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France aims to revive EU partnership with Africa ahead of February summit

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By Gregoire Lory
French Junior Minister of Foreign Trade Franck Riester arrives for a meeting with members of the European Commission.
French Junior Minister of Foreign Trade Franck Riester arrives for a meeting with members of the European Commission.   -   Copyright  LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP or licensors

France wants to renew the partnership between Europe and Africa ahead of a crucial summit between the two in February.

A meeting was held on Monday in Paris aimed at identifying the priorities for EU member states in their relationship with the African Union, the first event organised by the French government as part of its six-month presidency of the Council of the European Union.

When presenting his programme for his country's tenure in December, French president Emmanuel Macron made relations with Africa a priority.

He said he wants to "rebuild an economic and financial New Deal with Africa", highlighting the "somewhat tired" current relationship between the two continents.

Moving from words to action

For the French minister for foreign trade Franck Riester, this partnership is an obvious choice for Europeans.

On Monday, Riester emphasised Europe's geographical proximity to the African continent, but also the weight of economic relations.

The European bloc is "the leading trade partner, the leading foreign investor and the leading development partner" of Africa, he said.

While the relaunch of the Euro-African partnership is not solely economic in the French president's mind, trade is an essential part of it.

The European trade commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis welcomed the initiative, saying that more can be done between the two partners.

He said that they must both "strive to strengthen economic integration while leading the climate and digital transition of our economies".

Dombrovskis added that the potential for growth in trade is important because currently "only about 17 per cent of African trade flows take place between African countries".

The European Global Gateway investment strategy presented last month is in line with this logic.

Not just economic logic, health too

For Paris, however, the strategy needs to go beyond just trade and economics — a view that Brussels shares.

In March 2020, the European Commission presented a communique entitled "Towards a comprehensive strategy with Africa", which indicated five key areas of cooperation in order to meet current international challenges, including the green transition and access to energy, the digital transition, growth and employment, and peace and migration.

But for any of this to succeed, the EU and Africa must respond successfully to the pandemic.

During the meeting in Paris, Riester acknowledged the need for all member states to help their African partners in dealing with COVID-19.

The EU has set a target of releasing €700 million-worth of vaccine doses to help Africa by mid-2022.

But Riester stressed that providing vaccines is not enough — local production capacities must also be developed.

He added that the creation of the first vaccine technology transfer centre in South Africa is a good start, as well as the work being done in Senegal and Rwanda to create manufacturing sites.