Africa seeks sympathetic hearing from French-led EU

Today, France has officially taken over the EU Presidency until the end of the year 2008 and Africa will press former colonial power France for less paternalism from Europe and more flexibility on migration and trade during the French European Union presidency claims news agency Reuters in a recent article published yesterday.

“Expectations are traditionally high when France takes over such European responsibility,” Senegalese political analyst Babacar Justin Ndiaye told Reuters.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who assumes the rotating six-month EU chairmanship, has insisted he wants to update the relationship of France and Europe with the world’s poorest continent, moving away from dependency and paternalism.

But Africa is sceptical about just how generous Europe is prepared to be about granting freer access to its people and goods, and many are wary of Sarkozy’s plan to create a Mediterranean Union involving the countries of North Africa.

Some leaders, like Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, warn too that Europe risks missing out on opportunities for increased investment in a fast-growing continent, at a time when companies from China, India and Gulf Arab states are snapping up deals.

“Today, we (Africa) are courted by everybody,” Senegal’s Information Minister Abdou Aziz Sow told Reuters.He warned Europe to beware of arriving “too late”, urging the 27-nation bloc to move quickly to consolidate an economic alliance with a continent rich in oil and strategic minerals.

African sensitivity remains high over migration, one of the French priorities for its EU presidency. Sarkozy wants EU leaders to adopt a migration pact that includes a commitment to expel more illegal migrants, while making provisions to attract high-skilled workers to jobs in Europe.

While promising cooperation to try to halt the departure each year of thousands of illegal African migrants who risk their lives trying to reach Europe in rickety boats, African governments demand more legal work visas for their citizens.

But many Africans said the continent cannot expect too much from Europe. “We should be counting on ourselves to develop Africa, because Africa is for the Africans, and Europe is for the Europeans,” said Ivorian teacher Jonathan Kouame in Abidjan.

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