EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has pledged, on behalf of the entire European Union, to support African countries’ demands for more weight and representation in multilateral discussions.
“We have been discussing the continent as a geopolitical priority; our absolute determination to increase our dialogue and cooperation,” Borrell said.
“We will support Africa’s quest for a greater representation in multilateral fora,” he added at an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Saturday.
Africa has become a renewed diplomatic battleground since Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine began, with multiple countries on the continent aggressively courted by Russia and China as well as the West.
Russia’s Wagner mercenary group maintains a strong military presence in Africa, where it has partnered with several nations, including Mali and the Central African Republic.
Meanwhile, the last French troops withdrew from Niger in December, in the latest blow to more than a decade of French anti-jihadist operations in western Africa’s Sahel region.
It was the third time in less than 18 months that French troops were sent packing from a Sahel nation, following military takeovers in former colonies Mali and Burkina Faso. All three nations are battling a jihadist insurgency that erupted in northern Mali in 2012.
According to Borrell, “we have to rethink our approach to Africa to offer more cooperation, and to understand that the stability of the African states is part of our security.”
He added that this was not just about the Sahel region, which spans the continent as the transition zone between the Sahara desert and more humid southern countries.
Borrell said this was also about parts of Africa such as Sudan, the Horn of Africa – a large geopolitical region in East Africa – and Somalia.
SPAIN: LAND LINK TO AFRICA AND IMPORTANT EU PRESENCE
Spain is the only EU country that has a land border with Africa due to Ceuta and Melilla, two Spanish cities located in Northern Africa and surrounded by Moroccan territory.
For Spain, relations with Morocco are essential for the stability of these two enclaves and also to guarantee the control of migratory routes from sub-Saharan Africa to the Iberian Peninsula and the rest of the EU.
Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares pointed to the Sahel region as “a priority area for Spain” and asked to maintain “the EU’s important presence” in that area.
“I will ask that we continue to maintain our support for ECOWAS, an indispensable regional organization,” Albares said, referring to the Economic Community of West African States.
Albares stressed that the EU must maintain humanitarian aid and support for democracy in countries “as important as Mauritania and Senegal, which are strategic partners for Europe and for Spain.”
IMPORTANCE OF ECONOMIC TIES HIGHLIGHTED WITH ECOWAS IN TROUBLE
German Development Minister Svenja Schulze is visiting western African leaders this week.
Her trip comes around a week after the juntas that rule Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger withdrew their countries from ECOWAS.
A military coup took place in Niger on July 26 last year, whereupon ECOWAS imposed sanctions and threatened military action.
ECOWAS consists of 15 member states, making it one of the largest regional economic communities in Africa. All three West African states have had their memberships suspended by ECOWAS.
Ahead of her departure, Schulze said that “free trade and visa-free travel have made life and business in West Africa much easier.”
She said she regrets the decision of the three states, but added that “the decision by sovereign states must be respected, even if it will entail many economic disadvantages.”
Economic integration is a key driver of development, she added, saying the international donor community was ready to continue supporting West Africa on this path.
Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger have increasingly turned to Russia amid tensions with ECOWAS.
TACKLING RUSSIAN INFLUENCE, AFRICAN MIGRATION AND EUROPEAN ENERGY
Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský called at the informal meeting in Brussels for the EU take a look at how the bloc has approached relations with African countries.
“The reality is that military coups have taken place in several African countries in the last two years, Russia is gaining strength in these countries and Europe is clearing its positions,” Lipavský said.
Italy holds the presidency of the G7 group of nations this year and has vowed to make African development a central theme, in part to increase influence on a continent where powers such as China, Russia, India, Japan and Turkey have been expanding their political clout.
At a summit with African leaders in Italy at the end of January, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni called for a “new page” in relations with the continent, focused on energy and stopping migration across the Mediterranean.
The talks came just months after Russia held its own summit with African leaders. Other countries, including China and France, have held similar initiatives.
Representatives of more than 25 countries attended the summit at the Italian senate – dubbed “A Bridge for Common Growth” – along with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, representatives of United Nations agencies and the World Bank.
Meloni wants to transform Italy into an energy gateway, capitalizing on demand from fellow European countries seeking to slash their dependence on Russian gas following Moscow’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
The so-called Mattei Plan hopes to position Italy as a key bridge between Africa and Europe, funnelling energy north while exchanging investment in the south for deals aimed at curbing migration.
The plan intends to tackle so-called push factors and persuade countries of origin to sign readmittance deals for migrants refused permission to stay in Italy.
FURTHER CALLS TO ENGAGE MORE WITH AFRICA
Slovenian Foreign Minister Tanja Fajon called for close cooperation with Africa, after African nations showed confidence in Slovenia by voting for its non-permanent membership of the UN Security Council.
which showed great confidence in Slovenia when it voted for its non-permanent membership of the UN Security Council.
“This is a continent that is facing challenges ranging from poverty to climate change and rising tensions, including violence. So we need to work with the African continent, it is our strategic partner,” the minister said in Brussels.
Bulgarian Foreign Minister Mariya Gabriel said that Africa is a strategic partner for Bulgaria.
“We must have a dialogue with the countries on the continent. I support the idea of giving greater visibility to European projects there,” she said. Gabriel noted that extra efforts were needed in this regard.
In January, Gabriel met with her Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry to discuss cooperation in innovation, renewable energy, hydrogen, food security, transport and tourism.
Romania, meanwhile, recently adopted its first National Strategy for Africa, aimed at boosting ties with the continent. Focus areas include education and the transfer of expertise.
This outreach is part of the joint European efforts to revive relations between the EU and Africa, in the spirit of a new partnership.
The content of this article is based on reporting by AFP, Agerpres, BTA, CTK, dpa, EFE, STA, as part of the European Newsroom (enr) project.