.

The strategy is likely to be focused on ways to increase EU-Africa trade, as well as business opportunities and investment. It also promises to increase EU support for the African Continental Free Trade Agreement that will come into force later this year.

However, it risks being overshadowed by the slow progress of talks on the successor to the Cotonou Agreement, which covers trade and political relations between the EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific community. Cotonou is due to expire in March and there is no sign of a new deal being agreed any time soon.

The EU executive says that it is on target to deliver the €44 billion in private sector investment promised under the External Investment Plan launched by the Juncker Commission, but it is unclear whether the new ‘Strategy’ will involve any new investment or investment vehicles.

The leaked note states only that it will focus on “mobilising the means all sources: political engagement, official development aid, security, domestic resources mobilisation, private sector, etc.”

The EU is far from being the only international player vying for greater political and economic relations with Africa. The UK, India, Turkey, Russia and France are among a group who have hosted or are holding Africa-focused investment conferences in 2020.

The US administration of President Donald Trump has also begun to flesh out its new trade and investment offer to African leaders.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Senegal, Ethiopia and Angola in a whistle-stop tour of the continent last week, his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa since taking office two years ago.

The Trump administration started talks on a free trade deal with Kenya earlier this month, the first of what it promises will be a series of bilateral trade pacts with African nations as part of its new Prosper Africa trade strategy.

Meanwhile, Washington wants its newly created International Development Finance Corporation to rival Chinese investment on the African continent.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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