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EU's priorities in Africa should be rule of law, equality and democracy, says MEP

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Virginie Battu-Henriksson, Spokesperson of the European Commission for Foreign affairs and security policy, Josep Borrell Fontelles and Jutta Urpilainen
Virginie Battu-Henriksson, Spokesperson of the European Commission for Foreign affairs and security policy, Josep Borrell Fontelles and Jutta Urpilainen   -   Copyright  Dati Bendo/ EU/Dati Bendo
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The EU is looking to reset relations with Africa and change the narrative from aid donor to equal trade partner.

Brussels had planned to reboot the alliance this year but the coronavirus pandemic has so far derailed efforts.

Beyond investment, politicians in Brussels are looking at ways to shake up their economic partnerships.

Job creation is key to the new strategy, which will be discussed at this week's EU summit.

"We need to invest in the infrastructures, in the digitalisation and to invest in education that is key if we want to increase the employment rate," said Jutta Uriplainen, EU commissioner for international partnerships.

Trade

The EU is Africa's largest trade partner, but China is increasingly becoming a key player on the continent.

Brussels has set aside €4.6 billion in guarantees for projects with public and private investors in Africa. The goal is to create 10 million jobs by 2023.

Beyond cash, the European Parliament's socialist grouping wants to see equality as a central part of the new relationship.

The EU should leave behind opportunistic approaches and renew efforts to encourage political stability, according to the leader of the socialist MEPs, Iratxe Garcia.

"We need to guarantee that we advance in terms of trade, but at the same time we need to guarantee the protection of the natural resources, we need to guarantee a cooperation in terms of climate change and our priorities in Europe have to be the same in the agenda with Africa: equality, rule of law and democracy," said Garcia.

Workers' rights?

But if the EU wants to rebalance its relationships with the African Union, it should consider workers' rights.

Aboubakar Soumahoro was a farmworker in the Ivory Coast. Now he's a trade unionist in Italy. He says the priority should be to fight cheap labour.

"Whether it is European workers or workers from other continents, it is the question of the greater possibility of being exploited which is at the heart, which makes the difference."

It is this exploitation, he says, which brings about conflicts between workers, in a race to the bottom.

The pandemic has somewhat derailed the EU's new Africa strategy. A summit slated for October, where leaders from both continents would cement their commitments has been postponed. But the EU said that the crisis reinforces the need to support both economies from the fallout.