Building capacity to help Africa trade better

European Parliament holds High-Level Conference: “Towards a renewed partnership with Africa”


European Parliament holds High-Level Conference: “Towards a renewed partnership with Africa”

European Parliament holds High-Level Conference: “Towards a renewed partnership with Africa”
Photo credit: European Parliament

Many positive changes such as rapid economic progress, the strengthening of institutions and rule of law have taken place on the African continent over the last two decades. At the same time, challenges remain linked to security deficiencies, including terrorism, climate change, desertification and environmental degradation, the outbreak of famine, poverty and unemployment, all of which cause migration flows.

The dynamic demographic trend that will make Africa the youngest and most populous continent in the world with 2.5 billion inhabitants by 2050 is both a challenge and an opportunity.

Taking Africa forward is a shared goal. The continent needs to be stabilised and attract major investment through economic diplomacy crafted to develop an industrial base, improve skills and create jobs that will enable young Africans to build a future in their own countries. The European Union should be at the forefront of this effort as we share common values and interests with Africa.

As we celebrate ten years since the adoption of the joint Africa-EU strategy, 2017 is proving to be crucial in our relationship as many political and legislative measures taken at EU level will strengthen our ties. In May, the High Representative and the European Commission issued a joint communication for a renewed impetus of the Africa-EU Partnership. In June, the European Consensus on Development was signed and the Council adopted conclusions stressing the EU’s strategic interest in deepening its longstanding partnership with Africa. In September, the European Parliament and the Council adopted the European Fund for Sustainable Development (EFSD), the centerpiece of the EU’s new External Investment Plan.

In addition to legislative and democratic support, the European Parliament has had a defining role in strengthening political and economic ties with Africa by inviting both the Chairperson of the African Union Commission and the President of Côte d’Ivoire, to address the plenary in Strasbourg.

The European Parliament is therefore taking the lead in encouraging other EU institutions and Member States to be more ambitious, going beyond the existing partnership and financial instruments. Our priority must be an Investment Plan for Africa. The EFSD is a step in the right direction but its means remain limited if we want it to be a game changer. New economic and academic diplomacy is needed that focuses on infrastructure, technology transfers, resource efficiency, vocational training and a conducive environment for private sector growth. The EU should promote legal migration while cooperating with third countries on fighting irregular migration. Finally, further support for scholarships for African students under the Erasmus+ programme and extending cross-border exchange programmes for young entrepreneurs to African countries would also be invaluable.

The aim of the high-level conference was to continue to raise the visibility and importance of our partnership, to open a debate on the need to maximise existing instruments and resources in view of discussing the post-2020 EU budget. It also comes at the right time: one week before the fifth African Union-European Union summit that will take place in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.

This year, the focus of the summit was on “Investing in youth”, a key priority for both Europe and Africa. Other priorities of the partnership that will be tackled include peace and security, governance including democracy, human rights, migration and mobility, investment and trade, environmental preservation and climate change, skills development and job creation.

The conference was organised in conjunction and with the participation of key parliamentary committees and Members of the European Parliament – in particular with rapporteurs on critical files and stakeholders.

Opening speech by Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament, at the High-Level Conference: ‘A new partnership between the European Union and Africa’

It is a real pleasure to see this Chamber full to the rafters to discuss the major issue of our partnership with our African friends.

I will straightaway say that that Summit must be different from the others, and must yield tangible results and a clear and precise roadmap.

For many years, the Union failed to give Africa the attention it deserves. Often we looked the other way, heedless of the emergencies – humanitarian or linked to climate, security or stability – which Africans have to deal with every day. We failed to recognise that we have an overriding strategic interest in what happens in Africa.

Europe’s approach was a piecemeal one, with individual countries falling over one another in pursuit of their own interests and agendas. The result was a road paved with good intentions, but there were many missed opportunities and few successes along the way. We failed to exert any real political and economic influence on the future of Africa.

Globalisation and migration have shown that building walls or putting up barriers is not the solution. Africa’s problems are Europe’s problems too.

It is time to put our relations on a new footing, before it’s too late. Our links go beyond mere geographical proximity. We have common interests and face common challenges.

By 2050, the population of Africa will double, to more than 2.5 billion. This population explosion may be a problem, but it may also be an opportunity.

Desertification, famine, pandemics, terrorism, unemployment and bad governance are exacerbating instability and contributing to uncontrolled immigration.

Without determined action to tackle these phenomena, new generations will continue to set out for Europe in search of hope and a future. They may be attracted by images on television or on the internet depicting what seems to them to be a land of milk and honey. We urgently need to offer them real prospects in their home countries, so that they stay and help to revitalise them.

The challenges facing Africa

Supporting Africa is not only a duty. It is clearly also in our shared economic and political interest.

Many African countries are already showing that their continent offers genuine opportunities: in 2016, five African economies were among the top ten in the world in terms of growth, with rates of more than 7%.

Africa has critical raw materials essential for our industries: 64% of the world’s cobalt, without which batteries for electric cars cannot be made, comes from Congo; tantalum, which is used in solar panels, comes from Rwanda; platinum, which is used to limit harmful emissions from cars, comes from South Africa.

These raw materials are also of interest to our competitors, starting with China, which is seeking to establish a dominant position in order to boost its own industries.

There is also a problem of environmental sustainability. In the context of the Raw Materials Partnership, which I promoted when I was Industry Commissioner in 2012, cooperation developed between EU and African geological surveys which has led to innovation and greater awareness of the need to protect the environment.

There are many other good examples of our work with Africa. To start with, there is the integration of markets, under the Lomé Conventions and the current Cotonou Agreement. These agreements have granted free access to the European market for 99.5 % of African products.

Discussions on the post-Cotonou settlement are continuing. I should like to thank Parliament’s rapporteurs for their contribution.

Despite these efforts and the tens of billions that have been invested, there is still a long way to go if we are to guarantee decent living conditions and greater security for people in Africa.

We are far from achieving the Sustainable Development Goals set by the UN with a view to reducing poverty: one-third of Africans live below the poverty line; one-sixth of them need humanitarian aid to survive; in rural areas, 60% of people have less than one euro a day to live on.

Farming and raw materials, including energy, are the main sources of revenue, whilst the level of industrialisation is extremely low.

Last Monday was Africa Industrialisation Day, which provided an opportunity to emphasise once again that developing a manufacturing base is fundamental to growth and employment.

Only 15% of Africans have the internet at home. Barely one person in three has electricity.

Sub-Saharan Africa has the world’s highest illiteracy rates: one child in every five does not go to school, and almost 60% of young people are not undergoing training of any kind.

Is it any surprise, therefore, that young Africans should believe that they have nothing to lose; that they should decide to risk their lives to come to Europe; or that they should be seduced by people who preach violence in God’s name.

Many problems could be solved by means of greater investment in education, infrastructure, industry and modern farming techniques. Africa, however, is the continent which attracts by far the lowest volume of foreign investment: barely more than EUR 80 billion a year, only 3% of African GDP. China is the country whose investments are increasing the most in proportional terms.

Africa’s destiny must be put back in the hands of Africans. But Europe must play its part as well.

We must work together with Africa, as equals, and make available the fruits of our leadership in the areas of technology, quality, industrial know-how and training.

Ten years have passed since the EU-Africa strategy was adopted. In that time many hopes have been dashed. Europe has lacked the courage to develop truly effective instruments.

Instead of consolidating our position as Africa’s main partner, we are losing ground. Not only China but other emerging investors as well, such as Turkey, India and Singapore, are gaining in influence.

A Marshall Plan for Africa

The fifth African Union-European Union Summit, which will be held on 29 and 30 November in Abidjan and bring together more than 80 heads of state, comes at a crucial time.

We must send out a clear signal that we are determined to relaunch and strengthen our partnership, and speak with a single, strong voice.

The focus of all our efforts must be young people: they hold the key to a more stable, prosperous and modern Africa.

The EUR 3.4 billion investment plan for Africa is an important step in the right direction. But it is nowhere near enough.

We must support the efforts Africans themselves are making to establish a sustainable manufacturing base and develop efficient farming, renewable energy sources and proper water, energy, mobility, logistical and digital infrastructure, by drawing up a real ‘Marshall Plan’ for Africa. By doing so we will strengthen governance and the rule of law, step up the fight against corruption and foster the emancipation of women and education.

We must work to ensure that under the next EU multiannual budget at least EUR 40 billion is earmarked for the investment fund for Africa. The leverage effect and synergies generated with the funding provided by the European Investment Bank could make it possible to mobilise some EUR 500 billion in public and private investment.

On that basis, we can continue to conduct effective economic diplomacy which promotes the integration of markets, the transfer of technology and industrial know-how, sustainability and training.

The aim must be to establish an environment conducive to the development of a manufacturing base and entrepreneurship and the creation of SMIs and jobs for young people. For that we also need instruments such as Erasmus for young entrepreneurs, which should be extended to cover Africa.

At the same time, legal immigrants from Africa can meet the demand for workers in some sectors of the economy in the EU and acquire professional skills which they can then use to create businesses in Europe.

We also need academic and cultural diplomacy which, by expanding Erasmus+ and stepping up cooperation between universities on research and mobility projects, makes it possible for more Africans to study in Europe.


More resources are not in themselves the answer. Already today we are investing EUR 33 billion from the EU budget alone, not counting the bilateral aid provided by individual Member States.

If our taxpayers’ generosity has failed to produce the hoped-for results, we must ask ourselves whether the current development cooperation model is the right one.

Carrying on as we have always done would be a serious mistake. Our citizens are calling for a political Europe which is capable of making brave choices. Starting with the budget; more of the same is not acceptable, and the budget must reflect the priorities of the peoples of Europe,

The proposed sum of EUR 40 billion – 12 times more than the current budget for the Investment Plan – is needed to generate an impact commensurate with our objectives. This is a critical mass large enough to attract European private and public investment. 

It is not a Utopian idea. If the political will is there, resources can be found, partly by using the funds already earmarked for Africa more effectively, partly by providing guarantees under the EU budget, and partly by identifying new sources of funding.

It is for just that reason that I have proposed an increase in the next budget. Making new resources available must not serve to impose a burden on citizens or SMIs. Instead, we must use new own resources for this purpose, by collecting taxes from those who currently don’t pay them and reducing taxes on those who do pay them.

I am thinking of tax havens, the internet giants and speculative financial transactions of all kinds.

Today, the European Parliament is committing itself to playing a central role in a new Partnership with Africa. Our debate, involving young people, political leaders, experts and investors from Europe and Africa, must serve as preparation for the new start we will make in Abidjan.

This conference must be more than a formal event at which we read out speeches – rather, we must take the opportunity it offers to relaunch our partnership.

If our partnership really is a priority, then we must meet more regularly – every two years.

Follow-up meetings should be held at multiple levels on a regular basis, including between the representatives of civil society, business and commerce and the young.

Abidjan must mark a new beginning in our relations.

Read the full speech here.

Speech by High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini at the opening session of the High-level conference

So I would like to discuss some of the priorities that we constantly hear from our African friends, which have become now our shared priorities.

First, one of the great urgencies of our times. And I would start from this, not because it would be at the centre of our summit in Abidjan, but because, as my friend, the Foreign Minister of Mali mentioned, this is a top priority for all of us as human beings. We cannot ignore the reports on the inhuman treatment of migrants in Libya. Let me tell you that unfortunately, this is not new, and as an Italian – and I know, Antonio [Tajani, President of the European Parliament] has experienced the same – we have heard so many stories of migrants, and especially women arriving on the coast of Lampedusa telling us stories of slavery. And, it has been years that we have said as Europeans – first I have to say more as Italians – we have to face the dramatic situation of our African brothers and sisters that are in slavery in those centres. And this is why, it has been years that we have worked hard to try to save lives, protect people, dismantle criminal networks. But, everytime that we have new waves of news, new waves of reports coming out, it is a sad moment.

But, it is also a window of opportunity for us to join forces, politically and with our societies, to put pressure and face the situation as it is, and try to find the solutions. And, this is why I was in touch immediately after this new report came out with President of the African Union, Alpha Condé, and we agreed that our cooperation – Europe and Africa – is even more needed today. And it is going to increase exactly on how to tackle this situation in more concrete terms.

Our development policy makes us collectively, as European Union and Member States, the largest donor by far, not only in Africa but also in all the rest of the world. But for Africa, let me mention one data that is often forgotten: we invest in Africa €20 billion every year. Antonio [Tajani, President of the European Parliament] often refers to a Marshall Plan for Africa. If we put together all that we are doing, we have a Marshall Plan for Africa. The question Antonio [Tajani] put, how do we use this money, how do we make sure together – Africans and Europeans – that this has the maximum impact on societies. And, when I talk with our African partners about the future, it is not development that comes up more often, it is other two words: investment and security. And you have heard this today from our two friends.

We need to do better and I believe that over the past three years, we, the European Union, have come up with new initiatives and innovative tools to deliver on these two priorities.

On investment, first of all. Today, only four per cent of global foreign direct investment goes to Africa. That's about €50 billion per year, and it only goes to certain parts of Africa – and let me tell you – not necessarily to those that needed the most.   

So, with the European External Investment Plan that we have just launched, we can raise at least €44 billion – to start with, then I am open to consider expansion – in private investment by 2020.

This is the largest ever investment programme for Africa. I hope and I expect that others will join this effort. For instance, I hope that our Member States – and I know, here, I speak with different hats – will put adequate resources into this, to make this major investment plan even bigger.

This will try to focus private sector investment first of all in the areas that need it the most, which means the fragile parts of the continent, and to invest this money to create good jobs, particularly with micro, small and medium enterprises and in line with the Sustainable Development Goals, for instance upgrading African connectivity, investing in renewable energy and in digital solutions.

And, you may be surprised that I have not yet mentioned the main issue, the main theme of our Summit in Abidjan – that is, the youth, girls and boys of our continents. And, let me stress girls, because sometimes we only focus on boys. Girls and young women, and women in general, are the beating heart of Africa, and I think also of Europe. But, actually, I have mentioned youth, because everything we do, it is with and for our young people.

It is not just one issue among others. This is not just one priority among others. It is the centre, the lens through which we see all the different initiatives we are taking. So, when we work on investments, on job creation, on migration, on e-governance, on climate change action, this is the work we do with and for our youth.  

Half of the African population is under twenty. So, it is simply impossible to find the right answers – not only for the future, but also for the present – if we don't work for the African youth but mainly with the African youth.

This is why I am glad that young Africans from different parts of the continent together with young Europeans and including the diaspora of young Africans in Europe have been working in the last weeks in Africa and in Europe to prepare the Summit. They will give an input to the Summit. I met them a few weeks ago, here, in Brussels. Moussa Faki [Mahamat, Chairperson of the African Union Commission] met them a few weeks ago in Addis [Addis-Ababa]. And they will have a key role in the Summit next week with concrete ideas of how we can make policies effective for them, which means, for the present of the two continents.  

And, we are working with our youth, not just for them, as we are working with Africa, and not just for Africa. And this is why our Summit next week will be different.

So, to conclude, we go to Abidjan with new ideas, with new initiatives – with an unprecedented investment plan, with our migration work that for the first time ever has turned into a real partnership, which is – I believe – the key to manage this phenomenon effectively, and with all our common work and support for peace and security.

We go to Abidjan together with the United Nations. And let me say that we will have, there, further step in something unique we have started – a trilateral cooperation between the European Union, the African Union and the United Nations. Because together we can push forward so much of the global agenda that the world and not only our two continents need. On different issues, peacekeeping, economic and governance reform, investment, sustainable development, action on climate change: all of this, if led together by Europe and Africa with the United Nations, can really change, not only – again as I said – our two continents, but the rest of the world.   

So, we go to Abidjan, probably for the first time ever, as partners, as political partners, overcoming the donor-recipient kind of relationship, that belongs to the past. We are starting a new page, a page of political partnership, which means that we set our direction together, and each of us accepts the responsibility to contribute its own way on all the priorities.  

We are doing something new. It is a new kind of partnership we start not only for our people, but for the entire world. And I believe, here, we share a responsibility to humanity. And I believe we can honour this task, that indeed is heavy, but I think that our continents are able to carry this responsibility on our shoulders. So, I thank you very much. And the summit is not the end of it. The Summit is the beginning of it. We will continue our work from the day after.

So – to take the words of a colleague, that has intervened before – thank you, vive l’Afrique, vive l’Europe.

Read the full speech here.


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