Move towards Africa-Europe alliance
European Commission head proposes more equal partnership and investment to narrow divide, stem migration
THE EU SHOULD offer a free trade agreement to the whole of the African continent and a new investment alliance, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said in a keynote speech yesterday.
Among various proposals for EU action to bolster prosperity in the world’s poorest continent and Europe’s close neighbour, the commission chief called for a more equal partnership and investment rather than aid, as Europeans seek ways to stem an economic divide driving Africans to try to migrate northwards.
Juncker said he had talked with African leaders and was proposing an alliance to boost sustainable investment, which he said could create up to 10 million jobs in Africa in the next five years.
While it was clear that a free trade pact would be some way off, and well after Juncker steps down in a year’s time, the EU would look to take advantage of African efforts to forge a free trade area within the continent to work towards a comprehensive continent-tocontinent trade agreement.
Trade between Africa and Europe, said Juncker, was not insignificant – 36 percent of Africa’s trade is with the EU, compared to 16 percent with China and 6 percent with the US.
“But this is not enough,” Juncker told the European Parliament.
“I believe we should develop the numerous European-African trade agreements into a continent-tocontinent free trade agreement, as an economic partnership between equals.”
The EU already has a series of deals with individual African countries, largely in North Africa, as well as additional economic partnerships with African blocs, such as the Southern African Development Community.
Other agreements with other African blocs and countries, designed to increase access to the EU market and promote development, are pending or partly in place.
Juncker also said the EU must flex its muscles as a world power as he spoke critically of US President Donald Trump’s retreat from international engagement.
In his annual State of the Union address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Juncker, who is entering his final year as president of the European Commission, urged EU states to rein in angry divisions over budgets, immigration and other issues in order to capitalise on a chance to shape the world.
“Whenever Europe speaks as one, we can impose our position on others,” Juncker said, arguing that a deal he struck in July with Trump to stall a transatlantic tariff war and which won plaudits for the commission should have come as no surprise.
“The geopolitical situation makes this Europe’s hour: the time for European sovereignty has come,” he said.
Juncker made no direct comment on Trump or US policy but aides said the geopolitical situation he spoke of was a US retreat into what Juncker described elsewhere in the speech as “selfish unilateralism”.
He also saw new opportunities to work with China, Japan and others to develop “multilateral” rules.
Some proposals to strengthen the EU’s effectiveness face an uphill battle against member state opposition, notably scrapping national vetoes in some foreign policy areas, such as where economic pressure from the likes of Russia or China on certain EU countries has blocked EU sanctions to defend human rights.
In repeating his support for deeper economic integration, he also pushed the idea that the euro should challenge the dollar as the world’s leading currency, calling it “absurd” that the EU pays for most of its energy in the US currency despite buying it mainly from the likes of Russia and the Gulf states.
He said airlines should also buy planes priced in euros not dollars.
Juncker renewed calls for states to push ahead in developing an EU defence capability independent of the US-led Nato alliance and to embrace Africa through investment and a sweeping new free trade area to stem the migrant flow. | Reuters
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker delivers his State of Union speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, yesterday. | / AP