Move to­wards Africa-Europe al­liance

Euro­pean Com­mis­sion head pro­poses more equal part­ner­ship and in­vest­ment to nar­row di­vide, stem mi­gra­tion

The Mercury - - FRONT PAGE - ALAS­TAIR MAC­DON­ALD

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

JEAN-FRANCOIS BA­DIAS

Euro­pean Com­mis­sion pres­i­dent Jean-Claude Juncker de­liv­ers his State of Union speech at the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment in Strasbourg, east­ern France, yes­ter­day. | / AP

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