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Tough talking

by Peter Hauff

In brief

Omar al-Bashir: Europeans want to see him held accountable for war crimes in Darfur, but African leaders say EU pressure is not helpful

Omar al-Bashir: Europeans want to see him held accountable for war crimes in Darfur, but African leaders say EU pressure is not helpful

For eight years, the EU has been working on Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) promising to open its markets if African markets are opened, too. Instead of talking about free trade, European civil-society organisations would have preferred to discuss other issues at the EU/Africa summit in Tripoli. Rudolf Ficker, head of Germany’s Protestant Church Development Service (EED), said European policy towards Africa has to “focus on development, not the EU's export interests”.

In the end, a vague action plan was signed for “growth and employment”. Up to 2013, a number of fields of action are to be tackled, including security, democracy and human rights. The document states the principle that the African continent must be able to solve its problems on its own and “speak with one voice”. The negotiators from the North and the South agreed, moreover, that the private sector has to contribute more to growth and the fight against poverty.

Europe expressed the intention to help Africa improve its representation in the G20, the group of the 20 leading economies. Brussels promised to provide official development assistance (ODA) worth 0,7 % of the EU’s gross domestic product (GDP) in five years. At the same time, José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, demanded that recipient countries implement “structural reforms” in order for funding to really promote development.

Fear of cheap EU imports

Since 2002, the EU has been negotiating Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with ACP (African, Caribbean and Pacific) countries. The EPAs are supposed to become the follow-up to the Cotonou Agreement. The Europeans argue that open access to its markets is in the interest of Africans. But Armin Paasch, a trade expert with the Catholic charity Misereor, insists that African countries should not simply expose themselves to competition of powerful industrialised countries: “European exports of powdered milk, tomato paste, poultry and pork force small farmers in Ghana, Burkina Faso and the Ivory Coast out of local markets and endanger their human right to food.” African trade ministers argue along similar lines. At a meeting in Kigali in early November, they defined preconditions for opening markets:
– The African Union insists on the joint fulfilment of the Millennium Development Goals,
– its member states first want to make the production of their national industries and agricultural sectors competitive, and
– they also want to establish trade within Africa firmly.

In Tripoli, African ministers thus insisted on protecting their markets. The European market, on the other hand, is not completely closed, since the EU already provides broad market access to 37 least-developed countries as part of its Everything But Arms initiative. Negotiations on the EPAs are stuck, and Europe has not opened up to other partner countries.

Climate no priority

At the same time, Africans refused to sign a paper on climate matters. It was drafted by EU diplomats for the period after the Kyoto Protocol expires. In Tripoli, Europe's partners said climate protection was a “European priority”, whereas they preferred to focus on growth. Opinions also differed on migration. Libya’s President Muammar al-Gaddafi demanded 5 billion euros to slow down the flow of refugees to Europe. European responses were negative or evasive. Germany’s Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle openly said no.

In Tripoli, the EU stressed the universal nature of human rights. The African answer was: “Yes, but…” EU diplomats could only sit back and listen as the AU Security Council gave Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir its “full solidarity” during the summit. In 2009, the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for his arrest, and the warrant is still outstanding. Africans argue that EU sanctions against Sudan are not helpful. The Europeans, however, want to see al-Baschir held accountable for war crimes in Darfur.

German industry torn in two

“There was no major breakthrough”, says Anka Shild, spokesperson for European industry association Businesseurope, of which Germany’s industry association BDI is a member. But the Brussels-based lobbyist considers the summit's motto a success in itself. She says “investment, economic growth and job creation” are the best way to fight poverty and injustice. At the same time, she believes that Europe must secure access to crucial resources.

The Association of German Chambers of Commerce (DIHK) similarly argues that no country can develop in the long run without jobs and economic growth. “It is most important that we cooperate bilaterally, as Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development emphasises,” says Heiko Schwiderowski, head of the DIHK Africa Department. However, he warns that Germany’s small and medium sized enterprises will be disadvantaged should the EU enforce stricter standards for trade between the EU and Africa. Such stricter standards are demanded by Germanwatch and 250 other civil-society organisations.

In particular, the DIHK expert says that German companies should not be held liable for their subsidiaries in developing countries. “The situation would become catastrophic for small and midsize firms if banks were no longer willing to fund their activities abroad,” Schwiderowski says. He points out that multinational firms have stronger capital bases and often run their own banks, “which is why stricter EU standards in Africa would make it harder for midsize companies to compete”. He also argues that excessive standards from Brussels undermine the implementation of Germany’s already high standards in Africa.

Peter Hauff