Almost four years after the date on which it was initially planned, the Second Summit between the European Union and Africa, to be held in Lisbon on 8 - 9 December, will mark a decisive turning-point in relations between our two continents.
It is high time that we shook off the unhelpful and out-of-date image of the donor and the beneficiary and moved on to a responsible adult relationship of genuine and effective partnership that is based on mutual respect and political dialogue, so that we can make progress towards the Millennium Development Goals.
Seven years on from the First EU-Africa Summit in Cairo, there is nothing in Europe to cast doubt on the significance of this summit. The violation of human rights and the lack of democratic freedoms in Zimbabwe, unacceptable as this situation may be, must not be allowed to interfere with relations between the two continents.
This is not – repeat, not – an EU-Zimbabwe summit, but an EU-Africa summit, with an ambitious agenda on issues as important as peace and security, climate change, development aid, migration and governance.
Everything is now in place to fast-track these relations. I have made this a priority of the European Commission since the start of my term, firstly through a personal conviction developed during my time in charge of my country’s development policy, but also because I am convinced that now, for the first time since independence in the African States, we are faced with an exceptional combination of circumstances.
Firstly, Africa is again occupying an important geo-strategic position on the international stage, although this time the gulf is not an ideological one, as was the case during the Cold War. The African continent now occupies a place in line with its enormous potential on the various international political agendas. This is good news for Africa, provided that this position is developed transparently, responsibly and to the benefit of the majority of African citizens.
There is a huge responsibility on those building economic relationships and cooperation partnerships and those investing in Africa – a responsibility that is no less than that of those in power in Africa. Sustainable development cannot exist without good governance.
Secondly, there is progress on governance in Africa. This statement may shock citizens in Europe, who are often shown images of catastrophe and presented with a very rudimentary picture of Sub Saharan Africa. Of course, there is drama, and it should not be ignored: hunger, disease, armed conflict, the despair of migrants who throw themselves into the Atlantic...
But it is equally true – and this is not said often enough – that there is an Africa that is on the move, there is sustained economic growth, there is a reduction in the number of armed conflicts and an increasing number of democratic elections and changes in government brought about via the ballot box.
I set great store by the emergence of this governance. The time for lessons, moralising and paternalism is past. Now is the time for taking on responsibility, for appropriation of development by its beneficiaries, for regional integration and peer pressure.
The Lisbon meeting is also a formidable humanist challenge. It is through the fundamental element of solidarity that Europeans must make their mark on international cooperation. We are, by far, the biggest donors of aid in the world: last year Europe gave the equivalent of more than 100 euros per citizen to development aid, either through the national budgets or the Community budget. And 64% of our citizens want Africa to be the priority of European development policy.
It is through a feeling of solidarity, and not through any anachronistic bad conscience over a past that we must definitively overcome, that we have urged our Member States to commit to spending an average of 0.7% of GDP on development aid in 2015, and 0.56% in 2010. These promises are already being fulfilled in deed. But I will continue to make sure that these amounts increase and that they are accompanied by a rise in the quality, effectiveness and predictability of the aid.
It is not just quantity that counts. This is why the European Commission is not a cash machine, nor does it spread its resources too thinly. We have a clear vision of our role and of our responsibilities, and we translate these into political priorities. For example, we have set aside a budget of 3 billion euros in the 10th European Development Fund for projects linked to improved governance in the ACP countries between 2008 and 2013. We also want to increase the share of budgetary support, which is indispensable in strengthening States’ capacities, wherever our partners work towards good management and transparency. It is by supporting States in this way, by helping them to improve governance, that we can best help them to help themselves and to perform the functions of government that they owe to their citizens: access to education, health care, justice, the authorities and culture.
I hope that the EU-Africa Summit will, above all, form a concrete and effective starting point, since we have no time to lose. This agenda bears a name: the EU-Africa Strategic Partnership. It is up to us to provide the actual content for this project. The Strategic Partnership will allow us to work together more in areas of common interest, such as peace and security, migration, climate change and energy.
Global warming will have a clear impact on the development of certain African countries. The desertification in the Sahel and the unprecedented floods experienced by West Africa last summer are but a few manifestations of this worrying phenomenon. We must anticipate these constraints by, on the one hand, strengthening the international humanitarian system and, on the other, by investing more resources and expertise in the prevention of and preparation for natural disasters.
The issue of migration is complex and needs an overall approach: of course there are questions relating to security, border controls and justice, but we must also find answers in development policy, the only policy which can, in time, stem the flow of talent leaving African countries.
The agenda also addresses the challenges of diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, energy security, information technologies, technology transfer, scientific cooperation , the fight against terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and, an area in which I take a particular interest, the role of non-state actors (civil society, the private sector, NGOs) in development, democracy, conflict prevention and the process of reconstruction following conflict.
With one month to go before the WTO exemption expires under the system of preferences which the ACP countries have benefited from until now, the issue of the links between trade and development will be discussed in Lisbon. The European Commission has decided to turn this legal requirement into a development opportunity, proposing Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) to promote regional integration and economic development and provide unprecedented access to our markets.
These EPAs are a key contribution to the emergence of regional markets, of “South-South trade”, with greater support for regional infrastructures and for those providing improved access to entire regions, or even entire countries.
I see this Summit as an opportunity for all of us – politicians, civil societies and the media of both continents – to distance ourselves from the negative stereotypes and develop a clearer, more ambitious idea of the numerous links between us and the enormous potential of our relationship.
The writer is the President of the European Commission