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Multi-stakeholder seminar on the future of EU-Africa relations

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On 23-25 July a three-day seminar brought together the African and European private sector, civil society representatives, think tanks, academics and policy-makers, to discuss the state and future of EU-Africa relations. The gathering was co-organized by the Konrad Adenauer Stifftung (KAS), the German Development Institute (DIE), and the European Commission, and took place in Cadenabbia, Italy. DG DEVCO was represented by its Deputy Director General, Klaus Rudischhauser.

Ahead of the 5th AU-EU Summit that will take place on November 29-30 later this year, the seminar allowed for an open and frank discussion on how the evolving relationship between Europe and Africa should take shape in rapidly changing continental and global contexts. There was a widely shared acknowledgement of the timeliness and importance of redefining the EU-Africa partnership in view of the challenges the two continents face.

More particularly, there was broad agreement on the need to actively enhance the role of the private sector in advancing continental aspirations, most notably as a vehicle for  mass-investment, job creation, institution building and overcoming the 'language-barrier' between the public and private sphere. Education and vocational training, furthermore, were often brought forward as foundation of any sustainable development. In addition, participants emphasized the need for both the EU and Africa to assume an interest-driven approach to their mutual engagements, exploring the scope for joint action based on negotiations among equals. Likewise there was agreement that the already complex and plentiful relevant institutional frameworks and strategic documents should be harmonized instead of expanded. The relationship between the two continents should go beyond development and focus on a more political, trade and investment partnership.

Moreover some diverging views were expressed around the relevance of (common) values in EU-Africa relations. Some African participants perceived the EU as imposing a one-size fits all normative straightjacket onto African countries and pledged for a specific, African-driven implementation of universal values in the realm of human rights.  Others indicated that attenuating the relevance of universal principles opens the door to undermining the respect for such principles. Also, the dialogue on the post-Cotonou future of the ACP and its African pillar revealed a broad scope of views and scenarios that need to be further examined and discussed. Some argued that neither side was ready to engage into negotiations.