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Brussels moves from rhetoric to policy on climate and vaccines

Plans for a 'strategic partnership' between the EU and Africa were an early victim of the Covid pandemic

In her annual State of the EU speech on 16 September, the offer of investment in green energy and new promises on vaccine supply were the only mentions of Africa made by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (AC Vol 61 No 5, Newish but not radical).

Von der Leyen promised that Africa would benefit from an EU 'Global Gateway', a new planned initiative programme, which the Commission has touted as its 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.

For the moment, there is little flesh on the bones.

'We will connect institutions and investment, banks and the business community,' said Von der Leyen, which suggests that the Commission is planning to follow its regular path of putting up a small amount of investment via the EU budget, and hoping that the European Investment Bank and development finance institutions will generate the bulk of the lending.

However, in promising green energy investment and vaccine production and delivery, the EU executive is at least moving towards ideas which African leaders can support, unlike the 'strategic partnership' paper published by the Commission in March 2020, which focused on climate change and digital policy, and democracy and human rights.

The EU-African Union summit, initially scheduled for autumn 2020 before being repeatedly delayed, has now been earmarked for February 2022.

'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.

That is set to start with finance for vaccine production hubs in Rwanda and Senegal where German pharmaceutical giant BioNTech SE has agreed in principle to manufacture malaria and tuberculosis vaccines (AC Dispatches 24/08/21, Health activists lambast plan to export South African-bottled vaccines to Europe).

She also 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. That, again, is less impressive than it sounds since fewer than 10% of the pledged doses have reached African countries.

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

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