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EU looks to reset relations with Africa as record number of Commissioners visit Addis Ababa

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By Ana Lazaro
Ursula von der Leyen, Moussa Faki
Ursula von der Leyen, Moussa Faki   -   Copyright  European Commission

The EU has its sights set on Africa. Faced with the increasing influence of countries such as China and Russia on the continent, the EU is preparing a new strategy.

This week, a record number of EU Commissioners travelled to Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa. Twenty-one members in total made the journey including the president herself, Ursula von der Leyen.

The strong signal has not gone unnoticed.

"When we see the dimension of the European delegation, we understand how deep our partnership is," Moussa Faki, Chairperson of the African Union Commission told reporters.

Europe wants a change of narrative, and in moving from development aid to a true partnership, areas of cooperation have been identified. The starting point is trade and investment. The fight against climate change is also going to be a key priority.

"We are determined to speak to our business communities who are very interested in investing in sustainable technologies and to open to them the whole field of knowledge we have on green technologies, green financing," Von der Leyen told reporters.

Climate change also brings a challenge in terms of migration. The UN has already sounded the alarm, and ruled in January that climate refugees cannot be sent back home. Many European countries would like to see more agreements allowing the return of migrants.

Experts think that it would be a mistake to work on the basis of aid in exchange for tougher controls.

"We do not think this is a good approach. The approach that is very welcome is to look at cooperation areas. It can be sustainable agriculture, it could be energy, it could be the way we are using digitalisation and tools to address issues around climate adaptability. These are sectors that we need to find and go deeper in terms of cooperation," comments Paul Walton from the Friends of Europe think tank.

Next week the European Commission will present its Strategic Partnership with Africa, without forgetting the competition coming from China, Russia, India or even now the UK.