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Speeches, 4/13/2018

Opening remarks by Minister Anne-Mari Virolainen on the future of EU-Africa-relations.

Opening remarks by Minister Anne-Mari Virolainen at the seminar on the future of EU-Africa-relations in Helsinki, 13 April 2018. The seminar was organised by the European Commission Representation in Finland and Kehys, the Finnish NGDO Platform to the EU.

EU-Africa relations – how can we achieve a win-win situation?

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear seminar participants,

It is my pleasure to be here today with you to discuss this very topical issue, EU-Africa relations. Africa is Europe’s close neighbour. Its importance for Europe, and Finland, has increased in recent years, and will increase even more in the near future. What happens in our neighbourhood has a direct impact on us, too.

Fast population growth is one of the main megatrends in Africa. It is estimated that by 2050 - after only one generation - the population of Africa will be 2,4 billion people. That is twice as much as today and bigger than China and India together.

Population growth in Africa is combined with factors such as poverty, insecurity, climate change, rapid urbanization and gradual adoption of new technologies. Climate change, for example, has big impact on agricultural land and water resources. We are concerned that it may risk food security and lead to conflicts and migration.

Therefore Africa means both challenges and opportunities that the continent’s northern neighbour, Europe, including Finland, cannot ignore.

Ladies and gentlemen,

On my recent visit to Ethiopia and South Africa I realized strongly, that what makes the situation even more demanding in Africa is the fact, that half of the population will be young people.

But growing and young population can also offer economic opportunities. For instance the EU expects that overall private consumption driven by middle class in Africa will reach EUR 2 trillion annually in 2025. So Africa can provide vast business opportunities and markets for European and also Finnish products and technology.

What is needed for these projections to come true is strong economic development.

Africa experienced an average annual economic growth of 3 – 5 per cent in recent years. For this year and the year 2019 the African Development Bank forecasts a growth of 4,1 per cent. Of course at country level the figures, and situations, differ a lot.

But growth figures, even positive ones, have not been enough. According to projections, Sub-Saharan Africa needs to create 18 million new jobs each year up to 2035, to absorb new labour market entrants. Today the pace is 3 million formal jobs created annually. So work needs to be done.

The size of the formal sector is small, however, and social protection systems are absent. Therefore the danger is that in most African countries a majority of young people will continue to resort to the informal economy as mode of survival.

The youth and job opportunities were also the main theme of the AU-EU Summit last November in Abidjan. In the sidelines of the Summit, the EU launched a new instrument for supporting economic development in Africa, namely the External Investment Plan (EIP). The idea is to generate massive investments particularly on big infrastructure projects in Africa.

Conducive business environment is a crucial element and condition of the EIP. It means good governance. This is very much a task of African governments, for they must be responsible for development of their countries.

A recent initiative for promoting business in Africa is the continent-wide free trade agreement, which was signed by 44 African leaders last month in Rwanda. The very ambitious idea of the African Continental Free Trade Area is to create one African market by reducing 90 per cent of tariffs to zero.

The role of the private sector is strongly incorporated also in the Agenda 2030and the Sustainable Development Goals.  Global challenges cannot be met without the contribution of the private sector.

Also Finland’s Development Policy Program emphasizes the role of the private sector. Therefore I had a sizeable private sector delegation with me in Ethiopia and South Africa – we need the solutions and innovations from the private sector.

Both infrastructure and governance should be further enhanced in Africa. Finland is ready to make our expertize available in both fields. We regard the opportunities available in Africa as a win-win situation for both Africa and Finland. Finnish actors, be they business, government, educational or civil society actors, are called to participate in business and development initiatives between the EU and African countries. In this way they will contribute both to development and job opportunities in Africa, and to job opportunities in Finland.

In addition to growing business relations, development cooperation still plays a big role in Africa, and even more so in fragile states. It is particularly useful for supporting long-term economic, social and institutional development as well as good governance and human rights.

Ladies and gentlemen,

What should be done then?

Finland emphasizes that the Governments in Africa are responsible for the development of their own countries and the continent as a whole. The EU can have a supportive and complementing role only.

We should shift from a donor – recipient relationship to a true and more equal partnership. The EU wants to remain Africa's main partner in the fields of foreign investment, trade, place of origin for remittances, development and humanitarian assistance, and security and defence.

Whether we share the same interests and values is a key question, when Finland and other EU-countries are building partnership with African countries. How much common ground we have?

In the Abidjan Summit, the countries of the EU and AU agreed on four strategic priorities for cooperation in the coming years (FYI: 1. investing in people; 2. Strengthening resilience, peace, security and governance; 3. Migration and mobility; and 4. Mobilizing investments). Of course, the deepening of partnership or improvement of strategic relations does not happen overnight, or in one Summit alone. It needs time to develop. What is important, is that in the Abidjan Declaration we both agreed on the path on which we shall move ahead jointly.

TheAgenda 2030 is another common ground that we have. It is a joint global vision for both Europe and Africa, and it creates a great opportunity to end poverty, to achieve stability and to have a shared prosperity within the carrying capacity of nature.

Within the EU and bilaterally with African countries Finland promotes fundamental values, such as basic human rights, equality, empowerment and inclusion of women, girls and youth, sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), democracy and inclusion of the civil society. Not by imposing or preaching them to our partners, however, but in dialogue, on the basis of universal conventions which also our partners have signed, and respecting the AU’s own charters and policy documents.

Dear friends,

I am happy to conclude that Finland will conduct the EU Presidency in the second half of next year. The negotiations on the Post Cotonou arrangements are reaching final stages during the Finnish Presidency. In these negotiations, Finland places a particular emphasis on the enhanced EU-Africa relations.

As I said in the beginning, Africa is our close neighbor and its importance will increase only in the future. I believe in promoting fundamental values, building equal partnerships and enhancing business relations. I am confident that today’s seminar will bring valuable contribution in this regard.

Thank you.

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Updated 4/13/2018

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