The EU Commission traveled to Ethiopia to talk to the African Union about a “new level” of partnership. A symbolic act. But not only. Marina Strauß from Addis Ababa.

One after the other jumps out of the plane and throws itself onto the emergency slide made of thick, gray plastic. Future pilots and flight engineers in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, are welcoming the EU Commission President with this exercise. The EU supports its training center.

Below is Ursula von der Leyen, with a smile on her face that she won’t take off all day. It will be her second trip to Africa since taking office in December 2019. And she will never tire of stressing that her renewed visit should be understood by the African partners as a sign of special interest in her continent.

When von Leyen arrives at the headquarters of the African Union in Addis Ababa, almost all members of her commission and the African Union commission are lined up. The symbolism is clear: there are many of us and we want to raise the relationship between the EU and Africa to “a new level”, as von der Leyen later says.

Exchange “at eye level”

The question of whether Europe still often sees Africa as a continent that says “yes” to everything is a definite defense against it. The mere fact that you traveled with such a large group, an unprecedented size of the delegation, shows that the EU is indeed interested in a different kind of partnership. And of course the range of topics that are on the agenda at this meeting.

This includes trade, migration, security, digitization and climate protection. In the last two points, in particular, the EU sees the best starting points for a new type of partnership “at eye level”, as the bank emphasizes. When it comes to digital, von der Leyen relies on young people in Africa, in particular, to push ahead with new things – on the continent whose population is the youngest of all continents.

Ethiopia Addis Ababa Summit of Heads of State of the African Union (picture-alliance / AA / Palestinian Prime Ministry Office)The EU relies on the partnership: Heads of State of the African Union (at their summit on February 9)

The climate change is an issue that concerns both partners say both von der Leyen and Moussa Faki Mahamat, the President of the Commission of the African Union (AU). Here the EU also wants to support the AU financially, it said later at the press conference. For example, when expanding the train network or in the field of renewable energies.

African solutions to African problems

The creed of the day seems to be for the EU Commission: African solutions to African problems. It was understood that one could not expect Africa to be a reflection of Europe. In the view of the EU Commission President, it is more appropriate to “strengthen”. “They want to take responsibility for their regions, fight terrorism in their home countries. That’s the way it should be,” von Leyen told DW.

The President of the EU Commission has set itself the goal of stepping up relations with the African continent in a different direction. Away from the focus on development aid, towards an interest-based partnership. On the one hand, this has to do with the fact that countries like China have long invested heavily in Africa and the EU has to see that it is not left behind. On the other hand, the EU Commission actually seems to want to work on an equal footing with the African continent.

Namibia Gay Pride Parade 2016 (picture-alliance / NurPhoto / O. Rupeta)Acceptance of LGBTQ – one of the issues between the European and African Union

Not just unity

In March von der Leyen will present a new EU-Africa strategy that is supposed to establish this change of direction. An EU-Africa summit is held every three years in Brussels in autumn. Until then, there are many tasks ahead: agreements that need to be renegotiated, dealing with migration, responses to climate change.

Because with all the unity on display in Addis Ababa, it is also clear that there are definitely issues. The morning before the meeting with the EU Commission, Moussa Faki lists some of them on Twitter: “International criminal justice, sexual orientation and identity, the death penalty.” At the joint press conference, Faki and von der Leyen presented such differences as normal for an “honest partnership”. The will to work on is there despite all the differences. That becomes more than clear on this day in Addis Ababa.


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