The Brief, powered by BP – The lost continent

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.

Europe’s political influence on the African continent is in danger of dwindling, and that is a self-inflicted strategic mistake. Whether on trade, migration, energy or security, Europe will need stronger and closer partnerships with African governments over the next 20 years.

Yet, put this diminution of influence to Commission officials, however, and they tend to get defensive, pointing out that the EU is the world’s single largest aid donor and investor on the continent and that, unlike China and other players, the EU’s activities are based on values.

That might be true, but it’s no longer enough. If Europe doesn’t engage and invest, its rivals will take its place. In fact, they are already there.

Chinese influence continues to grow – its Belt-and-Road initiative covers several east African countries. Russia, India and Japan have hosted their own glossy summits focused on African investment in recent months.

In January, days before it is due to finally leave the EU, the UK, which has promised to be the biggest single investor in Africa from the G7, will join the new scramble in Africa, hosting its own African investment forum.

Among African diplomats, bemusement tends to be the prevailing mood.

“The blame should be more on Europe, not on African countries for accepting Chinese investment,” said one senior African diplomat.

But there is hope.

On the margins of the 2019 Africa Investment Forum in Johannesburg this week, the Commission signed two guarantee agreements with the Dutch and Italian development finance institutions worth €70 million as part of its External Investment Programme.

This, it says, will help unlock more than €500 million in new investment in Africa and the EU Neighbourhood.

That is a good start, but bottlenecks and barriers to investment are still plentiful. Officials from the European Investment Bank, which has aspirations of becoming a fully-fledged development finance institution, complain that the tight conditions that must be met for it to lend make it hard for them to meet the EU’s ambitious investment targets.

Language and tone are also important, and there are positive signs from the incoming von der Leyen Commission.

The rhetoric from Phil Hogan and Jutta Urpilainen, the Commissioners-designate for Trade and International Partnerships, suggests that the new EU executive will move away from old-style paternalism, and faux ‘Marshall Plans’, towards more strategic partnerships.

It must above all, be a partnership of equals.

The communique issued by Federica Mogherini and Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser in June, marking the start of talks on a new EU-Morocco trade and diplomatic deal, reflected both European and Moroccan interests. If the von der Leyen executive is serious about Africa, this should be the model for continent-to-continent relations.

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The Roundup

By Alexandra Brzozowski

MEPs are grilling the proposed members of Ursula von der Leyen’s Commission in a second series of hearings.

Hungary’s Commissioner-designate survived the enlargement test, but was mostly evasive on Orban, and ended up having to answer additional written questions. In case you missed the early bird session, have a look at our live-blog recap of what he told his European Parliament hearing in detail.

While Romania’s Adina-Ioana Vălean, who aims to be the EU’s next transport Commissioner, had a rather hard time answering MEP’s questions content-wise, French Commissioner-designate Thierry Breton left them unconvinced by his responses in relation to his potential conflict of interest.

Meanwhile, Lara Comi, once a rising political star and a former MEP for Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, has been put under house arrest by the Italian police on Thursday (14 November) for alleged illegal financing and corruption.

Social inequalities, including in-work-poverty, have increased in the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis, according to the findings of a study released by SOLIDAR.

Western powers will attend talks in Brussels next week on curbing China’s dominance of rare earths and other critical resources and EU officials will present their vision to create entire green supply chains.

The top US diplomat in Ukraine, testifying in the first televised hearing of the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump, linked him more directly to a press

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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