EU grants €118m to support regional integration

Tralac. The EU has just granted four regional organisations of Eastern and Southern Africa and Indian Ocean (ESA-IO) financing worth €118 million to support regional economic integration. The agreement, signed in Nairobi between the EU and the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad), Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), East Africa Community (EAC), and Indian Ocean region, is expected to support a number of regional economic integration and development projects. This EU support is particularly relevant to the Joint Africa-EU Strategy’s Partnership on Trade, Regional Integration and Infrastructure, which notably aims at strengthening the socio-economic and political integration of the continent in line with the Abuja Treaty (establishing the African Economic Community).

“These developments will bring new challenges but also new opportunities for us to further develop our partnership, and extend its new areas such as climate change, migration and peace and security,” Gary Quince, Director of the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) grouping at the EU Commission, said during the signing of the deals. He said the projects are the first of a very significant allocation granted under the 10th European Development Fund (EDF) where €645 million has been allocated to the ESA-IO region for the period 2008 and 2013. “The EDF Regional Strategy for the ESA-IO region which guides this cooperation program was developed and agreed jointly between the EU Commission and the four regional organisations in 2008,” Quince said.

He said the EU strategy in the ESA-IO region lends support to the agreed integration processes and as such, the regional organisations themselves will lead the implementation of the programs. “This central role for the regional organisations is very important for the EU, as this is the only way the integration process can be sustained,” Quince said.

In order to facilitate cooperation, the four regional organisations, along with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the European Commission (EC), joined efforts through the Inter-Regional Coordination Committee (IRCC), to which the African Union and the ACP Secretariat participate as observers. The IRCC coordination mechanism is to facilitate the proper formulation, implementation, and monitoring of the EU-funded regional programs of the ESA-IO.

Quince said that the programs will contribute to the achievement of the regional strategy objectives as they provide direct support to the economic integration process by facilitating trade and reducing barriers to the free movement of goods and services across borders. He said closer political integration will also be encouraged through a joint approach to improve the judiciary and democratic credentials.

Meanwhile, Kenya has voiced its desire for a harmonised selection of development programmes at both regional and national levels to ensure prudent utilisation of resources provided by external partners such as the EU. Finance minister Uhuru Kenyatta said that lack of uniformity in the pursuit of such initiatives poses a risk of wastage of resources. “We would like to urge you to undertake as soon as possible, a midterm review of the regional strategy paper as there have been significant developments that have taken place both within the region and globally may require a re-thinking of the strategy or the initial resource distribution within the strategy,” he said during the signing of the new financing agreements under the 10th tranche of the EDF.

Over the years, the EU’s funding for international cooperation with Africa has come mainly through three geographically-based financing instruments, including the EDF that caters for African nations under the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group. Huge allocations through the EDF have principally been channelled towards financing infrastructure projects in countries such as Kenya as a way of stimulating single and flawless market fabrics in the region.

Concerns have, however, emerged over the lack of synergy in the selection of programmes, with experts demanding better working arrangements at regional and national level to guarantee commonality in the type of programmes pursued. “The link between national and regional policies remains fundamental. This is an increasingly urgent question to address and I think we all recognise that,” said Quince.

This article was written Allan Odhiambo and initially published on Business Daily (Nairobi).

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