Africa-Europe summit concludes with mixed results

Monday, December 10, 2007

José Manuel Barroso, head of the European Commission
Image: Besoin d'air.

The Africa-European Union summit ended yesterday in Portugal with agreement on many global challenges but with differences on other key issues.

European and African Union leaders left the Portuguese capital expressing satisfaction for the most part with their first summit in seven years and what they called a new spirit in relations between the two continents.

The head of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, said they agreed that climate change probably represents the most important challenge of the 21st Century.

"Climate change is not just an issue for environment," he said. "It's also an issue for development. And only with the commitment of African leaders and European leaders can we really achieve some progress."

The leaders agreed to increase efforts to fight deforestation and desertification.

The president of the European Union, Portuguese Prime Minister José Sócrates, said the summit's plan to deal with migration was an example of the new partnership. He says the leaders want to combat illegal immigration but encourage legal migration and help immigrants to integrate more fully into their new countries.

The leaders agreed to develop information programs for would-be migrants in Africa and to address the drain of African skilled workers by promoting ethical recruitment policies in critical fields.

On governance, the head of the African Union, Ghana's President John Kufuor, said Africa has an interest in good governance and respect for human rights.

"Transparency is the order of the day," he said. "This is not to saying there is perfection. The point is that we all see that it is with good governance that we will attract the partnerships for development that we need."

He noted that the AU has created mechanisms such as the Africa Peer Review to promote these ideals.

The leaders also agreed to promote security by developing a system for rapid conflict prevention and funds for an African rapid deployment force, but human rights issues brought discord.

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe
(Image missing from Commons: image; log)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe's human rights record as bringing shame on the continent. This led Mr. Mugabe to accuse her of arrogance. A dispute over whether to invite Mr. Mugabe blocked the summit for five years and was only resolved a few months ago.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir met with United Nations officials seeking to deploy a joint U.N.-Africa peacekeeping force in Darfur. The two sides said some clarifications were obtained but that critical needs remain, in particular air support.

The issue of free trade agreements caused the most public controversy. Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade said the accords would set back African development.

He says there is no African industry that can withstand competition from Europe with its millions of consumers.

Most African governments have refused to sign the accords. The accords exempt African exports from European tariffs but also call for lower African tariffs on European goods. European officials said negotiations will continue.

Civic organizations had little praise for the summit. The Oxfam group said African opposition to the trade agreements should serve as a wake-up call to European leaders.

Human Rights Watch said the summit failed to make any progress on restoring the rule of law in Zimbabwe, bringing peace to Darfur or preventing banks from protecting the wealth of corrupt officials.

And Save The Children called the meeting a high profile exercise of little substance, noting that five million African children continue to die of preventable causes every year. It said since the leaders declared this a summit of equals they must bear equal responsibility for its failures.