- European Commission President Romano Prodi today started his official three-day visit to three West African countries, Senegal, Côte d'Ivoire and Burkina Faso. Mr Prodi is meeting the three Heads of State and the national parliaments to discuss peace and security issues and enhanced regional cooperation.
Mr Prodi today arrived the Senegalese capital, Dakar, where he met with President Abdoulaye Wade and held a long and emotional speech at the National Assembly. It was the first visit of a European Commission President to Senegal since 1991, and Senegal is one of the EU's main partners in West Africa.
During his visit President Prodi is meeting with the Presidents of the three host countries - Mr Wade (Senegal), Laurent Gbagbo (Côte d'Ivoire) and Blaise Compaoré (Burkina Faso). He is addressing the National Assemblies of Senegal and Burkina Faso and he will further meet with the President of the Commission of UEMOA (Economic and Monetary Union of West Africa), Moussa Touré, in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso).
- The visit confirms the importance the Commission attaches to its partnership with Africa, the EU said in a recent press release. The European institutions place particular weight on the new African institutions that are currently emerging.
With the Nepad (the New Partnership for African Development) and the creation of the African Union (AU) "Africa is taking decisive steps to promote peace, democracy, sustainable development and good governance and to alleviate poverty on the continent," the EU holds. "The Commission will be a close partner for Africa on its way down this road. Mr Prodi's visit is a confirmation of the quality of that partnership."
Mr Prodi today told the Dakar Parliament that also West Africa was being invited into the spheres of cooperation outside the enlarging Union. The EU had an intention of creating a "circle of our friends at our eastern and southern borders," he said. This should be "a zone of peace and common prosperity, which will extend the European model of freedom and democracy to hundreds of million citizens around us."
Mr Prodi made several indirect references to how the EU was a better cooperation partner than the competing United States. Europe, he said, was promoting "the primacy of international law founded on freely negotiated rules," and "Europe does not have a hegemonic vocation." Also, the EU support for African positions on cotton trade - as opposing to US positions - was not left unmentioned.
The European top leader also was able to present more than just nice words during his Dakar speech. Mr Prodi said the European Commission was currently in the process of approving a euro 250 million grant to the African Union for its peacekeeping operations. The EU Commissioner pointed out that he and Europe were firm supporters of empowering Africa to handle its own peace and security concerns.
African peacekeepers currently operate in a large number of countries, including Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire, Congo Kinshasa (DRC) and Burundi. So far, however, most of these operations are led by the UN or regional bodies, such as the West African ECOWAS. The African Union however plans to increase its peacekeeping operation level significantly as a key part of the Union's new raison d'être.
Peace also was the main issue when Mr Prodi turned to the bilateral ties between Senegal and the EU. He particularly thanked Senegal and President Wade for the role they had plaid in creating and maintaining peace in Africa, mentioning the resolution of the conflicts in Liberia, Madagascar, Côte d'Ivoire and, very recently, Guinea-Bissau. Senegal commands the ECOWAS forces overseeing the Ivorian peace - in an "exemplary" way, according to Mr Prodi.
The armed conflict going on in Senegal's Casamance province for over twenty years was also mentioned and Mr Prodi promised the Senegalese MPs not to forget this region when peace was achieved. There already existed a planned programme for economic and social revival of the Casamance, he said, but meanwhile, the EU was continuing to support small scale development schemes in the troubled region.
Mr Prodi only indirectly went into an issue of conflict between the EU and Senegal, namely the International Criminal Court, which prosecutes war crimes and crimes against humanity.
While Senegal had been "a pioneer" in being the first country to approve of the Court, the EU now was concerned on Senegal's role and hoped the country " will continue to respect its freely contracted international obligations." Earlier this year, under heavy US pressure and EU protest, Senegal had signed a deal not to extradite US citizens to the Court.
Other issues raised in Dakar were the increased EU commitment to the fight against AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. The Commission was about to free large extra amounts for this, Mr Prodi revealed, especially for making medicines cheaper and more available. Finally, more funds were to be spent on a EU-West African programme to increase water quality.
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