Africa: 53 countries, One Union


By EU Commissioner Piebalgs

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to be here and to address this distinguished audience.

2010 is a watershed year for development.

Looking back 50 years, independence swept across much of Africa. This conference not only gives us the chance to discuss key opportunities and challenges for Africa’s future, but it also lets us celebrate this defining moment in modern history.

Looking back 60 years, the Declaration by Robert Schuman on 9 May laid the foundation stone for what is now the European Union.

Here in Bologna, 9 May 2010 was also a significant date. It marked the debut appearance in the football team of Steven Appiah, who will captain Ghana in this Summer’s World Cup in South Africa. So this great city’s promotion of relations between Europe and Africa now goes beyond even the Foundation for Worldwide Cooperation set up by Romano Prodi, to whom I pay tribute for hosting today’s event.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

A lot has been achieved since the creation of the African Union. Today, the African Union has established itself as a force that can bring change and reforms to the continent. It has been instrumental to overcome the cliché of Africa’s dependency on foreign aid, and to establish Africa as an indispensible interlocutor on matters such as peace and security, amongst others.

But this hasn’t been achieved without struggles along the way. In fact I think the title of this conference alludes to this well: “Africa: 53 countries, 1 Union”.

53 countries, is double the number of the Member States in the European Union. 53 countries mean 53 governments with different agendas, interests and needs. It means countless different cultures, religions, and languages. This is both the opportunity and predicament we also experience in the European Union.

In order to create a successful Union, difficult choices must be made. All too often this means traditions have to be broken, resources have to be pooled and power has to be shared. What better way to illustrate this than through the experience of the European Union.

It is thanks to integration that Europe has seen the longest period of peace and stability in modern history after two devastating World Wars. It is thanks to integration that a smooth transition of Central and Eastern Europe took place after the end of the Cold War. It is thanks to integration that Europe has become an effective actor in the international scene. It is thanks to integration that today Europeans enjoy economic prosperity and social welfare.

You cannot achieve integration without political will or strong institutions. People – political leaders AND citizens – must understand that they have more to gain from pooling their power in a globalized world where “sovereignty” does not mean much anymore. This strong political will goes hand in hand with strong, well-resourced, and independent institutions.

Of course, this does not happen overnight. Actually, it took decades of institutional reform, consecutive rounds of enlargement, even some (ultimately healthy) internal crisis and outside pressure for Europeans to be able to translate their vision into political reality. And some “existential” questions about the European project are still unanswered today – which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Political and economic integration is the right answer to achieve peace and security, to fight poverty and to develop societies and economies. What has been true for Europe is also true for Africa.

This is why we have supported the African Union from its very early days.

We have supported the African Union because we are convinced that Africa should have its own, strong voice in the international scene, be it in New York, Geneva, or Doha.

We have also supported the African Union because we share a common interest in effective multilateralism based on strong and representative institutions.

But there is yet another very important reason: our two Unions are not only neighbours sharing a rich and complex history. Our combined 80 Member States also share core values and interests which we can promote together. Here is a huge potential which we have only started to exploit. It is my deepest belief that, by joining forces, Europe and Africa can make the UN MDG Review Summit and the Cancun Climate Change Conference a success.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Europe and Africa have moved away from the traditional donor/beneficiary relationship. We are now equal partners who need each other, who share responsibilities and opportunities.

As we are moving to the third Africa/EU Summit at the end of this year, we can take note of the progress we have made and of the challenges which still lay ahead of us. Our focus should be on action: translating the commitments we made into concrete results and unlock the potential of our strategic partnership.

However, Africa’s struggle for unity, peace and development needs more than one partner. The Summit will send a strong signal confirming the strategic partnership between Europe and Africa. But it should also be an invitation to other non-European partners of Africa to subscribe to the African integration agenda, and to help to make “53 countries, one Union” a reality.

For us in Europe, we continue to be inspired by the words of Desmond Tutu: “The only way we can hope to be prosperous, ultimately, is together”.

Thank you for your attention.

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