- During the last decade, the European Union (EU) has deepened its ties with Africa, from merely handing out development aid to a broader partnership within the realms of trade and strategy, according to a new research project.
Professor Gisela Müller-Brandeck-Bocquet of the University of Würzburg (southern Germany) heads a research project that is looking into the Africa policy of the EU, with the aims of providing input for a further deepening of these ties.
Given the frequency of civil strife, food crises and AIDS, Africa has often been referred to as "the forgotten continent", the political science researcher holds. "Indeed, Africa was shamelessly neglected by the international community during the past decade," she concludes her research.
However, the EU was well advised to continue to urgently deepen its relations with the African continent, Ms Bocquet found, as African affairs were becoming more and more relevant to developments in Europe.
According to Ms Bocquet, this "new concept" in its Africa policy was expressing the intentions of the EU not only to function as a development aid provider, but as a full-fledged partner. The strengthening EU now also was trying to pursue its foreign and security interests on the African continent.
This "new start" in Euro-African relations however yet was to be carries out in practical terms, the researcher said. She found many practical reasons for the EU to enhance its activities in Africa, calling it an "urgent necessity".
- Firstly, Africa just because of its high population growth is going to provide increasingly attractive markets and production localities, says Ms Bocquet. This should be the basic assumption, she added, however admitting that European Africa researchers are disagreeing on the economic perspectives of the continent.
- On the other hand, Africa has a great potential of chaos, whose negative consequences in the first place will affect the European Union, the political scientist warns. She particularly mentions the threats of terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism and the AIDS pandemic; issues where the EU needed to assist Africa to avoid a further spread.
The trade potentials and the potential threats developing in Africa had among the major reasons for the industrialised world to commit stronger to its development policy obligations lately, she held. "As expected, the European Union has set itself more ambitious goals than for example the US," the professor claims.
However, in the coming years, the EU needed to follow up on its set obligations and policies. According to the German researcher, it should be the task of the EU to see to that the international society's new commitment to Africa was not reduced to "unilateral and military means of fighting terrorism."
Ms Bocquet concludes that it was urgent and important for the EU to develop a set of options for interventions and different role concepts regarding Africa as of the Union's common foreign and security policy, as this was still not well enough developed.
To achieve this, the Union - which will count 25 European countries from May 2004 - need to improve the coordination between its policies of development aid, foreign trade and agriculture. This, Ms Bocquet says, is "an enormous challenge for the EU, which is fond of calling itself the lawyer of Africa, particularly in forums as the World Trade Organisation."
While the EU is enlarging its territory with 10 new states, the Union is also taking over more and more competences from its member states, in particular regarding foreign policy. A stronger EU is seen by many as a growing competitor to the United States, something that also can be noted in Ms Bocquet's statements on an enhanced Africa policy.
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