Europe and Africa faced up to global woes with a new summit deal Tuesday to revive stalled economic ties, as emerging powers such as China scramble for a stake in the resource-rich continent. "Africa has huge potential," European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said at the close of a two-day gathering of leaders of 80 nations in Tripoli. "Both continents face serious economic crisis. We can achieve much together."
The so-called Tripoli declaration signed by nations representing 1.5 billion people, calls for stronger ties between continents bonded by a bitter history, but which agreed at a summit three years ago to set out on a new partnership of equals. Ranging from agreement to give Africa a bigger voice in world bodies such as the G20, to shared views on human rights and peace efforts, the joint statement focuses sharply on the need for private investment and trade to bolster jobs and growth.
The statement came accompanied by a 60-page action plan of concrete projects in areas from energy to science over two years until the next summit in 2013 in Brussels.
But talks between the plethora of nations -- 53 from Africa, 27 from the European Union -- snagged on the fractious issue of illegal African migrants as well as on trade, a sensitive area that held up the close by several hours.
“It was the next phase in an equal relationship between Africa and Europe.” That is how the Dutch deputy-minister of foreign affairs Ben Knapen qualified the Africa-EU Summit.
At the summit, The European Union and almost all African nations tried to hammer out new Economic Partnership Agreements. The negotiations for these trade deals are ongoing, but Knapen was happy with the results over the last two days.
“Deals are not struck at conferences like these” Knapen told Radio Netherlands. “But there was probably a little too much bureaucracy in Brussels to further this process.”
Tight World Trade Organisation regulations are a big obstacle for reaching agreements between African and European countries. They prohibit African companies to sell most of their products on the European markets, thus making it impossible to give these companies access to rich western consumers.
“We have to compromise on these WTO rules, because else it could take years and years before we get agreements”. Knapen says. “But I am confident that the process will speed up a little after this Tripoli Conference”.
In his opening statement, the Libyan President Moamer Kadhafi had a clear message for the European leaders present. “Africa needs economics, not politics.”
Kadhafi was hinting on tough questions about human rights and good governance, that European nations usually bring to the business table. But deputy-minister Knapen was not impressed by this demand.
“The Libyan leader said a lot, his speech was full of… interesting things! But I couldn’t quite agree with that part” says Knapen. “Whenever two nations talk, there are always politics and policy involved.”
In his plenary statement, Ben Knapen referred to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. “Fortunately the Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir did not show up at the conference. That would have complicated things”.
Libya had asked al-Bashir to refrain from attending the summit, because the European delegation threatened to walk out if the Sudanese president would show up. The ICC issued a warrant for his arrest on charges of alleged war crimes en genocide.
Deputy-minister Knapen had several private meetings with African heads of state, the Mozambican President Guebuza amongst others. “With some leaders I had to explain why the Netherlands will spend less development aid over the next couple of years” Knapen says.
“But this is that shift from a donor relationship to an economic partnership. And they all agreed on that!”