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Permettez-moi de commencer en Français, avec ces quelques mots, pour remercier la Côte d'Ivoire et son gouvernement, l'Union africaine, non seulement pour cette belle opportunité, mais aussi pour tout le travail accompli ensemble en amont de ce Sommet si important qui va commencer dans quelques jours, et aussi en amont de ce Forum très important, pour, de même, préparer le Sommet et le futur des relations entre nos deux continents, l'Afrique et l'Europe.
I believe all of us here have something in common. We might be very different one from the other. We may come from different countries, different backgrounds. We may look very different from one another. But we all believe that this continent, Africa, has an immense potential for growth and human development.
And, this is also what brings me here today. Too many times, we see that Africa’s demographic rise is described as “a time bomb”. Too many people around the world overlook Africa's incredible energy and desire for change.
For us at the European Union, we see the young people of Africa and the young entrepreneurs creating new online services, or women starting small businesses, and small farmers trying to mix tradition and innovation. We see the energy in Africa.
This does not mean we ignore the massive challenges Africa is facing. Some of them such security challenges - are challenges we share in Europe. Africa's immense potential is constrained by insecurity, inadequate infrastructure, power shortages, corruption and a difficult business environment.
It is sometimes easier to export from Africa to Europe or to Asia, than to neighbours here in Africa. This is the paradox of this continent. But these kind of difficulties can be overcome, if we work together, on a shared agenda, as equal partners.
So, we are working together on the reforms that African countries need, from reducing tariffs to good governance.
We are working together for Africa’s security – not only with more than 10,000 European women and men; security personnel in Africa. We are also training troops and supporting true, effective, sustainable African solutions to African security issues.
First of all, we do this with the African Union Commission.
We are working together on infrastructure. For example, just days ago we announced new transport projects in West Africa, blending public and private investment, to build or rebuild more than 2,000 kilometres of international roads.
Africa needs more connection – not only with roads and transport, but also electric connection, and digital connection. This requires our common work, not only common across the Mediterranean sea, Europe and Africa, but also common across the lines, public and private sectors. And this is why this Forum is so important.
The reason why we are all here today, is we believe obstacles can be removed. And the best way to do so is by joining forces, Europe and Africa together, because this is an interest we all share.
Our cooperation is not charity. It is self-interest; let me say it very bluntly. We, Europeans, need to work with Africa. We, Europeans, need and want to see a strong, peaceful and secure Africa. Because a strong Africa – the closest neighbour we have in Europe, just 14 km away from our coast – is also the condition to make Europe strong.
Take a recent example from Uganda. Less than a year ago we inaugurated the largest solar plan in Eastern Africa. It was built thanks to European investment, and it has created good jobs both in Europe and in Africa. It is now helping the country address its power shortage issues, and it does so in full respect of Africa’s environment. This is a perfect example of how we want to work in partnership.
Today, we are bringing our partnership to the next level. Half of development aid to Africa comes from the European Union – we invest here more than the rest of the world combined. But development cooperation is not enough to fulfil this continent’s potential. We also need the private sector to get on board, investing strategically in those areas and sectors that need it the most. And we know that the private sector comes in if it sees an economic advantage to do so.
This is precisely why we launched our European External Investment Plan. It will try to focus – and accompany somehow – private sector investments on the areas that need it the most, in the most fragile parts of the continent. We must make it possible and convenient for private investors, to do so.
To make sure that each investment is consistent with Africa’s sustainable development. We do not just want to create jobs but good jobs, green jobs, and jobs for our young people, girls and boys, of this continent, and also in Europe.
We are focusing very much on micro, small and medium enterprises which we believe is the backbone of Africa’s economy and of large part of the European economy. If you think of all those young people with great ideas who would like to set up their own firm, but struggle to cope with a challenging business environment, not to mention access to credit.
These are all issues we have been struggling with in Europe, and in some parts of Europe, we are still struggling with. We have some work that we can do together.
We will also focus on the three forms of connectivity that Africa needs and identifies as major needs – physical, electrical and digital.
Experience tells us there is plenty of investors and me personally, every time I discuss with any friend from the business community in Europe, they are all eager to come to Africa. But whenever I meet European investors in your countries, here in Africa, they tell me: help us, accompany us, when we invest here, help and accompany as we want to invest more, and more safely.
Yet, less than five per cent of global foreign direct investment come to Africa. Investing in the most fragile parts of this continent can be particularly challenging, and it can cost up to three times more than investing elsewhere in the world.
The Business people want to invest in Africa, but sometimes struggle to find the investment opportunities or the conditions they are looking for.
This is the problem we want to address with our External Investment Fund. Not only are we blending public and private money, we are also providing a guarantee for people who want to invest in Africa, turning a risky investment into a relatively safe investment. Those who are involved in business know that very well that there is no investment that is completely safe; but a safer investment.
But The Plan is not only about financial support. Usually, investors are not only concerned with the financial risk here in this continent, but also, if not mainly, with the technical uncertainties of each local context, the different justice systems, corruption, and of course the security situation in large parts of the continent.
We, as the European Union, can help address all these concerns of investors. Our delegations - which means our embassies of the European Union around the world and here in Africa in particular – will accompany the investments and provide our support on the ground. Helping and accompanying private investors in understanding the system, having good exchanges with the local environment, including with the rest of the business environment, but also with the authorities.
Our political dialogues will help improve the overall business environment. This will benefit all firms, not only the Europeans that will invest but also African businesses, and obviously not only those that take part in our Investment Plan.
This is something that is going to really change the entire environment of investments in the continent. Think about the new “Sustainable Business for Africa” Platform we have just launched: it will bring the African and European private sectors together, and it could be an important opportunity to discuss the challenges and the opportunities facing all our firms, being them European or African, here in the continent.
I know that the European Union is always perceived as the big donor. Rightly so – we are the largest worldwide. We are also a diplomatic power, we are a political partner and a global security provider. This is the real added value of our European common action.
We combine different tools, we mix different strengths, in a unique manner. And we listen, we respect, we interact and build partnerships, among equals. I know that some people are asking for a Marshall Plan for Africa. Let me tell you: our new External Investment Plan aims at raising over 44 billion euros in investments by 2020, and the European Union and Member States together are already bringing 20 billion euros every year into Africa.
It is not a "Marshall plan" but this is the plan Africa was waiting for. I am saying it is not a "Marshall plan" because it is a European Plan, developed together with Africa.
Because even more than a Marshall Plan, we actually need a “New Deal” between Africa and Europe. A deal of equal partners, where we set our priorities together, we identify the problems together and we all take responsibility for reaching our common goals. Europe is there, there is no doubt about that.
For Africa, the European Union represents; the main trading partner, the main source of investments, its number one foreign investor, Africa's first partner in development and humanitarian aid, one of the main providers of security in Africa with seven missions of the European Union on the ground in the continent, and financing more than two billion euros with the African Peace facility. Last but not least, we are Africa's first source of remittances.
We are key to each other, we need each other. Together, we can achieve what was never achieved so far, which is developing all the potential that this continent has.
This is what we have worked for, very hard, especially with the new Commission of the African Union that started to work just this year, but also with all the countries of the continent. Over these last three years, we have worked on new partnership and this is what brings us here to Abidjan, for this Business Forum and for the Summit in a couple of days, to definitely move from the traditional, historic donor-recipient approach to a real, mature, political and economic partnership.
Because we believe Africa is a land of opportunities. Together we can turn these opportunities into real benefits for the people of Africa but also for Europeans and for the world.
I thank you very much not only for your attention, but also for the work you have done today and for all the work we can continue to do together from tomorrow onwards.
Thank you very much, merci beaucoup.
Link to the video: https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I147380