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Europe and Africa: in Abidjan for a new beginning. Spotlight on youths and development, a focus on migration

On November 29 to 30th the leaders of Africa and Europe will convene in the Ivory Coast to attend the fifth Summit of heads of Government and State of the two Continents. “Investing in youths for sustainable development”, is the title of the two-day meeting, but the meeting could be monopolized by the migration question

Eighty diplomatic delegations representing almost two billion people will convene on November 29-30 in Abidjan, in the Ivory Coast, to attend the meeting of heads of Government and State of Africa and Europe. It’s the fifth meeting of this kind after the ones in Cairo (2000), Lisbon (2007), Tripoli (2010) and Brussels (2014).

A busy agenda. The items up for debate are many, ranging from trade and investment to development cooperation, security, diplomatic relations. The focus is on African youths and their future, as emphasized in the title of the Summit: “Investing in youths for sustainable development,” The EU will contribute to this commitment through the new External Investment Plan of 4.4 billion Euros which – in the intention of its promoters, is aimed at mobilising at least EUR 44 billion in private and public investments in Africa. The grant is meant as a guarantee for investors in Africa. It is no coincidence that the political meeting will be preceded by the Sixth EU-UA Business Forum open to businessmen from the two continents.

Close ties. But it is feared that once again the debates will be monopolized by migratory issues involving Europe, which, on the wake of the Summit on migration held in La Valletta in November 2015, will return to ask African leaders to cooperate in the containment of migration flows. Moreover, the figures exemplify the close ties between African and Europe: in 2015 Africa accounted for around 9% of the imports to the EU-28, amounting to 132 billion Euros (61.6 billion Euros of energy products), while 8% of European products (mostly vehicles and machinery) were exported south of the Mediterranean, amounting to 154 billion Euros. It’s worth mentioning that Europe contributed 21-billion Euro in aids to development of the African continent in 2016, along with 7 civil and military EU missions in Africa.

Missed opportunities. The meeting in Abidjan is set to have a highly significant value since it takes place ten years since the launch of the “Joint Africa-EU Strategy” adopted in 2007. A path that was not free of hurdles and misunderstandings that have

led European States to gradually lose ground

to the benefit of other international players: not only China – that is preparing to become Africa’s major business partner with an investment package of 137 billion dollars in 2016 – but also India, Gulf Countries, Turkey, Brazil, United States. “For many years, the Union failed to give Africa the attention it deserves. Europe’s approach was a piecemeal one, with individual countries falling over one another in pursuit of their own interests and agendas”, said the President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani on November 22 in the opening speech of the Conference in Brussels for a new partnership between the EU and Africa. “The result was a road paved with good intentions, but there were many missed opportunities and few successes along the way. We failed to exert any real political and economic influence on the future of Africa.”

Which strategy? The President of the European Parliament and the High Commissioner for Foreign and Security Policy Federica Mogherini said the Summit of Abidjan must mark “a new beginning in the relations between Africa and Europe.” The invitation was welcomed by the African leaders attending the meeting, amidst some controversies. Mali’s Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop, while praising the good relations between Africa and Europe, did not refrain from criticizing European institutions for the incidents in Libya. Referring to the military intervention that caused the fall of Gaddafi, he said the raids were “carried out without a strategic vision, without a plan, and without the ability to manage the consequences.” Migrants blocked inside the Country are suffering the most severe consequences of the chaos that ensued as can be seen in the pictures of Libyan detention centres. Moussa Faki Mahamat, who chairs the African Union, called for a joint commitment of the European Union and the African Union.

A shared future. On the sidelines of official statements, it is largely deemed unlikely that the Abidjan Summit will mark a decisive turning point, but two aspects are critical to understanding the approach to a shared future comprising the two continents. The first is geography: only 14 kilometres separate Gibraltar from Morocco.

But most of all, Europe and Africa are drawn together by demography:

Eurostat data shows that that there will be little or no population growth in Europe by 2050, while African population will continue to grow. By 2050 over 50% of the world population is projected to live in Asia, 25% in Africa (it was 13% in 1995 and 16% in 2015). Only 5% will live in Europe. But another figure is even more surprising: 31% of 727thousand people who obtained citizenship in a EU Country in 2015 were born in Africa. The immigrant population is thus bound to act as a bridge uniting the two shores of the Mediterranean.

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