Guest blog by European Parliament President Antonio Tajani "African Union - European Union partnership: now or never" - EU monitor

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Guest blog by European Parliament President Antonio Tajani "African Union - European Union partnership: now or never"

Source: A. (Andrus) Ansip i, published on Monday, November 27 2017.

I would like to welcome European Parliament President Antonio Tajani with this guest blog, timely given the EU-African Union summit that is now being held in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire.

It brings out a number of good ideas of how both continents should move forward in relations and development - in all areas, social as well as economic.

I am also in Abidjan, taking part in several events linked to the digital economy and discussing - with business, industry and government - how best to make digital work in development and EU-Africa relations. From investment in broadband, innovation and startups to promoting e-services and job creation, focusing on youth and women

Over now to @EP_President Antonio Tajani @Europarl_EN, with his views on the Africa-Europe partnership.

Thank you for the contribution. #Ansipblogs

African Union - European Union Partnership: Now or Never

By Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament

In just a few days, more than eighty heads of state from both Africa and Europe will converge in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire for the fifth African Union - European Union summit.

These summits occur every three years - too seldom in my opinion - but this one comes at a crucial time and is an opportunity to re-launch and strengthen our mutual partnership that cannot be missed. It is now or never. Europe has to act now and with one voice.

Ten years have passed since the implementation of the Joint Africa-EU Strategy and we must accept that expectations have not been met. Instead of consolidating our position as a leading partner in Africa, we are losing ground in terms of foreign direct investment, to the benefit of China and other emerging competitors such as Turkey, India and Singapore. China has in fact become a major interlocutor thanks to its policy of non-interference and with one-sixth of all lending to Africa.

Do we just accept this or do we try to maximise, as the chairperson of the African Union Commission has put it, the “comparative advantage” Europe has with Africa?

Beyond the shared values, religions, languages, there are also shared strategic interests in an evolving situation.

Facing a demographic boom, uncontrolled immigration, climate change, pandemics, famine and rise of Islamic terrorism, there is a new sense of urgency to act shared by the Italian G7 and German G20 Presidencies.

This time, however, our approach should be different. I believe that we should adopt a fresh, people and youth-centred approach to our renewed partnership, seeing issues through African eyes. Dialogue should be regular and take place at multiple levels to ensure clear communication and proper implementation. It should involve political, institutional and economic stakeholders as well as civil society.

Africa will need to create millions of jobs to absorb new labour markets entrants in the near future due to the continent’s demographic explosion (2.5 billion by 2050, 4.4 billion by 2100). If not, the UN estimates that at least half a million people will try to reach Europe each year.

The only way to give hope to young people is to create jobs and develop the continent. Our priority should therefore be to boost sustainable and responsible investment. The European Investment Plan, and its executive arm the European Fund for Sustainable Development (EFSD) represent, in this context, must be used to full effect.

It will incentivise companies to invest in Africa, via European economic diplomacy that will deliver know-how and technology-transfers, leading to a conducive environment for the growth of the private sector, SMEs and entrepreneurs.

Industrialisation is key, as well as economic diversification that makes a country more resilient. Beyond extraction, transformation of raw materials is crucial to generating added value. This is the path chosen by Côte d’Ivoire that has led it to becoming one of the strongest economies in Africa.

There is untapped potential in Africa with genuine business opportunities in wide-ranging sectors: from agriculture - to combat famine and numerous chronic food security crises - and energy, including renewables, to tourism, blue economy, mobile banking and digital technologies.

Digital inclusion is an important pathway for inclusive education and empowerment of women. Regrettably, half of the population does not have access to Internet nor electricity. This is why the focus should be on infrastructure as it is the root of real development.

To build infrastructure, you need engineers - and for that you need access to education, an upgrade of skills and competences. It is estimated that there is a shortfall of millions of teachers in Africa.

This is why regular migration and mobility have to work as a development driver.

We need to facilitate higher education exchanges, support scholarships via Erasmus +, extend cross border interchange programmes for young entrepreneurs; cooperate on R&D via the Marie Curie programme and Horizon 2020. At the same time, we must join forces to fight irregular migration.

Regional integration should be promoted. The aim should be for an African internal market and an African Schengen to boost freedom of people and intra-African trade.

African nations need to play their part by improving the business and investment climate with strong rule of law, an independent judiciary and fiscal predictability.

Stability and security are equally important.

Although the number of armed conflicts have declined over the past decade, terrorism and maritime security have emerged as severe and rapidly growing threats. All African countries are at risk, especially when we see linkages between terrorist groups.

The fight against climate change and environmental degradation cannot be underestimated as its effect create mass movements of people, conflicts and violence.

We should thus have a holistic approach because business, trade and investments can only thrive and create jobs and inclusive sustainable growth in a climate of peace, security, stability, respect for human rights and good governance.

However, the resources we have put forward remain limited, even more so as national governments fail to meet the engagements they have taken. We need to be more ambitious.

This is why I have called for a Marshall Plan for Africa worth €40 billion in comparison with the EFSD’s current €4 billion.

We must streamline EU funding schemes and mechanisms and, to be effective, need the full involvement of our African partners when setting funding priorities and operational modalities

The European Parliament needs to play a central role in shaping the debate. On 22 November, we organised a conference ahead of the summit to discuss with political leaders, experts and investors from both continents on how to strengthen our relationship with Africa.

From globalisation to the migrant crisis, the last twenty years have shown us that the world is becoming smaller and that Africa’s problems have become Europe’s. It is not too late to steady the ship and steer it in the right direction, but inaction now could lead to disastrous consequences for the citizens of both Europe and Africa.