Europe and Africa came into close contact in Gibraltar and the interaction was uncomfortable to say the least, all because of what has become to be known as one of the most serious crisis facing the world in recent times; illegal immigration. The ancient Pillars of Hercules enclose the Mediterranean, the sea of ancient trade between the northern and the southern parts of the world that has now become synonymous to migrants trying to cross it. A dangerous feat that often leads to casualties: According to UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in 2017 over 3,000 immigrants went missing or dead. These were people trying to get into Europe and fleeing poverty, hunger, civil war, religious and racial persecutions among many other factors.
This crisis is the starting point of any conversation around the historic summit of Abidjan-Côte d’Ivoire between the African Union (AU) and the European Union (EU). From this ambivalent sea, which unites and divides at the same time with its businesses and its open wounds of colonialism, with the fragile Arab springs and the danger of Islamic radicalism that has become a terrorist threat in Europe. Starting from this unique moment in European history and trying to understand if and how a sustainable balance will be found between two areas of the world that need greater cohesion and understanding of each other’s needs in order to create opportunities.
The summit that took place in the economic capital of Ivory Coast has brought a number of innovations, a sign of good will; of great importance, the European Union and the African Union sat together at the negotiating table. This was a step forward as opposed to the past four summits where Africa was not represented in a unitary way by a continental organization. Another new feature was the main theme and tittle of the meeting that stated, “Investing in young people for a rapid and inclusive growth and for sustainable development”. It is mostly the young people that are fleeing Africa for Europe. It is therefore important to invest in them in order to start the virtuous circle that both continents would benefit from. It is a change – hopefully a shifting one, that came at the end of a 2017 during which the relations between the two shores of the Mediterranean became more intense. The idea is not only to tackle the immigration question, but also create partnerships with African countries to avoid being undercut by the Chinese investment in the continent, “we are not just looking at what we can do for Africa but also what we can do with Africa, together”, Federica Mogherini, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security, said in May 2017; when he was presenting the proposals for a strategic partnership with the continent. The same was echoed by the European Council President Donald Tusk in the final press conference of the Abidjan summit: “The European Union is the main partner of Africa and its closest neighbour. It is also the largest investor, the main trading partner, the largest donor of humanitarian aid and development and provides the most important contribution to peace and security. This summit demonstrated our determination to further strengthen our partnership “.
Statements of intent or concrete actions?
Did the summit bring forth something concrete beyond the statements by Tusk or just statements of intent? At the end of the meeting the participants signed a joint declaration containing the priorities of the partnership between Europe and Africa in four fundamental areas namely the economic opportunities for young people, peace and security, mobility and migration and cooperation in the field of governance. In particular, the new EU External Investment Plan the first and main topic of the summit was presented. The European Commission will provide € 4.1 billion to enable € 44 billion of sustainable investments by 2020 in five main areas: Energy sustainability and connectivity: investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy in transport ; Financing of medium and small companies and micro-enterprises: these companies represent the main employers; Sustainable agriculture, rural entrepreneurship and agribusiness: aims to facilitate access to finance for small landowners, cooperatives, and small, medium and micro enterprises in the agricultural sector, to address the issue of food security; Sustainable cities: activate investments in sustainable urban development, in municipal infrastructures including mobility, water, health, waste management and disposal, renewable energy; Digital for development: to promote the development of innovative digital solutions that respond to local needs, the demand for financial inclusion and job creation.
The hope is that from words you can move on to the facts, to give a signal of real change in the approach between the two shores of the Mediterranean, which in Gibraltar, drew very close but not close enough.