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First of all let me say how pleased I have been to host the first annual meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the European Union and the African Union, last night and today - a meeting that I co-chaired with my friend Richard [Sezibera, Foreign Minister of Rwanda] and that follows the decision our Heads of State of Government took at the Abidjan Summit one year and a few months ago.
This meeting confirms our common determination to build on our partnership and go towards an even stronger, deeper and more political partnership and friendship between both continents. A partnership that we all, Africans and Europeans alike, see as our shared and vital interest. This is a partnership that works, first of all, and this is a partnership that works because we are both committed to it.
I want to commend and recognize the leadership that the African Union and the African Union Commission and its leadership, starting from the Chairperson, my friend Moussa Faki and Commissioner [for Peace and Security of the African Union Commission, Smail] Chergui, have been showing all over these years. This leadership is critical for the success of our partnership - leadership that we see in all different sectors, and let me highlight here only the decision to establish an African Continental Free Trade Area, the leadership in efforts to bring peace in Sahel, Somalia, South Sudan, in the Central African Republic and in the Great Lakes region.
I will be honored to attend the upcoming African Union Summit in Addis Ababa just in a few weeks' time, that will be another occasion for us to continue our partnership and our conversations, our deliberations on the common work we have put in place.
The European Union is Africa's first partner in all sectors: in trade, in aid and investment, in peace and security, and the list continues. But we are above all political partners and this is the real change in nature of our relationship that we have decided to put in place.
More than ever, we have to step up our engagement and this is exactly what we are doing, what we have been doing including today and yesterday. At today's ministerial meeting, we discussed all the different strands of action that we share.
We focused in particular on three main areas of cooperation.
The first one is peace security and governance. This remains the central pillar of our partnership, there is no action by the African Union that the European Union is not supporting and this also means a daily coordination and the full support from the European Union to the work that the African Union is doing in the continent – politically, financially, with our military and civilian training and advisory missions.
We are together in Somalia, in the Central African Republic, in the Sahel. Last year, through the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding we have stepped up our cooperation to a new strategic level in response to new threats, to international regional peace and security, in particular the spread of terrorism, violent extremism and organised crime.
Against this background of increased engagement, we had an exchange on the main political challenges currently facing both continents. First of all, we express support for building synergies, so that the African Union led efforts, including peace support operations, EU military and civilian missions and operations and UN missions and activities, operating in the same theatres, can play their full complementarity.
In this context, ensuring sustainable financing for African led peace efforts remains for us both a priority. You know that the African Peace Facility has already mobilised €2.7 billion, and in these days, we are working upon a new contribution of €800 million to cover support in the next two years.
In this context, the establishment of a continental human rights compliance framework for peace support operations adopted by the African Union Summit last November is an important step forward. The European Union is committed to supporting in close coordination with the UN the ongoing African Union work to operationalise this framework, which is critical for all future support of African peace operations and could also help in unlocking further progress in New York towards accessing UN contributions for African led peace operations.
Coming to the second issue we tackled today with our ministers - an impressive number of ministers - we have discussed together the issues related to trade, investment and continental economic integration. We have decided to step up our engagement in this field.
Last autumn, the European Commission put forward a true Africa-Europe Alliance for [Sustainable] Investment and Jobs. Africa needs clearly more private investments to create the jobs for the growing youth population. The European Union will contribute by supporting and de-risking investment concretely through our External Investment Plan, and this goes together with action on the African side that is ongoing to strengthen the business climate.
We will also work together in education and training to develop the skills that match labour market demands. In essence, the aim of the Alliance is to create a win-win partnership that is win-win for our two continents, win-win for our two economies - that are more interlinked than one could imagine - but most importantly win-win for all our people.
Third but not least, we agree to work to promote cooperation among us on the global scene. We are strong supporters of a rules-based global order, we support effective multilateralism in a context where the global order is contested and we see basic principles being undermined, fundamental principles being challenged. The African Union and the European Union are collectively a force that works to shape the global agenda and to strengthen and support effective multilateralism. Together we are 82 countries - believe me, we do make a difference in the global context.
We value the successful work of the African Union-European Union-United Nations trilateral cooperation that covers different areas of action that already started to bring very concrete results and we agreed on the need to continue working together to support the implementation of a UN reform as well as the reform of the WTO [World Trade Organisation].
We also agreed - as I was mentioning - to strengthen our dialogue on political global issues to adopt a more coordinated approach on our respective positions in all international negotiations and international fora. We have shown that when we come together with a common purpose with a common agenda, we do make the difference. If it was not thanks to us together - the African Union and the European Union - we would probably not have the Paris Agreement on Climate Change or the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals.
Out of these two days of work, I can say that we come out stronger, with more determination to work together for the benefit of our people, but also for the benefit of the rest of the world.
Link to the video: https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I166694
Questions and Answers
Q: S'agissant de la République Démocratique du Congo (RDC), est-ce que les deux organisations, Union européenne et Union Africaine, ont pu dégager une position commune à la suite de la confirmation par la Cour constitutionnelle de l’élection de Mr [Félix] Tshisekedi ? Est-ce que l’Union européenne, en tant que telle, a également affiné sa position commune s’agissant d’une reconnaissance sous une forme ou une autre, également de la présence de l’Union européenne et de ses Etats membres à la cérémonie d’investiture?
Je commence parce qu'hier j’avais dit en répondant à une question similaire que j’aurais utilisé cette occasion d’échanges avec vous pour coordonner la position de l’Union européenne et de ses Etats membres avec nos frères et sœurs africains. Donc, la question est justement reposée et vous allez maintenant avoir une réponse, parce que cette coordination a eu lieu.
Nous avons, comme toujours, eu un échange sur le développement en RDC, pas seulement entre nous Européens, mais aussi avec nos partenaires africains, ce qui pour nous est essentiel.
Les élections ont eu lieu en RDC, ce qui est en soi une avance majeure, et le peuple congolais a participé en exprimant sans équivoque sa volonté de changement. Il revient maintenant aux institutions de l’Etat de répondre aux attentes des citoyens.
Nous avons pris note de la proclamation par la Cour constitutionnelle dans la nuit de samedi des résultats définitifs des élections présidentielles. La tâche qui incombe maintenant au nouveau président comporte des défis majeurs dans plusieurs secteurs, sur le plan sécuritaire, sur le plan social, économique et de la gouvernance.
Nous pensons que tout ceci demande que le président soit rassembleur, qu’il s’engage dans un dialogue à l’intérieur du pays ainsi qu’à l’étranger; ceci veut dire dans la région, en Afrique, mais aussi avec les partenaires internationaux du pays et [qu'il] construise un agenda partagé pour répondre aux aspirations politiques et économiques de la population.
Tout au long de ce processus, l‘Union européenne, comme je vous ai déjà dit hier, est restée en étroite consultation avec ses partenaires africains, en particulier avec l’Union africaine, et nous avons convenu aujourd’hui de continuer à le faire dans les semaines à venir jusqu’au prochain Sommet de l’Union africaine.
J’espère avoir répondu à votre question, et je voudrais ajouter que l’Union européenne a toujours été un partenaire important pour la RDC, et surtout pour les citoyens de la RDC. Nous continuerons à l’être, et bien sûr avoir un ambassadeur sur place aide à le faire de la meilleure façon.
Q: In Africa, elections are always followed by violence and bloodshed. Did you discuss how this could be avoided? Most often these problems come, because the incumbent leaders are not willing to leave power. Did the ministers and you as partners discuss how this problem could be overcome in general?
I would like to leave more the floor to my friends, because, first of all, I think it is not always the case that elections or democratic processes are characterised by violence in Africa. I think we have to overcome this view that in many occasions does not happen. And also because I know that the African Union has developed its own reflections and thinking - that we are supporting - on how to strengthen governance and democracy in the continent. And it is always a process; it is a long process. In Europe itself it has been a process and we were not born with democracy. We know that for democracy to be strong it needs ownership. I know that on the African continent there are forces that are strongly investing in good governance and democracy and we are supporting that. And again, I want to say there are good stories of democracy, elections, political dynamics that need to be emphasised and avoid to picture the continent only in negative terms. On the contrary, we have seen some positive stories, including recently.
Q: Migrants are pushed away from Africa by their own governments mainly. Did you also discuss at the ministerial level how the root causes of migration could be handled together? Did the EU give a guarantee to the returnees so that at least their rights can be maintained?
Firstly, we forgot to say we have adopted a Joint Communique that covers the different fields of discussion we have had.
We have had a discussion on migration, obviously, but I want to underline very clearly that migration is not the starting point of our partnership and is not the only angle that is relevant for our partnership. As I said, from peace and security to economic cooperation, investments climate change, global issues, we have a full range of fields on which we value our cooperation and it is not, again, the starting point and it is not the only issue we have on the table.
The approach we have taken since a few years at least - and I remember the developments we have managed to bring about - is a cooperative one. Today, we do not see Africa and Europe as having diverging interests when it comes to migration. We see the need to come together as partners and cooperate to manage a phenomenon that is there, has always been there and will probably continue to be there, in a regular, safe, secure and sustainable manner, in respect of human rights, and, obviously, addressing the root causes of migration, which in many cases are conflicts or are related to climate change or, obviously, to poor economic situations or contradictions in countries.
So we are determined to work together to address the root causes. We are working already together, especially the African Union Commission, the European Union and the United Nations through our trilateral Task Force to address some of the most urgent situations. For instance, we have managed together, thanks to an excellent cooperation, to free tens of thousands of African brothers and sisters who were detained in the detention centers in Libya thanks also to a good cooperation of the Libyan authorities - who I want to recognise in this context. We managed to save them from this terrible situation and in most cases guarantee to them a new opportunity in life protecting them and also supporting financially the work of the UN agencies on the ground.
This is thanks to a shift in attitude. From seeing the issue of migration as something that divides the north and the south of our world, to an issue that requires cooperation and partnership. And thanks to this new approach we have managed to start bringing results: to avoid criminal organisations and networks that traffic people at the detriment of African economies and societies and at the detriment of security of African citizens in the desert and at sea and to address the common challenges we have.
Again, we are starting to see the first results in this and we decided to continue to work very closely together in terms of partnership. And I believe this is a joint approach that I have heard reflected in all Ministers' interventions today: the need to strengthen this partnership and the cooperation approach to tackle this issue in a comprehensive manner.
Q: The President [of Zimbabwe], Emmerson Mnangagwa, tweeted this morning saying he is launching an investigation and that heads might roll. I wonder what your read on the situation in Zimbabwe is, how the AU and the EU can support it and what you think about those kind of words being used in the political context there?
Well, we have already expressed very serious concerns about the escalation of violence in Zimbabwe and the use of force by security personnel. And, as you know, the European Union has always invested a lot in guaranteeing the right to peaceful protest. We believe that it is a fundamental right and that needs to be respected. And we have always insisted a lot with all our partners that security forces must respond in a proportional and professional manner with full respect of human rights whenever challenges to public security is present.
We also believe and we have passed clearly the message that the governments, we believe, would not be able to implement reforms that stand the test of time without an environment that is an environment of inclusive national dialogue through which citizens can exercise their freedoms, starting from the freedoms of assembly, association and expression.
To sum up, the European position has always been this: Accountability is important - respect of the rights of citizens to fully and peacefully express themselves. Obviously, accountability does not mean to exercise violence in exchange. This is part of a system of governance that we can call good governance and that we expect can be exercised for the sake of the population and the institutions of the country.
Link to the Q&A: https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I166695