What if the world’s center of gravity had moved to Africa?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

As Ursula von der Leyen prepares to make Ethiopia her first overseas visit, MEPs Chrysoula Zacharopoulou, Norbert Neuser and Carlos Zorrinho explain why the new Commission president must reach out to Europe's African allies.

As Ursula von der Leyen prepares to make Ethiopia her first overseas visit, MEPs Chrysoula Zacharopoulou, Norbert Neuser and Carlos Zorrinho explain why the new Commission president must reach out to Europe’s African allies.

Chrysoula Zacharopoulou and Norbert Neuser are both vice-chairs of the European Parliament’s Development Committee; Carlos Zorrinho is a co-chair of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly.

It’s a real “first”. A few days after the start of the new European Commission, its President, Ursula von der Leyen, chose Africa as the destination for her first official trip outside the European Union.

It will be Ethiopia, headquarters of the African Union, that Ursula von der Leyen visits this Friday. She will meet President Sahle-Work Zewde, the only woman head of state in Africa, and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, whose efforts for peace and reconciliation have just been hailed with the Nobel Peace Prize.

Placing Africa at the heart of the Union’s external priorities sends a powerful message.

In a multilateral system in crisis, it shows a recognition that Europe needs to join forces with those who want to bring common solutions to common challenges.

Europe and the United States, its key ally, now play discordant notes on the international stage whether on defence, the fight against terrorism, international trade, climate change and elsewhere. Meanwhile, Chinese influence continues to spread in the world, and its economic expansion raises questions for Europe’s partnerships.

It is here, therefore, beyond the Mediterranean Sea that we must realise that our present and future allies are the African peoples.

The cradle of humanity, Africa is at the same time the oldest continent and the youngest.

Its dynamic and ambitious youth, its men, and especially its women, can bring Africa into the 21st century. According to the UN, in 2100, one in three humans will live in Africa.

As a continent of transitions, Africa can develop its considerable potential for innovation, especially in digital, energy and ecology spheres, and skip the steps that the most developed countries have followed.

Africa, far from nostalgia, looks ahead!

Europe must enter into a relationship of equals, and move beyond a donor-recipient relationship.

Without ever renouncing its values, the Union needs to establish a dynamic new partnership with Africa which is based in particular on sustainable growth, through investments in the green economy, gender equality, strengthening the role of civil society, as well as academic and cultural exchanges.

In particular, Europe needs to support the empowerment of women and girls, without which no sustainable development is possible, in line with the commitment made during the G7 in Biarritz.

The world of tomorrow will be multilateral or simply will not be.

Reducing the relationship with Africa to the migration issue, as the populists do, is to condemn Europe to isolation. Our fates are intertwined and will be even more so tomorrow.

After renaming the “Development aid” portfolio to “International partnerships”, it is this strong message that the President of the “Geopolitical Commission” will take to Addis Ababa, addressing both shores of the Mediterranean sea.

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