By Ben Nimmo
Lisbon (dpa) – A century after European states carved Africa into a series of colonies, Europe is looking to create a New World Order – in alliance with Africa.
“Imagine if we showed that with 1.5 billion people and 80 countries – almost half the UN membership! – we can make a real impact, both regionally and as global partners,” European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told the summit of the European and African Unions in Lisbon on Saturday.
The two continents should create a “genuine partnership of solidarity and mutual respect which defends the priorities of Africa and its specific interests” in global issues, Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak told the 26 European and 53 African leaders.
The EU-AU summit – the first in seven years and only the second in history – has been hailed by both sides as a chance to launch a “new relationship” between the continents.
And one key aim of that relationship, according to the agreement jointly drawn up by representatives of the two organizations, is to develop “common responses to global challenges” in international forums – including the United Nations.
“The EU and AU together represent 80 countries. Eighty votes at the UN is a very big power bloc, so there’s no doubt that more comprehensive cooperation could be mutually beneficial,” John Kotsopoulos, an Africa expert at the Brussels-based European Policy Centre, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.
The two decades since the end of the Cold War have been marked by the emergence of powerful global players such as China, India, Brazil and Russia – states with huge populations, growing financial reserves and immensely powerful corporations.
Africa is already the scene of their rivalry, as the new great powers compete for dwindling energy supplies and raw materials.
“Africa is becoming the new ‘grand chessboard’ on which the world’s great powers manoeuvre. China, the US, Australia, India and Malaysia are more and more pushing elbow to elbow to take control of mineral, oil and gas deposits in Africa,” EU Aid and Development Commissioner Louis Michel warned ahead of the summit.
And while some African leaders fear that their continent risks becoming the renewed battleground of the world’s rising powers, their European counterparts worry that those same powers could sideline Europe on major international issues.
“In terms of its broader foreign policy, Europe does need more allies, and certainly Africa represents the best opportunity,” Kotsopoulos said.
Indeed, in many ways a united Africa would be the logical partner for a united Europe in global debates: Europe is Africa’s largest trade partner and aid donor, as EU officials regularly point out.
And the two continents have something else in common: neither is home to any of the half-dozen mega-states which look set to dominate the coming century, such as China, India, the US, Russia and Brazil.
The largest state in Africa, Nigeria, with an estimated population of some 120 million, is dwarfed by states such as the US (301 million), let alone China and India, with over a billion each.
And even the largest economy in Europe, Germany, looks likely to slip down the global rankings in the next decade as China and India continue to expand at white-hot pace.
Given the gradual eclipse of European power, and the resurgence of great-power games in Africa, it is no wonder that the idea of a strategic alliance between the EU and AU has won its supporters on both continents.
But one immense problem remains. Both the EU and the AU are clubs of sovereign states, fiercely jealous of their prerogatives and quick to resent what they see as interference from supra-national bureaucracies.
The organizations are often deadlocked over key issues, as member states block joint decisions to protect their national interests.
And that being the case, no matter how much the institutions in Brussels and Addis Ababa might wish to carve out a place in a new world order, their members look more likely to prefer doing deals with the great powers of the old one.
“It’s far easier to deal with a China that can mobilize massive capital with few conditions, than with a bloc of 27 countries that’s still a patchwork of members,” Kotsopoulos pointed out.
“The Chinese don’t talk for a long time, they just do it, and very fast, very fast, very fast,” Senegalese President Maitre Abdoulaye Wave added.