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Africa-Europe Alliance: First projects kicked off just three months after launch

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Only three months after the launch of the Africa–Europe Alliance, the European Commission is presenting first progress on boosting investment and creating jobs in Africa.

At the High-Level Forum Africa-Europe today in Vienna, hosted jointly by the Austrian Presidency of the EU, notably by Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, and Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda and the Chairman of the African Union for 2018, President Jean-Claude Juncker reiterated Europe’s ambition for a true and fair partnership among equals between Africa and Europe. President Juncker presented the first results of the Africa–Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs, just three months after its launch. The Alliance aims to deepen the economic and trade relations between the two continents, in order to create sustainable jobs and growth.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said: “Europe and Africa share a long history and a bright future. This is why I proposed a new Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs, to help attract both European and African investment and create 10 million jobs in Africa over the next five years. Translating words into action, we have already taken a series of measures to bring our ambitions to life.”

The President is accompanied to the High-Level Forum by Vice-President Andrus Ansip, Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development Neven Mimica, Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Phil Hogan and Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society Mariya Gabriel.

The Africa-Europe Alliance, announced by President Juncker in his 2018 State of the Union Address, focuses on four key areas. Three months on, work is already well underway in each:

  1. Strategic Investment and Job Creation

The EU External Investment Plan aims to raise significant sustainable investments in Africa and European neighbourhood countries by 2020. From the €44 billion announced, programmes already in the pipeline will mobilise €37.1 billion of investments.

New projects were announced today:

An EU guarantee (NASIRA Risk-Sharing Facility), the first of its kind under the EU External Investment Plan, will use worth €75 million of EU funds to leverage up to €750 million of investments for entrepreneurs in Sub-Saharan Africa and the EU’s southern neighbourhood. Alone this is expected to create 800,000 jobs and benefit those who usually struggle to access affordable loans, such as small and medium sized enterprises, internally displaced people, refugees, returnees, women and young people.

A new Agri-Business Capital fund worth €45 million will support smallholder agriculture by increasing access to finance for individual smallholder farmers. It is expected to attract more than €200 million in investments and benefit as many as 700,000 households in rural areas.

To support the EU’s southern neighbourhood, a programme worth €61.1 million will supportsolar power plants in Morocco and €46.8 million will be invested in depolluting the Kitchener Drain in the Nile Delta region in Egypt.

  1. Investment in Education and Matching Skills and Jobs

Since 2015, the Erasmus+ programme supported 16,000 exchanges of African students and staff from African Universities to come to Europe on short-term exchanges. With new Erasmus+ calls ongoing, the EU is well on track to deliver on its announced 2020 target of reaching 35,000 exchanges.

  1. Business Environment and Investment Climate

In 2018 alone, the European Union has committed over €540 million to support business and investment climate reforms– significantly exceeding the Africa-Europe Alliance’s commitment to increase European Union support up to €300-350 million per year for 2018-2020.

Public-private dialogues to promote Sustainable Business for Africa (SB4A) have been established in the following African countries: Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Tunisia and Uganda. Similar dialogues in 25 additional African countries are currently being prepared. This will help to boost decent job creation, in particular for young people and women. The dialogues were launched in Abidjan during the EU-Africa business forum in November 2017.

  1. Economic Integration and Trade

The European Union is committed to support the creation of a African Continental Free Trade Area, and has notably announced €50 million of support. A first step was taken today with a €3 million programme signed with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa to develop national implementation strategies for the continental free trade area. The establishment of an African trade observatory is also planned, and will be a key pillar of the African Continental Free Trade Area.

Working Together in Strategic Areas

A key component of the Africa-Europe Alliance is close collaboration between both sides. Four joint task forces have been set up:

The rural Africa task force today presented its recommendations on how best to develop Africa’s agriculture, food sector and rural economy.

The digital economy task force met for the first time on 18 December in Vienna, on the occasion of the High-Level Africa-Europe forum. Its aim is to develop by June 2019 proposals for concrete actions and projects that support the integration of digital markets in Africa, boosting public and private investment, improving the business environment and investment climate as well as the development of digital skills.

The energy task force was launched at the Africa Investment Forum in Johannesburg in November 2018. It brings together key players in the sustainable energy sector from the public and private sectors of both Europe and Africa.

A task force for transport is currently being set up.

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Ursula von der Leyen presents her vision to MEPs

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Ursula von der Leyen outlined her priorities as Commission President © European Union 2019 – EP

In a debate with MEPs, Ursula von der Leyen outlined her vision as Commission President. MEPs will vote on her nomination, held by secret paper ballot, at 18.00.

Ursula von der Leyen outlined her political priorities, if elected as Commission President, to MEPs in Strasbourg this morning.

Here is a selection of the topics she mentioned during her speech.

Having identified the collective need for “a healthy planet as our greatest challenge and responsibility”, Ms von der Leyen proposed bolder emissions targets, with a reduction of 50% to 55% by 2030 and committed to submit a plan for a “Green Deal for Europe” and a European Climate Law within her first 100 days in office. She also announced plans for sustainable European investment (also through the partial conversion of EIB funds into a “climate bank”) to provide €1 trillion in investments within a decade.

Ms von der Leyen also stressed that the EU must establish an economy that serves the people. In order for this to happen however, “everyone needs to share the burden” – including those tech giants that conduct their business (and should continue to do so) in Europe, yet do not repay the people of Europe for their access to EU human and social capital.

Reiterating her commitment for a gender-balanced College of Commissioners during her term, she also highlighted that violence against women has to be tackled decisively; she would therefore seek to define violence against women as a crime in the European treaties, in parallel to completing the EU’s accession to the Istanbul Convention.

Ms von der Leyen declared her commitment to rule of law as a European value, announcing that she intends to establish an EU-wide monitoring mechanism in parallel to existing measures. She emphasised that these European values also include a duty to save lives at sea and should translate into a humane border policy. She stated her support for a “new pact on migration & asylum” and Dublin Regulation reform, adding that she intends to ensure that Frontex border guards number 10,000 not by 2027, but by 2024, and that all countries should shoulder their fair share of the burden based on the principle of European solidarity.

On the matter of European democracy, Ms von der Leyen announced a two-year Conference for Europe as of 2020, in which citizens will take a leading and active role. She also emphasised the need for the Spitzenkandidaten system to be strengthened and that transnational lists should be reconsidered in future European elections. She also declared her full support for a right of initiative for the European Parliament, committing to put forward a legislative proposal in response to every resolution that is passed with a majority of Parliament’s constituent members.

Reactions from political groups

Manfred Weber (EPP, DE) confirmed his group’s support for Ms von der Leyen. “We stand for a Europe that is fair, modern and innovative, secure, open-minded and ecological. We will implement these pledges together with her.” He welcomed her proposals for a right of initiative for the EP and to improve the lead candidate process, saying, “Backroom deals must be a thing of the past.”

Iratxe García Pérez (S&D, ES) complained that “European democracy is progressing way too slowly” and underlined that Ms von der Leyen must give further details on how she plans to respond to citizens’ demands, and particularly youth, before the S&D decides whether or not to back her. Support for sustainable growth, stronger action to fight poverty, and a binding strategy for gender equality are essential, García added.

Dacian Cioloș (Renew, RO) said, “We can no longer disappoint the millions of Europeans who said YES to Europe. They expect the EU to defend the rule of law without hesitation”. His group is ready to support her, with one goal: the renewal of Europe. “But, above all, we expect from you real pro-European leadership. Europe is not an administration, but a political ambition”, he said.

Philippe Lamberts (Greens/EFA, BE) said that his group was not ready to hand over the helm of the European Union to Ursula von der Leyen at a time when ‘‘our common house is burning, the climate is deteriorating, there are ever deeper inequalities and a backlash in fundamental freedoms and the rule of law”. However, if elected, his group was ready to provide its support “whenever the proposals would be up to the existential challenges we face”.

Jörg Meuthen (ID, DE) announced that his group will vote against her, stating that she is unfit for the job and that she had no convincing vision for Europe. He criticised her for promising too many different, contradictory things to groups in order to secure support, e.g. regarding the rule of law or migration.

Raffaele Fitto (ECR, IT) asked Ursula von der Leyen to clarify her position on “the mechanism on the rule of law, on which we are at odds” with the policy pursued so far by the Commission. Regarding the fight against climate change, he said he was “happy for proposals such as the transition fund and the bank for sustainable investments, but we discuss increasingly ambitious targets, without saying how to achieve them”.

Martin Schirdewan (GUE/NGL, DE) said that his group will not vote for Ms von der Leyen. Voters expected a lead candidate as Commission President, he claimed, not a Minister of Defence, which is a signal “for the continued militarisation and isolation of the EU.” He called for austerity policies to end and for investment in social security, education, healthcare and fighting climate change.

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PES: Progressive commitments needed from the next Commission

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The next European Commission must commit to progressive priorities, PES President Sergei Stanishev said today.

At a hearing this morning with S&D MEPs, Sergei Stanishev asked the nominee for Commission President – Ursula von der Leyen – to commit to stronger social rights, more opportunities for young Europeans, and a firm approach to the Rule of Law.

PES President Sergei Stanishev said:“The next European Commission programme must not ignore the millions of Europeans who voted for progressive change. The public did not have an opportunity to scrutinise the current nominee’s ideas, so today we are seeking commitments on our priorities. This means binding rules for the Social Pillar, substantial budget increases for youth, and no watering down of the Rule of Law.”

The PES has been the driving force behind the European Pillar of Social Rights, working to convene the EU Social Summit, also known as the Gothenburg Summit, in 2017. The Pillar was created to strengthen rights and social protections for workers, but during the last mandate major elements of the Pillar were not implemented by member states and binding rules should now be introduced.

Opportunities for young people must also be a priority for the next Commission. The Youth Guarantee was a PES initiative to secure a job, traineeship or education place for all young people after they leave education or become unemployed. More investment is now needed to support the next generation to reach their full potential and enjoy a comfortable life. This means introducing a European Youth Plan, extending the Youth Guarantee so it can benefit more people, and implementing a European Child Guarantee. Erasmus+ must also be strengthened to ensure people from all backgrounds can benefit, and European Culture Cheques should be introduced to support access to culture for young people.

Led by the First Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans, the PES has a resolute commitment to upholding and strengthening the Rule of Law. Our political family has led the defence of this fundamental value of the EU, a collective duty for all European parties. It is important that a future Commission does not shy away from its obligations in this area. The next Commission President must build on the comprehensive work undertaken in this mandate by the First Vice-President to ensure democracy and the independence of the media and judiciary can flourish in Europe.

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Parliament decides on new Commission President

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MEPs vote on the candidate for the president of the European Commission on Tuesday 16 July.

German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen, who was nominated for the post by the European Council, will outline her programme and discuss it with MEPs from 9.00 CET. MEPs will vote on her candidacy at 18.00 CET.

In order to become Commission President, von der Leyen must secure the support of an absolute majority of MEPs (as of today she must get at least 374 votes). The vote will be a secret paper ballot.

Although she has the backing of EU leaders and is a member of the political party that won most seats in the European elections, von der Leyen was not a lead candidate, a fact criticised by many MEPs.

Political groups have already subjected von der Leyen to tough questioning about her plans for the Commission.

If she fails to win a majority, the European Council would have to put forward another candidate.

Following May’s elections, one of the first tasks of the new, directly-elected European Parliament is the election of the next European Commission President.

Once this new president has been approved, work starts on setting up the new Commission. Parliament’s committees will hold hearings with each of the commissioners-designate to assess their suitability for the portfolio to which they are assigned, before MEPs vote on the Commission as a whole.

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