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Partnership among equals - Antonio Tajani

After years of neglect, unfulfilled good intentions and missed chances, Europe’s relationship with Africa needs to be reset. The time has come for a paradigm shift that puts the African continent at the top of the European Union’s political agenda. Before it is too late.

Our links go far beyond geographical proximity. We share values, religion, languages and strategic interests, as well as many common challenges.

By 2050, Africa will have 2.5 billion inhabitants, a demographic trend that is both a challenge and an opportunity. African countries face desertification, famine, pandemics, terrorism, unemployment and bad governance that fuel instability and contribute to unmanaged immigration.

Burgeoning new generations with no hope will move elsewhere and, especially, to Europe in search of a better life. However, creating genuine paths to prosperity in Africa will incentivise young men and women to produce wealth at home.

Africans are showing that theirs is a continent of opportunity already, with five of the world’s fastest growing economies in 2016 boasting growth rates above seven per cent.

Africa’s destiny is in its hands, and Europe is a friend. We can provide strong support, thanks to our technological leadership and industrial expertise, helping to seize opportunities and tackle the challenges that we can address only by working closely together.

Ten years have passed since the implementation of the joint Africa-EU strategy, and expectations have not been met. Europe has not been bold enough in providing effective means to achieve the desired results.

Instead of consolidating our position as a leading partner in Africa, we are losing ground in terms of foreign direct investment, to the benefit of China and other emerging competitors, such as Turkey, India and Singapore.

The fifth African Union–European Union Summit in Abidjan, bringing together over 80 heads of State at the end of this month, comes at a crucial time. It represents the perfect occasion for us to revitalise, strengthen and make our commitment towards each other more effective.

Inaction now could lead to disastrous consequences forthe citizens of both Europe and Africa

However, we need to act now and with a strong, united voice.

I believe that seeing issues through African eyes, using a people-centred approach, should form the basis of a renewed partnership among equals. Our shared history is complex but it can allow us to build bridges that others cannot.

Our relationship should not only be political and institutional: it should fully involve economic actors and civil society.

Our principal common goal must be to provide real opportunities for young people, allowing them to become an essential part of a flourishing, strong and modern continent. Achieving this will also bring huge untold benefits to Europe, which can contribute to addressing the root causes of unmanaged migration by promoting jobs and growth through sounder investment in Africa.

The €3.4 billion investment plan approved by the European Parliament in July this year is an important step in the right direction. However, it is not enough.

To support the continent’s efforts towards creating a sustainable industrial base, modern agriculture, improved access to water supplies, efficient infrastructure, renewable energy and digitalisation, we need a Marshall Plan for Africa.

Additional efforts are also essential to supporting good governance and the rule of law, promoting the empowerment of women and education.

Awareness and political consensus need to be built to ensure that at least €40 billion is allocated in the next multiannual EU budget to a comprehensive and ambitious partnership and investment programme. The leverage effect stemming from public and private expenditure could potentially be worth close to half a trillion euros.

We can promote strong economic diplomacy through this framework, share know-how, initiate technology transfers and upgrade skills, creating an environment conducive to growth led by SMEs and entrepreneurs. This, in turn, can help create a flourishing middle class that can become the hallmark of an African socio-economic success story.

The European Parliament needs to play a central role in shaping the debate. On Wednesday, we will hold a conference ahead of the summit to discuss with political leaders, experts and investors from both continents how to strengthen our relationship with Africa.

From globalisation to the migrant crisis, the last 20 years have shown us that the world is becoming smaller and that Africa’s problems have become Europe’s.

It is not too late to steady the ship and steer it in the right direction, but inaction now could lead to disastrous consequences for the citizens of both Europe and Africa.

Antonio Tajani is president of the European Parliament.

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