Von der Leyen offers African energy investment and more vaccine promises

As the EU searches for allies in a post-COVID world, a group of European thinktank leaders looks at how to build a stronger Europe-Africa axis in the multilateral system? EPA-EFE/STRINGER

Investment in green energy and new promises on vaccine supply were the only offers to Africa made by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen this week, as the EU’s plans to boost relations with its southern neighbour continent continue to sit on the back burner.

In a speech that was heavily focused on the Commission’s handling of the pandemic, addressing European Parliament lawmakers in Strasbourg on Wednesday (15 September), von der Leyen promised that Africa would benefit from an EU ‘Global Gateway’, a programme touted as the bloc’s answer to China’s ‘Belt and Road’ agenda.

“We will invest with Africa to create a market for green hydrogen that connects the two shores of the Mediterranean,” said the Commission chief.

“We need a Team Europe approach to make Global Gateway happen. We will connect institutions and investment, banks and the business community. And we will make this a priority for regional summits – starting with the next EU-Africa Summit in February,” von der Leyen added.

The EU sees green energy investment as a way to support the rapidly growing number of renewable energy projects across Africa, boosting its manufacturing base while also working towards the EU’s environment and climate change priorities.

Having published its blueprint for a ‘strategic partnership with Africa’ in March last year, the EU executive saw its plans derailed when the pandemic was declared just days later.

Since then, an EU-African Union summit, initially scheduled for autumn 2020 has been repeatedly delayed and has now been earmarked for February 2022.

Although African leaders have not yet presented their own detailed vision on their priorities from EU relations, the pandemic has battered their economies and their struggles to access vaccine supplies have underscored the need for the continent to develop manufacturing capacity and supply chains to protect itself against future pandemics.

The EU and other wealthy countries, including the United States and the UK, have delivered only a fraction of the vaccine doses they have pledged to send to developing countries.

In her speech, von der Leyen announced the new donation of an additional 200 million doses to be fully delivered by the middle of next year, on top of 250 million vaccine doses already pledged.

“Our first and most urgent priority is to speed up global vaccination,” von der Leyen told European parliamentarians, adding that the bloc was also investing €1 billion to boost increased vaccine production capacity in Africa.

Emily Wigens, EU director for the One campaign, an NGO, described the new donation as “a drop in the ocean.”

“Incremental efforts to end this pandemic are not enough. We are facing an increasingly man-made crisis where vaccine inequality is costing lives everywhere and hitting economies hard, especially in low-income countries,” she said.

US President Joe Biden is due to host another international vaccine summit aimed at speeding up vaccine deliveries to developing countries next week.

The EU executive has said it will finance several vaccine production hubs in Africa, with German pharmaceutical giant BioNTech SE having agreed in principle to manufacture malaria and tuberculosis vaccines at sites in Rwanda and Senegal.

The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last week that just 145 million doses had been procured, roughly 20% of the 800 million doses to vaccinate 60% of the continent’s population.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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