afrol News, 24 May - A large delegation from Niger, headed by transitional Prime Minister Mahamadou Danda, is in Brussels to ask the European Union (EU) to resume its significant aid and normalise ties. The Niger delegation has good cards.
Newly appointed General Djibo Salou, the transitional leader of Niger since his 18 February coup, has prepared thoroughly for this highly important mission to Europe. Much is at stake - a recognition of his transitional government and access to funds that will crown the junta's "democracy restoring" rule with success.
General Salou has achieved the compliancy of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which is participating with key advisors in the Niger mission to the EU. ECOWAS is entrusted by the international community to mediate in Niger and advice on the transitional process.
This support may prove key for the Nigerien mission. Its first important meeting in Brussels will be with Mohamed Ibn Chambas, ECOWAS President until a few months ago and now just appointed the Secretary-General of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States. Most EU aid and trade relations with developing countries is organised through the ACP cooperation.
The ACP Secretariat was key among the institutions condemning the February coup and the undemocratic development in Niger, leading up to the coup, thus strongly influencing the EU decision to freeze aid to Niger already before the coup. Already the day after the coup, the ACP called on the junta to "to ensure a speedy return to constitutional order" in order to see sanctions lifted.
The meeting between ACP leader Chambas and the Niger-ECOWAS mission led by Prime Minister Danda thus will indicate whether the EU will be positive towards Niger's bid for normalised relations. Mr Chambas is expected to have a positive impression of the successes achieved in Niger towards democracy and a constitutional order. His possible approval will influence EU officials.
And General Salou has not sent his delegation to Brussels unprepared. The Niger junta has come a long way in normalising its external relations, especially with former colonial power France. Following Nigerien diplomatic initiatives in Paris, the influential EU country last week sent an official to Niamey, praising Niger's transitional process and inviting General Salou to the upcoming France-Africa summit in Nice.
With France increasingly positive towards the military junta in Niger, Prime Minister Danda has good cards when meeting with EU officials later this week.
The EU-Niger talks are to be based on the Cotonou Agreement, which define the EU-ACP cooperation and much of the EU's aid to developing countries. Support from ACP leader Chambas would therefore be a strong asset.
Highest on the agenda during the EU-Niger talks is the question of the junta's progress in restoring a constitutional order in the country. The EU is to assess whether the junta is complying with its commitments to restore democracy and PM Danda will be questioned about the transitional process.
If the EU assessment concludes on real progress in Niger's transitional process - a conclusion that is widely expected - it may decide to unfreeze its substantial aid to the Sahelian nation. This would in the first place free the euro 470 million set aside for Niger by the European Development Fund (EDF) during the current five-year period (2008-13).
But it would also start a process of freeing bilateral aid programmes between European donors and Niger that are currently frozen. Further international funding and aid agencies would in turn be influenced to normalise ties with Niger. This week's Brussels meeting thus are of utmost importance for the Nigerien junta and its transitional process.
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