COVID-19 has dealt a body blow to the world economy: Europe has been pushed into deep recession and, in Africa, millions risk being dragged back into poverty, at least in the short term. However, the pandemic can offer an opportunity to build back better, with a recovery focused on sustainable and inclusive growth that harnesses the power of digitalisation and the potential of youth, particularly in Africa.
That was the message from the latest ‘Debating Africa-EU’ online event held 19 November.
“The EU’s recovery package, NextGenerationEU, will provide unprecedented financial support with a focus on these green transitions,” (22:08) said Valdis Dombrovskis, European Commission Executive Vice-President for an Economy that Works for People. “It is our firmly held belief that the green and digital transitions also hold tremendous potential for Africa.”
Dombrovskis joined other commissioners and senior officials from the European Union and African Union for the latest in the series of online debates bringing in business figures, civil society representatives and other key stakeholders from both continents. Their ideas are feeding into preparations for the AU-EU summit scheduled for next year.
Albert Muchanga, African Union Commissioner for Trade and Industry, underscored the importance of the EU-AU partnership.
“Let me reaffirm the commitment of Africa to deepening our relationship with Europe. Europe is a very close neighbour and is a neighbour with whom we have had a long-standing relationship, so the task ahead is to develop those relations,” (11:50) he said in a contribution pre-recorded so that he could attend preparations for the scheduled launch in January of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).
The agreement is widely seen as a game-changer for the African economy, creating a market of 1.3bn people in 55 countries with a combined economy worth $3.4tln. By opening up trade within the continent it has the potential to lift millions out of poverty and create new opportunities for African youth.
As it moves towards implementation of the AfCFTA, Rosette Nyirinkindi Katungye, Ambassador and Senior Advisor on Regional Integration in the Bureau of the Chairperson of the AU Commission, suggested Africa could benefit from the EU’s experience in crafting a single market and its ongoing plans to accelerate digital economic.
“We need sharing of experience because Europe has achieved quite a lot in terms of integration using intra-European trade within the continent,” (15:11) she said. “We, as Africa, would like to borrow very much from that experience, especially for our youth who are looking for deliverables, so we move beyond signed papers … and in very real terms offer them the tangible benefits accruing from this free trade area.”
Jutta Urpilainen, EU Commissioner for International Partnerships, said the renewed EU-AU partnership would offer European support as Africa seeks ‘African solutions to African problems’. She emphasised that women’s empowerment and opportunities for young people who make up 60% of Africa’s population will be at the heart of that partnership.
“Without really engaging with young people, really putting them in the driving seat of development, the future of Africa won’t be bright or stable,” (1:05:08) she said. “This is a common challenge but also a common approach and we want to support you in this.”
Such international cooperation is essential for the world recovery from the pandemic, said Paolo Gentiloni, European Commissioner for the Economy, who acknowledged problems in generating concerted global action on the way forward, on issues such as helping hardest hit countries with rising debt burdens.
“This kind of unprecedented event requires stronger international cooperation. At the same time, we all know that this has happened at a time when international cooperation, what we call multilateralism, is not living its best season,” (26:20) he told the debate. “Only with a global coordinated response we can face the consequences of this crisis.”
As Africa and Europe seek to re-set their partnership, Friends of Europe is engaging with our partners across both continents to understand the long-term vision and the converging and diverging priorities at the heart of this new cooperation.
Africa and Europe have a shared interest and much to gain from one another in accelerating the progress of the global agenda for sustainable development, whilst working together to address the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Through its “Debating Africa-EU” series, Friends of Europe is focused on engaging its partners and the new EU College of Commissioners around their vision and priorities for EU-Africa cooperation. In response to the Joint Communication Towards a comprehensive Strategy with Africa, this series serves as a consultative exercise for key stakeholders and partners from both continents to voice their perspectives on the future of the relationship. Following the first five in the series, the sixth ‘In Conversation With’ takes place on 19 November 2020 with a special appearance from Albert Muchanga, African Union Commissioner for Trade and Industry; Valdis Dombrovskis, European Commission Executive Vice-President for an Economy that Works for People; Paolo Gentiloni, European Commissioner for the Economy; and Senior Advisor on Regional Integration In the Bureau of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Ambassador Rosette Nyirinkindi Katungye. The strategic focus of the discussion will be on “Sustainable Jobs & Growth: A Partnership for a New Era”.
Past Event Recordings
- Debating Africa-EU N5: Beyond borders: migration, mobility and good governance in the Africa-EU partnership
- Debating Africa-EU N4: Health, welfare and prosperity: an EU-Africa partnership for a people-centred approach to human development
- Debating Africa-EU N3: A new era of digital cooperation: embracing Africa and Europe’s 4th Industrial Revolution
- Debating Africa-EU N2: Creating a mutually beneficial partnership for Africa-Europe: Building a greener and fairer future
- Debating Africa-EU N1: The Next Generation of Africa Europe Relations, with Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen
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Enhancing inclusive and sustainable growth as well as job creation is a fixture of EU-Africa relations. However, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis have made it more than ever paramount that Africa and Europe take this opportunity to strengthen and leverage both continent’s comparative advantages and prepare against future shocks. Inclusive growth generates income opportunities in an equitable manner, creating jobs and livelihoods that lift people out of poverty. Building on the Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Growth and Jobs, the Joint Communication, Towards a comprehensive Strategy with Africa, further emphasizes sustainable growth and jobs as a cornerstone of the next phase of EU-Africa cooperation.
Today in Africa, where the population is growing at a rate outpacing that of job creation, creating and maintaining sustainable growth and decent jobs is an increasingly urgent priority. Making the most out of the ‘demographic dividend’ requires a combination of approaches that include support for education with equitable access for girls, sustainable investments for decent job creation, reforming regulatory frameworks and creating an enabling environment for investment, as well as increasing economic integration through the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). As the world adjusts to living with Covid-19, Africa and Europe have the chance to build back better, revamp their investment and trade ties, to create, fair, equitable, and supportive economies prepared to achieve sustainable and inclusive growth.
Questions to be discussed include:
- Does the proposed Strategy with Africa highlight appropriate measures needed to boost sustainable growth and jobs? What changes are needed to strengthen the enabling environment for sustainable investments?
- How can both continents share knowledge to support the implementation of the AfCFTA, and strengthen regional integration and trade?
- How can the EU and Africa work together to support the survival and resilience of MSMEs, whilst working towards the formalisation of labour markets in the medium term? What range of policies need to be put in place to support women and girls who face added challenges to engage in businesses and in particular in the formal sector?
- How can education and human capacity development be improved to deliver foundational skills for life and work in a changing economy (including literacy, numeracy, soft skills), to reduce the skill mismatch between African youth and the needs of the labour market?
European Commissioner for International Partnerships
African Union Commissioner for Trade and Industry
European Commission Executive Vice-President for an Economy that Works for People
European Commissioner for the Economy
Rosette Nyirinkindi Katungye
Ambassador and Senior Advisor on Regional Integration in the Bureau of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission
Director, Asia, Peace, Security & Defense, Digital & Chief spokesperson
Prior to joining Friends of Europe, Dharmendra Kanani was director of policy at the European Foundation Centre (EFC). He was the England director at the Big Lottery Fund, the largest independent funder in the UK and fourth largest in the world. Dharmendra has held senior positions in the public and voluntary sector and advisor to numerous ministerial policy initiatives across the UK.
Valdis Dombrovskis is a Latvian politician with a distinguished career at both the national and European level. In his current portfolio at the European Commission, he is responsible for the euro, social dialogue, financial services and the Capital Markets Union. In Latvia, he was his country’s longest-serving head of government with three terms as prime minister. He also served as Finance Minister, was a Member of the Latvian Parliament and was elected twice to the European Parliament.
Paolo Gentiloni is a seasoned Italian politician currently responsible for the European Union’s customs union and taxation policy. A long-serving public servant, he has held a number of senior positions in politics, notably heading Italy’s national government from 2016 to 2018, and serving as both Minister of Foreign Affairs and Communications. Under these various portfolios, Gentiloni solidified his reputation as an astute diplomat with a strong commitment to multilateralism. A journalist by profession, he is also renowned for his environmental advocacy.
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