LISBON – President Paul Kagame is among 70 European and African leaders attending the EU-Africa summit in Lisbon-Portugal to forge a new partnership between the world’s largest trading bloc and its poorest continent. Leaders at the summit are discussing issues like immigration, trade, peace, human rights, development climate, change and security among others. EU member states have in the past raised concern over illegal migrants. Several thousand illegal migrants die every year trying to travel to Europe by sea, although the numbers making the perilous journey have fallen this year because of joint air and sea patrols.
The European Commission has said it wants to attract 20 million workers from outside the EU over the next 20 years, and it is promoting the idea of a “blue card” work permit to attract highly skilled workers.
In March 2008, the EU hopes to open an office in Mali whose job initially will be to warn of the dangers and disappointments involved in illegal migration but aims eventually to recruit workers.
The EU also discussed ways to full integration of migrants in their new countries of residence and to provide help in developing their countries of origin.
The EU is Africa’s biggest trading partner but Chinese investment and influence in Africa are growing also fast.
The EU used the summit to inject new momentum in its trade with Africa, with the promise of a more equal partnership. China has imported a third of its oil needs from Africa, but in return has poured money into infrastructure projects in Africa.
The host of the first meeting of EU and African for seven years has described their gathering as a “summit of equals”.
Portuguese PM Jose Socrates said there would be no shying away from thorny issues like human rights. A “partnership between equals” is to replace the old pattern of donor states scattering their wealth among developing countries.
African states are attracted to Chinese money because it tends to come without strings.
EU exports to Africa have increased by 26bn euro since 2000 to 92bn euro Biggest EU exporter: France 21bn euro (23%) Biggest African importer from EU: South Africa 20bn euro (22%).
African exports to EU have increased by 41bn euro since 2000 to 126bn euro Biggest EU importer: Italy 31bn euro (25%) Biggest source of African exports to EU: Libya 26bn euro (21%).
During the summit, the EU offers to share its experience in helping to improve regional integration in Africa, as a means of contributing to development, economic growth and eradicating poverty.
In the words of the EU’s development commissioner, Louis Michel, Europeans must now clearly understand that Africa is no longer Europe’s private hunting ground. Another source of anger for African states is that the EU has chosen to sign the deals country by country, raising suggestions of a divide and rule policy.
The declaration that completes the Lisbon summit is likely to include a package to help the African Union intervene or prevent future conflicts.
But the record of both the EU and the African Union (AU) so far in resolving African conflicts is poor.
At the summit, the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, has repeated the commitment of member states to increase the proportion of gross domestic product (GDP) they contribute to development aid to 0.56.
Climate change is widely considered to be among the most serious threats to African stability in the next few years, in the form of floods and droughts and their effects on food security and water management.
One ambitious project under discussion at the summit is said to involve establishing a “green wall” around the Sahara desert. That would take the form of large dams, water collection areas and tree-planting.
The UN has already made it clear that sub-Saharan Africa is not on track to meet any of the goals and aid organisations are concerned that the EU has become pre-occupied with trade rather than development.
Also on the eve of the summit, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi - who has set up base in a tent outside Lisbon - called on Europe to compensate its former African colonies.
“The riches that were taken away must be given back somehow,” Mr Gaddafi said in a speech at Lisbon University.
“If we don’t face up to that truth, we’ll have to pay the price one way or another - through terrorism, emigration or revenge.”
The EU drew up new Economic Partnership Agreements with former African colonies and regional blocs. The World Trade Organization wants the current preferential trade deals to expire at the end of the year.
African representatives are concerned that the new agreements are unbalanced and that their countries will not be able to compete with subsidised European goods.
Addressing the summit, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel challenged European and African leaders to stand up and tackle human rights abuses in Zimbabwe.
Merkel told the summit attended by Mugabe that the world could not stand by when human rights in Zimbabwe were “trampled underfoot.”
Mugabe’s Zimbabwe is in spotlight over rights abuses. She said what was happening in Zimbabwe concerned everybody either in Europe and Africa. She said the situation of Zimbabwe was damaging the image of the new Africa.
A row over the presence of Mugabe, who is accused by the West of abusing human rights in his country and wrecking the economy, had already clouded the start of the summit and led to a boycott of the meeting by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
Brown sent former international development secretary, Baroness Amos to represent Britain at the controversial EU-Africa summit.
British’s Foreign Secretary David Miliband defended Mr Brown’s decision to boycott saying the Prime Minister cannot sit next to Mugabe through a discussion of good governance and human rights and pretend that there wasn’t absolute meltdown going on in Zimbabwe.
A similar summit planned in 2003 was scrapped because of the prospect of Mr Mugabe’s presence and most EU leaders decided that far too much was at stake for that to happen again.
Nevertheless, Mr Mugabe and all the other African leaders are being asked to endorse a commitment to the values of democracy, the rule of law and human rights.
One region, Darfur, sums up by the inability of both the African Union (AU) and the international community to respond swiftly to four years of conflict.
An international peacekeeping force of 26,000 led by the AU and the United Nations is well behind schedule and has not yet replaced the existing contingent of 7,000 poorly-equipped AU troops.
The EU too has struggled to follow through on a commitment to send a 3,500-strong force to Chad’s border with Darfur to protect 500,000 civilians displaced by the fighting.
China has helped finance major infrastructure projects in a number of African states, it has not linked its investment to any push for social development.