Breathing life into the new EU-Africa partnership

Source: N. (Neven) Mimica i, published on Friday, December 21 2018.

High-Level Forum Africa-Europe, Vienna

This week I attended the High-Level Forum on Europe and Africa in Vienna, together with President Juncker, Vice-President Ansip, Commissioners Gabriel, Hogan and Hahn. It was a momentous occasion, and a clear step forward in taking our two continents’ relationship to the next level.

This Forum took place just three months after President Juncker launched the new Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs. And already, we are showing promising progress, with first projects being kicked off!

There was some strong rhetoric at the Forum. When I say this, I think in particular of Moussa Faki, the Chairman of the African Union Commission, who provocatively but truthfully stated, “Stop this stereotypical idea of Africa as a hapless terrain where Europe, China or others have free rein to battle for influence! We choose our partnerships, and create conditions based on mutual interest and benefit. Do not infantilise an entire continent”.

But it wasn’t just strong rhetoric at this Forum. There were also strong actions.

One of the projects announced was the NASIRA Risk-Sharing Facility, the first EU guarantee under our External Investment Plan. We will use €75 million of EU funds to leverage up to €750 million to help under-served entrepreneurs in Africa get lending. This will create up to 800.000 jobs.

Agriculture is also at the heart of our joint efforts. There is great need - and great potential - for more investment in agriculture in Africa. This is why we announced a new Agri-Business Capital fund worth €45 million to improve access to capital for smallholder farmers. We expect this fund to get more than €200 million in investments and benefit as many as 700,000 households in rural areas.

From the ancient Greeks’ trading across the Mediterranean Sea, to the Silk Road connecting East and West, history teaches us that trade is an important engine of growth and development. The African Continental Free Trade Area has enormous potential but it still needs ratification by 22 African countries to enter into force. In Vienna, I signed a 3 million euros contract with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa to develop evidence-based analysis on Africa’s continental trade integration. I have no doubt this will help with negotiations and ratification of this trade agreement.

As part of the Africa-EU Alliance, we created a number of Taskforces to help our two continents collaborate on areas of strategic importance, such as agriculture, the digital economy, transport and energy.

It was enlightening to hear the recommendations of the Taskforce on Rural Africa during one of the panel sessions. This was the very time we heard from an external group of African and European experts on agriculture and agri-food. I was also delighted to take part in the launch the Digital Economy Task Force, which will bring together leaders and experts from both continents for the sake of pan-African digital integration.

In the margins of the Forum, I had constructive bilateral meetings with the Presidents of Rwanda, Kenya, Ghana, Ethiopia, the Prime Minister of Mauritius and the Chairperson of the African Union Commission.

I could not agree more with President Kagame of Rwanda when he said in Vienna that it is not about measuring success solely in terms of migration statistics, and a much better yardstick is how creating jobs in Africa will also boost growth in Europe. That is exactly what we are doing.

This was one of my last events before taking a break for the Christmas holidays. As we wrap up 2018, it’s a good time to reflect on all the work done over the past twelve months. It’s been a year of many highs, with some set-backs, but many more achievements. But when we come together, strong and united, we edge closer to solving some of the most pressing challenges of our time. I am confident that Africa and Europe will continue this journey into the 21st Century, as mutual partners, in a safer, more stable and more sustainable world.