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The Joint Africa-EU Strategy - Filling a unique partnership with life

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On 31 May and 1 June 2011, the African Union Commission and the European Commission convened for their 5th College-to-College meeting. The agenda was packed: More than 20 European and all eight African Commissioners, four Secretaries-General of African Regional Economic Communities, two days of working sessions in clusters, bilateral meetings, and a plenary debate. Co-chaired by President José Manuel Barroso and Chairperson Jean Ping, they moved forward on the joint agenda of the Africa-EU Strategic Partnership, focussing their plenary discussion on two pressing issues of worldwide concern - democracy and growth.

Whole-hearted support for democratic transformations

Commissioners agreed that the profound democratic transformations that are currently taking place in North Africa deserve the whole-hearted support of all international actors, with the aim of strengthening political and economic governance across the African continent. At the same time, as the world is emerging from the economic crisis, a crucial common challenge for both Africa and Europe is to kick-start growth and focus on inclusive and sustainable development for Africa, with eyes firmly on achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. In view of Africa's forecast growth rates and the EU's crucial role as donor and investor, President José Manuel Barroso stated that "the European Union bears a special responsibility for making sure that growth has a maximum impact on reducing poverty."

The cooperation that we have with the European Commission is truly exemplary and as close and as dense as it could be.

Jean Ping

As noted in their joint declaration, the Commissions consider their 2011 joint meeting  has been crucial to developing shared policy agendas. Discussions focused on finding concrete ways to enhance cooperation when addressing both short-term challenges and the long-term structural transformations involved in making regional integration, sustainable, inclusive and green growth, and the equitable transformation of the world economy happen.“This annual meeting,” concluded President José Manuel Barroso at the end of the plenary session, “has become the key event of our ‘intercontinental’ agenda and it has indeed been very fruitful.

Strategic focus on thematic partnerships

Africa-EU cooperation today is built on the foundations that have been laid between the two continents in recent years: In 2007, Heads of State and Government adopted the Joint Africa-EU Strategy, with the aim of pursuing common interests and strategic objectives together, in a globalised world, beyond traditional development issues. The Strategy defines eight specific thematic partnerships (see box).

The eight thematic partnerships --  Peace and security; Democratic governance and human rights; Trade, regional integration and infrastructure; Millennium Development Goals (MDGs); energy; climate change; migration, mobility and employment; science, information society and space.

At their last Summit, in November 2010, leaders from both continents confirmed the Joint Strategy as the central political framework for their relations and adopted a joint Action Plan 2011-2013, spelling out concrete actions in the eight strategic areas. In implementing this Action Plan, the two Commissions will act simultaneously as both engine and driver of the Partnership.

At this year'’s meeting of Commissions, current political developments were high on the agenda. President Barroso commented: “The encouraging historical changes on the African continent present tremendous opportunities to enhance the relations between our continents. We can achieve real progress for the people of Europe and Africa, by tackling global issues, by creating more opportunities for trade, investment and inclusive development, and by addressing the people's aspirations for democratic reforms and social justice.

Cooperation in support of peace, security and democratic governance

Europe and Africa are natural partners, bound together by history, by common values and by shared interests.

José Manuel Barroso

Concretely, the two Colleges agreed to pursue and deepen their cooperation in support of peace, security and democratic governance in Africa. They will promote national reconciliation and economic recovery in Ivory Coast, and work together to foster good-neighbourly relations between North and South Sudan following the latter’s expected independence in July 2011.

The Commissions also committed themselves to seek better ways to manage migrant flows while intensifying work on a comprehensive policy that reaps mutual benefits from migration. With respect to intercontinental trade, they called for an increased pace in negotiating Economic Partnership agreements. Other commitments made in the joint declaration include strengthened cooperation on raw materials, climate change and environment, agriculture and food security.

AU Commission Chairperson Jean Ping concluded at the final press conference "The cooperation that we have with the European Commission is truly exemplary and as close and as dense as it could be."

Millennium Development Goals central to cooperation

At the heart of this cooperation remain the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). EU support has already led to impressive results in this area: 9 million children have been enrolled in primary education; more than 31 million households have been connected to improved drinking water; and 24 million people have been helped through social transfers related to food security.

Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs stressed: “We remain convinced we can attain all the MDGs, provided that the proper political will, policy reforms and financial resources and investments are in place.”

Indeed, Africa is moving forward on many fronts these days. With 5% growth forecast for the continent this year and rapidly expanding trade, with the emergence of a middle class of smart entrepreneurs and wealth creators, and with an ambitious regional and continental integration agenda taking shape, there are many promising channels for future joint AU-EU efforts.