African and European leaders meet amid longstanding problems

BRUSSELS – European officials know the European Union is not a household name in Africa, but only after doing an in-depth poll did they learn that the bloc is at best an afterthought, while China and the United States are considered top partners.

To start with that, they have started a flashy multi-million euro advertising campaign in several African countries to advertise how ordinary young Africans have benefited. from the great wealth of the EU.

At meetings in Brussels on Thursday and Friday, the leaders of The 27 EU countries are rolling out the red carpet for 40 of their 55 African Union partners, at a major summit – their sixth – which Europeans hope will back up the message that the relationship The relationship between the two continents is now an equal partnership.

Rarely discussed but cannot be ignored are the obstacles in that relationship.

The biggest part is the European Union’s sharp focus on preventing Africans from migrating to Europe and its reluctance to support Africa’s demands for the release of vaccine patents to combat the virus. the spread of Covid-19, while new investment commitments are vague and ambitious.

A draft African Union and European Union joint statement, seen by The New York Times, shows in the edit trail where each delegation has changed the wording proposed, highlighting exactly where position of the fault lines.

The draft document shows that African Union members want a joint statement to register their support to give up patents on a Covid-19 vaccine, which African leaders want to produce on their own. export. The European Union, which has long rejected these calls, proposes them to settle for more anodyne languages. — to “commit to engaging constructively toward an inclusive health and trade response.”

To date, the European Union has donated 148 million doses of vaccine to African countries and promises to reach 450 million by the summer of this year. Some investments in vaccine production in Africa is slowly taking shape, but it will be many years before it can be made available.

Meanwhile, most EU citizens are on their third dose of the vaccine, while less than 10 percent of Africans are fully immunized.

However, the European Union is trying to run a heart and mind campaign in Africa. The block is painfully aware that, despite being from Africa leading trading partner (more than a quarter of Africa’s exports and imports are with the bloc in 2020), a few in Africa see it as an important interlocutor.

The European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, hired Kantar, a major branding firm, to collect data on this question and was disappointed when its poll showed that Africans consider China, the United States and, to a lesser extent, France, are the leading partners.

It was realized, officials said, that the European Commission had contracted Ogilvy, a global advertising giant, for a Campaign 6.5 million euros ($7.4 million) to raise awareness of what the EU does for Africans.

The flashy campaign, which includes videos mainly promoted on social media, as well as billboards, showcases EU grant recipients in seven countries and promotes the message that they are thrive at home.

Five more African countries will be featured this year in a new part of the campaign, presented under the title “Africa and the European Union: Together. Tomorrow. Today.”

The unmistakable implication of the campaign was that there was no need to emigrate to Europe. In fact, migration is the most difficult aspect of the relationship when trying to restart it as an equal partnership.

“Every penny spent in Africa is related to migration,” said Mehari Taddele Maru of the European University Institute in Florence, who was director of the African Union’s Migration program in the late 2000s. .

He said that after the 2015 arrival of nearly a million Syrian refugees and the profound impact on European politics by the support of far-right parties, the Africa-Europe relationship was largely determined. by efforts to “contain Africans in Africa”.

He added: “Almost all EU instruments are relevant to the migration programme.

Nick Westcott, a former top British and European Union diplomat and now director of the Royal Society of Africa, says the European Union has failed to deliver on its promises to African countries in the past. migration field.

Previously, both sides had agreed, at a summit in 2015, to stop smugglers, to invest more to improve conditions in Africa and provide legal routes for entry. reside.

“The African Union and the European Union have signed up to participate,” said Mr. Westcott, who at the time of the 2015 summit was the EU’s foreign service chief for Africa. He added: “The European Union has not fully implemented its agreement.

The bloc has become increasingly brutal in preventing African asylum seekers and economic migrants from reaching its shores, and thousands of Africans die every year tryingor disappear in Libya while waiting to try to cross the central Mediterranean in desperation.

Not only has the European Union failed to open meaningful pathways to legal migration for African and skilled workers, it is now looking at deploying border guards and drones in Africa to prevent people from leaving.

Migrant workers’ remittances are important to African economies, and African leaders want to see these issues resolved in Brussels; Draft documents seen by the Times indicate that the European Union delegation removed that part from their joint statement.

In fact, the topic of migration was officially downgraded at the summit, appearing only one way up the agenda, but for some European leaders, that’s the priority.

“Prosperity and peace in Africa is also our mission,” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki of Poland said en route to a summit with African leaders. “We are fully aware that wave after wave of migration has destabilized Europe since 2015.”

“Creating opportunities for young people, who are so numerous in Africa, is the guarantee of a stable Europe for decades to come,” he added.

However, the presence of 40 of the 55 African Union leaders in Brussels on Thursday showed that the link between the two blocs was crucial, if difficult, Mr. Westcott said. “There is a huge amount of substance in the relationship,” he adds.

The European Union is trying to focus on investment and financial links between the two continents. The Netherlands, which hosted the private sector roundtable talks at the summit, is an example of an EU member state that has supported private sector investment in Africa, especially in the region. renewable energy sector.

“This is where there is a win-win opportunity for Europe as they can make a big impact and develop a positive relationship in line with European standards and priorities,” said Professor Michael Tanchum. , a senior policy fellow in the Africa program of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

At the summit, the European Union will announce that it will place 150 billion euros, 170 billion dollars, investments in Africa over the next few years, a dizzying number that makes China a big deal. surprised. Belt and Road African investments.

But if you want to know the details of how this number breaks down and whether it corresponds to cash or private sector co-investments as well as leveraged loans and grants, obviously This number is very ambitious.

A senior EU official, speaking on condition of anonymity, called the breakdown of the 150 billion figure “magic engineering”.

It is possible, however, that the economy is where African nations have the most powerful European investors, as welcome as China, Russia, the United States and a host of Middle Eastern powers.

“Ultimately it’s good for Africans to have options,” said Professor Tanchum. “Europe is realizing that they have to bring their best game to Africa. Proof of doing. ” African and European leaders meet amid longstanding problems

Fry Electronics Team

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