Europe-Africa summit breaks up amid squabbling

European and African leaders were seeking to open a new era of closer relations, but their summit closed today with squabbling over trade and human rights.

European and African leaders were seeking to open a new era of closer relations, but their summit closed today with squabbling over trade and human rights.

Old divisions surfaced at the first summit in seven years between the continents as leaders swopped accusations over the crises in Zimbabwe and Darfur and postcolonial tensions deepened over free trade deals.

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade said most African leaders had dismissed the European Union’s free trade proposals. While the deals were not being hammered out at the summit, the meeting had been seen as a chance to push for progress.

The proposals “aren’t in Africa’s interest,” Mr Wade said in angry comments at a news conference in Lisbon, Portugal.

African Union Commission President Alpha Oumar Konare said the EU had to give up its “colonial approach”.

“The riches of Africa must be paid for at a fair price,” he said.

The tone of indignation reflected a tense atmosphere at the end of the talks in Portugal.

Officials from both continents said the presence of more than 70 heads of government showed leaders on both continents wanted better relations. But they left the Portuguese capital with only a broad statement of intentions.

Human rights and aid groups expressed exasperation. Save the Children said in a statement the summit was “a high-profile exercise of little substance”.

Differences over the human rights record of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and measures to help end the conflict in the western Sudanese region of Darfur dogged the event.

Asked what was his message to Europe as he arrived at the summit venue Sunday, Mr Mugabe said nothing but raised his arm and made a fist.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Saturday the EU was “united” in condemning Mugabe for what they view as his economic mismanagement, failure to curb corruption and contempt for democracy. Prime Minister Gordon Brown stayed away from the summit in protest against Mr Mugabe’s attendance.

Ghanian President John Kufuor, current chair of the AU, said the organisation supports mediation efforts among Zimbabwe’s main political parties being led by South African President Thabo Mbeki and aimed at political reform. But he insisted that meddling from outside Africa would be unhelpful.

“We want to encourage a homegrown solution so there will be a restoration of normalcy and good governance for the people of Zimbabwe,” Kufuor said.

Measures to help end the conflict in the western Sudanese region of Darfur were another point of contention.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has so far refused to allow non-Africans into a 26,000-strong UN-AU peacekeeping force planned for Darfur. EU nations, meanwhile, have failed to come up with the needed military hardware to support the operation.

Sudan and United Nations envoys met on the sidelines of the summit. They said in a brief joint statement there had been “clarification” of some issues but gave no details.

On trade, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the EU was offering Africa full access to its markets.

However, he acknowledged the difficulty of reaching free-trade deals between wealthy European countries and poor African nations.

The EU wants to meet a December 31 deadline set by the World Trade Organisation for replacing its trading system with former European colonies around the world, including in Africa. The WTO has ruled that the EU’s 30-year-old preferential trade agreement with Africa was unfair to other trading nations and violated international rules.

The two sides will press ahead with talks on interim accords with individual African countries to assure they continue to enjoy privileged access to European markets, Barroso said.

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