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Talking with - not about - Africa. COSAC in favor of dialogue on equal terms

The urgently required dialogue between the EU and Africa must take place on equal terms. There was agreement on this point from all members of the Conference of Parliamentary Committees for Union Affairs of Parliaments of the European Union (COSAC), the African guest speakers, former Federal President Professor Horst Köhler and the Africa experts invited to the COSAC meeting on Tuesday 1 December 2020. Under an agenda point entitled “Europe’s role in the world – A responsible partnership with Africa”, Professor Köhler’s wish for the future came true, with a discussion taking place with Africa, and not just about Africa. The session was chaired by Gunther Krichbaum, Chairman of the German Bundestag’s Committee on EU Affairs.

To begin, Guido Wolf, Chairman of the Committee on EU Questions at the Bundesrat, emphasised the central importance of Africa as a topic, “also in the context of the future of Europe”. A partnership would shape the development of the two continents, connected by history and culture, in a central and epochal way, he continued. Wolf regretted that the EU-Africa summit originally planned for October had had to be postponed due to the Corona pandemic. It was time, the representative from the Bundesrat said, to include African voices and perspectives in order to achieve a joint strategy. 

Krichbaum conceded that Africa was too often viewed in public discourse as a problem and far too seldom as a source of opportunity. “We also don’t think enough about the effect it has on people in Africa when we speak about them instead of with them”, the German COSAC Co-Chair stated.

Relations between Africa and Europe need a fresh start

The relations between Africa and Europe need a fresh start, said former Federal President Köhler. In this context, Europe should not view Africa as a recipient of benevolent welfare, but instead as an independent political actor with its own aspirations and its own will and options for taking action, he explained. However, in his view, the old perceptions continued to dominate. 

Meanwhile, a process of self-affirmation was long underway in Africa, one that also took an occasionally critical view of Europe, said Köhler, who also spent time as Personal Envoy of the United Nations for Western Sahara, among other positions. This should neither surprise nor irritate Europe “but instead be a cause for delight and curiosity”, in his view. In a world moving through a period of transition, Europe did not require partners who were insecure or dependent, “but rather self-assured and reliable”. 

Africa, Köhler made clear, incidentally also had other options in terms of partnerships. China, for example, was making attractive offers. “Europe is still the most important economic partner, and it is in its own interest to offer a better partnership. And I think Europe has all it needs to do so”, he said. 

Mutual responsibilities

As an expert on Africa, Köhler also spoke of mutual responsibilities. “The primary responsibility for the positive development of the African continent lies with the Africans themselves”, he made clear. African civil society has made the matter of “good governance” its own, he pointed out. An index created for this purpose had measured progress over ten years – “unfortunately” indicating a step backwards for the first time last year. This was concerning, he said, and needed to be pointed out, “but without any self-righteousness”.

According to Professor Köhler, the African responsibility was mirrored by a European responsibility. Corruption, for example, was bankrolled in Europe, he pointed out. The question also needed to be raised of whether the economic partnership agreements were actually in the interests of the African countries. In the case of the agricultural agreement, this was not necessarily the case in Köhler’s opinion. It made the creation of an efficient agricultural industry in Africa difficult, he continued. 

The former Federal President was confident that both Africa and Europe only stood to benefit from a cooperation. The political will was there, he stated. Together, the European and African Unions comprised around 40 percent of the international community. “Imagine what we could achieve if we developed joint positions through multilateral initiatives”, said Köhler.

Mabunda: Common concept of democracy is what joins us together

Jeanine Mabunda, Speaker of the National Assembly of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, expressed the wish for relations on equal terms. She pointed out that the health impact of the Corona crisis on African countries was not as great as the economic problems resulting from it. That should be addressed in the dialogue about partnership, in her view. Ms Mabunda views the common concept of democracy as an element that joins Africa and the EU together. “We are a new and young democracy, it is important that we benefit from Europe’s experience”, said the Speaker of the Congolese National Assembly. 

Lilia Belil Manai, Chairperson of the Committee for Tunisians Abroad at the Assembly of the Representatives of the People of Tunisia, emphasised how important it was to create joint projects and constructive partnerships between the countries of the European Union and the Maghreb region. Emilia Monjowa Lifaka, Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly of Cameroon, hoped for a long-term cooperation with the European Union, which could be achieved by strengthening trade relations and by transfers of technology.

Köhler: Both sides must stand to gain

There was a great deal of support for cooperation with Africa on equal terms among the COSAC members who contributed towards the discussion, despite problems being pointed out. Europe now needed to show that it was a better partner compared with other third party states. State Minister Lucia Puttrich, a member of the Committee on EU Questions at the Bundesrat, explained that the EU and Africa formed a community of destiny. What was now required, she went on, was to bring the new EU-Africa strategy to life together. Former Federal President Köhler thus also drew a positive conclusion. He was pleased by the willingness to enter into dialogue with Africa. “We need to find common goals, from which both sides stand to gain”, he said. (hau/01.12.2020)

The report on sessions I and II can be read here.

The report on session III can be read here.

The report on session IV can be read here.

Recording of the virtual Confer­ence of Par­lia­men­tary Com­mit­tees for Un­ion Af­fairs of Par­lia­ments of the Eu­ro­pean Un­ion on 30 November 2020 and 1 December 2020

00:05:31

Film of the Conference of the Virtual COSAC

Here you can get a brief insight into the topics discussed at the Virtual Confer­ence of Par­lia­men­tary Com­mit­tees for Un­ion Af­fairs of Par­lia­ments of the Eu­ro­pean Un­ion (COSAC), or­ganised by the German Bundestag in cooper­ation with the Bundesrat on 30 November and 1st December 2020 in Berlin

More information can be found here.

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  • Type of media Video
  • Format MP4

Recording of the virtual Confer­ence of Par­lia­men­tary Com­mit­tees for Un­ion Af­fairs of Par­lia­ments of the Eu­ro­pean Un­ion

00:05:31

Film of the Conference of the Virtual COSAC

00:00:57

Gunther Krichbaum at the virtual COSAC

00:01:38

Thomas Hacker at the virtual COSAC

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