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Published 4th April 2014

Vol 55 No 7


Some partners are more equal than others

Mimmo Paladino's monument, 'Porta di Lampedusa – Porta d'Europa', built in 2008. Alfredo D'Amato / Panos
Mimmo Paladino's monument, 'Porta di Lampedusa – Porta d'Europa', built in 2008. Alfredo D'Amato / Panos

Image courtesy of Panos Pictures

The Brussels summit confounds low expectations to produce agreements on security and migration but fails again on trade

Evoking 'a partnership between equals', José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, celebrated progress on security, migration, trade and development at the end of the fourth European Union-Africa summit on 2-3 April in Brussels. However, in a year replete with African summits in China, India and the United States, Barroso's remarks reminded some delegates of George Orwell's dictum and one quipped that 'some partners are more equal than others'. Contrary to talk of its inexorable demise, the Euro-African relationship was growing stronger, Barroso insisted. His African Union counterpart, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, widely praised for her skilful co-chairing of the summit, spoke of the 'complementary comparative advantages' that will keep Africa and Europe locked together for decades to come.

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BLUE LINES
THE INSIDE VIEW

Coming to the end of a bad marriage and heading for a messy divorce: that was how a group of diplomats in South Africa characterised Europe-Africa relations a decade ago. The economic and therefore political dynamics have now changed, with African economies growing at over 5% amid global commodity booms over the last ten years. Most of all, China's emergence as Africa's biggest single trading partner alongside its closer commercial ties with India and South America has concentrated minds in...

Coming to the end of a bad marriage and heading for a messy divorce: that was how a group of diplomats in South Africa characterised Europe-Africa relations a decade ago. The economic and therefore political dynamics have now changed, with African economies growing at over 5% amid global commodity booms over the last ten years. Most of all, China's emergence as Africa's biggest single trading partner alongside its closer commercial ties with India and South America has concentrated minds in Brussels.

Held back by its internal rivalries, political wobbles and economic slowdown, the European Union has been floundering in Africa, trying to adjust to a more politically assertive and economically robust continent. 'The Brussels preachers have taken a vow of silence,' observed a delegate to this week's summit. However, more subtle diplomacy on human rights and democracy will not be enough to reset Africa-Europe relations.

Ending the punitive visa and migration regime would help, as would expanding African students' access to European colleges and universities. The summit made some progress there but the main sticking points are about business, specifically the Economic Partnership Agreements that the EU has been trying to persuade Africa's five main regional trading blocs to sign. Only West Africa has moved towards agreeing a 20 year plan to liberalise trade but its leaders still face heavy pressure from unionists and companies to drive a harder bargain.

The consensus among African officials is that its close neighbour Europe is offering Africa trade terms far harsher than those proposed by the big Asian economies and the United States. Unless Brussels rethinks its trade strategy, the Euro-African marriage will remain in difficulty, risking a headlong race to the divorce courts.

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