Leaders promise ‘new spirit’ of EU-Africa partnership but divides remain
EU and African leaders wrapped up a two-day summit in Brussels on Friday (18 February) with both sides stressing that the promise of a “partnership of equals” and a “new spirit” of relations would become reality.
The two blocs unveiled a series of glossy initiatives covering vaccine production and future investment, but divisions remained on several key points despite the publication of a six-page joint declaration that is light on substance in most of the main areas.
The declaration includes joint pledges on investment and African economic development, peace and security, migration and mobility, and healthcare.
However, the big disagreement remains on vaccines, where the main demand of African leaders ahead of the summit was that the EU agree to a temporary waiver on intellectual property rights (TRIPS) on COVID vaccines.
This would allow African production centres to manufacture their own versions of the jab, but little progress appears to have been made at the summit.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said leaders had had “an intense discussion on the TRIPS waiver”, and played down the difference in opinion between the two blocs, noting that “we have the same goals we just have different ways of going about it”.
European Council President Charles Michel told reporters there had been a pragmatic discussion on how to produce vaccines in Africa”, though he added that “even among Europeans, there are divergent views on intellectual property”.
Von der Leyen added that the EU executive and African Union would be in talks ahead of a college to college meeting in spring when they would look to agree a deal on vaccines in tandem with the World Trade Organisation.
African Union Commission leader Moussa Faki said Africans “cannot sit around waiting for vaccines to arrive”.
“With the support of our friends, these things can be managed at a local level. This is only a summit where we have had a different and frank discussion,” he said.
Ahead of the summit, the European Commission promised that €150 billion would be made available in financial support for Africa as part of its recently launched Global Gateway programme.
“As Africa sets sail for the future, the EU wants to be Africa’s partner of choice,” said von der Leyen.
“We want to be the economic partner that you can trust.”
The EU wants to invest Global Gateway money in projects related to the green transition and transport.
Michel said a monitoring mechanism involving the European Commission and the African Union would take stock of what programmes under the Global Gateway banner were working well.
However, it is unclear how this money will be put together and whether it will be primarily grants or loans.
On the other main potential new funding stream, the reallocation to Africa of the Special Drawing Rights distributed last year by the International Monetary Fund, of which around €170 billion is now in European hands, little progress was made.
The joint declaration stated that several EU member states have between them pledged $13 billion, out of a total of $55 billion for countries most in need.
Leaders have been at pains to emphasise that the summit, and its attendant promise of a ‘partnership between equals’, marks a new chapter in EU African relations.
Macky Sall, the president of Senegal, who also chairs the African Union, remarked that “we need a new partnership software”. “We each have resources that the other party needs.”