A New Wind in EU-Africa Relations: Human Rights Put Aside for Trade

Written by | Monday, December 31st, 2018

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Rwandan President Paul Kagame took part in in the High-Level Forum Africa-Europe in Vienna in the week before Christmas along with EU and African political leaders and 1,000 innovators and representatives of companies and start-ups from Africa and Europe. The topic of the meeting was “Taking Cooperation to the Digital Age”, suggesting a shift in the mutual relations between the two continents; as the EU’s summary paper of the meeting put it – it is the first step of “a new Africa-Europe alliance”.


The meeting is widely believed to mark the beginning of mutual relations that go beyond migration. Europe pledged higher investments and cooperation in the African economy, spanning agriculture, start-ups, financial technologies, sustainable energy and education. The EU’s interest in Africa is ramping up as in the next decade, Africa’s resources will be an important consideration for both continents. The African continent is rich in metals, ivory, gems, wood, natural gas and oil but due to insufficient access to the state-of-the-art technology, many of these resources lie untapped or unused.


Europe realizes that investing in Africa means investing in the future. The number of educated, high-skill workers in Africa is estimated to go up by 15 to 20 million annually over the next 30 years. European investments now target this growing working population to make sure that its local deployment will be productive. Given the rising importance of Africa, the EU is now ready to lax some its earlier premises around human rights. So far, EU-African trade has been conditional, depending on the quality of human rights but the Chinese, ignoring human rights violations, has made major strides in exploiting Africa’s resources. It is telling that Chancellor Kurz made it clear than Europe “can’t leave Africa to the Chinese”, whereby he is by far not the only leader thinking that Europe should change its approach when it comes to Africa.

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