The Portuguese presidency of the European Union may have a central role in the definition of policy for Africa, given thehistorical relations and influence, but also the “surprising” little interest of other Member States, experts say.
The position appears in the report “Presidency of crisis: How the Portuguese leadership can guide the EU in the post-covid era”, of the independent think tank European Council for External Relations (ECFR), to which Lusa had access.
Portugal, which in its previous European presidency, in 2007, organized the 1st EU-Africa Summit, will assume the presidency in 2021, albeit in a different European institutional framework, established by the Lisbon Treaty, which reduced the influence of Member States in the external relations.
“However, the historical relations and direct cultural and political influence of EU countries still continue to make a difference in this area. This is the case of Portugal in Africa – a continent in which the other Member States appear surprisingly of little interest ”, argues the document.
As authors of the report, they cite an ECFR study, carried out by identifying 800 government officials, researchers and journalists from the 27 Member States, according to which Portugal “is the only EU country to include Africa’s policy among the top five priorities of the Union for the coming years ”.
In contrast, they point out, “Taken as a whole, the EU 27 placed Africa’s policy in 17th place among the 20 potentially priority areas”.
“As such, the importance that Portugal attaches to Africa may contribute to the country taking on a central role in defining the EU’s policy for that continent”, he defends.
This role can be based on “collecting support for their political positions” from other EU Member States that have an interest in Africa and “One who does not yet have strong favorites in that regional area”, but also in organizing the VI Summit between the EU and the African Union (AU), scheduled for 2020, but postponed due to the limitations that the covid-19 pandemic imposed.
The report points out that Portugal “is in tune” with the European Commission’s proposal, presented in March, for a new strategic relationship with Africa, which “recommends a stronger and more balanced relationship between the parties, including through cooperation in key areas such as the green transition, digital transformation, sustainable growth and jobs, peace and governance and migration and mobility ”.
However, if for Portugal to organize the Summit, an “unexpected turn” can take place, given that “the Portuguese government defends [also] that any European strategy for Africa must take into account the individual approaches and interests of the Member States on that continent ”.
This position is supported by “between a quarter and a third” of those surveyed in that study, who favor a more national than European approach to the relationship with Africa.
“Perhaps Portugal is not willing to share its knowledge and contacts with certain regions of Africa with other EU member states – assets that are received internationally and that have given Lisbon an important influence in various forums,” admits the report.
The report, funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, was carried out by Susi Dennison and Lívia Franco and will be released on October 27.
The European Council for External Relations is an independent think tank, with offices in several capitals and researchers in all 27 Member States.
Portugal will hold the presidency of the Council of the European Union in the first half of 2021.