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France unveils new Africa Europe relations
December 21, 2017, 5:07 pm
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Over the past year Europe has aggressively pursued a policy of deterrence of migrants by either hampering NGOs carrying out search-and-rescue operations at sea or by providing incentives to Turkey to take back Syrian refugees and to sub-Saharan states to repatriate migrants stuck in North Africa.

Europe's migrant policies came under increased pressure last month following the release of video footage revealing the existence of slave markets of young African migrants in Libya. The video footage turned what were earlier private concerns over the policy shift into public criticism and challenged Europe’s resolve on migration while highlighting that Africa’s problems are now increasingly Europe’s problems.

No doubt, Europe is facing its own problems, too. For the first time, the very existence of the European Union is being threatened from within. Brexit and the increasing popularity of anti-migration, inward-looking, nationalist parties are shaking the foundations of the continent's liberal post-war consensus.

It is against this background that French President Emmanuel Macron began a three-day visit to Africa last week. With the United Kingdom enmeshed in Brexit and political stalemate hobbling Germany, the new resident at the Élysée Palace sees an opportunity to claim the mantle of leader promoting Europe’s progressive, pro-business ideals.

Visiting Burkina Faso at the start of his first African tour on 5 December, the French President outlined his plans for Africa. Speaking in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, President Macron announced that France was embarking on a new approach with the continent that looks beyond Paris’s traditional spheres of influence in French-speaking West Africa.

Announcing the setting up of a billion-euro fund for small- and medium-sized African businesses, President Macron said he wanted France, and by extension Europe, to promote more investment, education and cultural exchanges in the continent. He said that the money could help firms maximize value from agriculture, but also the digital sector.

The French President clarified that the money would be provided France's Public Investment Bank, which offers firms tailored funding, and the French Development Agency. Macron said the ultimate objective is "to multiply this fund tenfold, which is absolutely do-able if we appeal to our European allies or other private financiers, European or non-European."

Such investments as the billion-euro fund were “a necessity in order to face up the demographic challenges,” said President Macron. With Africa facing a population explosion over coming decades, the continent is hoping to create 450 million jobs by 2050.

The French President’s new European vision for Africa was also highlighted during his visit to the other two countries in his itinerary, Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana. In Abidjan, the capital of Côte d'Ivoire, the President attended a Europe-Africa summit where linked relations with Africa to his plans for European Union reform. Meanwhile, his final destination, Ghana, a former British colony, underlined France’s new ‘continental approach to Africa’.

The potential for a change in dynamics between Africa and Europe clearly exists, with France’s new approach being welcomed by leaders on the continent. Africa, too, it appears is finally keen to escape a relationship which has long been defined by aid donations and investment that sees the proliferation of corruption and ends up with most of the continent's wealth being shipped overseas.

President Macron summed up this mutual need by reiterating, “Our collective responsibility is to enable Africa to succeed as our fates are linked. If Africa fails we all lose together, as Europe will be overwhelmed by a wave of migration... and deep imbalances of prosperity.”

 

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