Portugal: Bridge-builder between Europe and Africa

Augusto Santos Silva , Thursday 21 Mar 2019

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Portugal Augusto Santos Silva writes exclusively for Ahram Online and Al-Ahram Weekly

Augusto Santos Silva
Portugal's Minister of foreign affairs Augusto Santos Silva (Photo: Republica Portugusa official website)

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Portugal Augusto Santos Silva argues in this exclusive published in Ahram Online and Al-Ahram Weekly that his country, as a member of the European Union which enjoys a close relationship with Africa, can play a major role in improving the partnership between the EU and the African Union.


Europe and Africa are close neighbours. Both continents share the same geography, the same security context, and complementary challenges when it comes to migration.

Over the last few years, the European perspective on the extent of our Southern Neighbourhood has evolved in the right direction: we are now well aware that our vicinity goes far beyond Northern Africa, encompassing instead the Sahel region and even Central Africa.

But more than neighbours, Europe and Africa are partners. The EU is Africa’s main trading partner, as well as the largest provider of development aid to Africa.

And yet our partnership must be taken more seriously. Because the paradigm of development aid — the simplistic paradigm of an asymmetrical relationship between a donor-country and a recipient-country — is no longer valid: we are in a relationship between equals and we must understand it as such, building our partnership based on that premise.

A partnership consisting of economic cooperation, trade flows and job-creation through investment. This is the spirit of the 2017 Abidjan Declaration, and we must abide by it.

Because we live in a common neighbourhood, because we face common threats, we must also incorporate the cooperative security dimension into our partnership, as stipulated in the memorandum of understanding on peace, security and governance signed in 2018 between the European Union (EU) and the African Union (AU).

So how can we improve the EU-AU Partnership, from the European side? Our recipe is threefold.

First, we must implement the New Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs between Europe and Africa announced last September by the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, and we must prepare the future of the Cotonou Agreement in that new light.

Secondly, we must strive to take advantage of the new dynamics of regional integration in Africa: at a continental level, through the African Continental Free Trade Area, expected to enter into force in 2019; at a sub-regional level, through the renewed impetus of organisations such as ECOWAS or the SADC.

In a nutshell: we must work simultaneously with Africa as a whole and Africa as a mosaic of several distinct regions. And thirdly, beyond the economy, we must keep in mind another crucial dimension of EU-AU cooperation — multilateralism — by taking advantage of our convergence of views regarding the major multilateral agendas.

Portugal is particularly close to Africa. We use the same language as six AU member states — a language which is now spoken by 275 million people, in 2050 by almost 400 million people, and by 2100 by as many as 500 million people.

The Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries (CPLP) encompasses countries from Western Africa to Southern Africa. Portuguese is our common Euro-African heritage.

A heritage which symbolises the kinship between Portugal and Africa, materialised in the first two EU-Africa summits, organised under two different Portuguese Presidencies of the European Union: the first one in 2000, in the sizzling city of Cairo, and the second in 2007, in Lisbon.

As an EU member state, Portugal has always been particularly invested in the relationship between the EU and the AU. To the new partnership paradigm referred to earlier, Portugal can and should add three idiosyncratic elements.

First of all, Portugal values the notion that all of Africa matters, i.e. that Europe cannot limit its understanding of this great continent to Northern Africa and to the Sahel region, embracing instead the importance of Southern Africa and Western Africa.

Secondly, Portugal values cooperation in the field of security and defence: this is visible in our relations with Portuguese-Speaking countries, but also in our contribution towards increasing maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea. Lastly, Portugal recognises the importance of the Sustainable Development Goals, the Climate Agenda and the Oceans’ Agenda.

We see Africa as one of the top priorities of the next Portuguese Presidency of the EU in 2021. I am confident that our objectives will be convergent with those pursued now by the Egyptian chairmanship of the AU: although at different moments, we will work in a convergent manner.

Just like Portugal, Egypt has ancestral relations with a broad range of European and African countries. Just like Portugal, Egypt values free trade and security.

We know for a fact that the Egyptian chairmanship of the AU will translate into progress regarding the economic integration of Africa, bringing us closer to a continent-to-continent partnership between two integrated regions, capable of generating more prosperity, better jobs, and peace and security for all.

In January 2021, when Portugal takes up the EU presidency, you can count on us to do exactly the same.

* The writers is the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Portugal

*A version of this article appears in print in the 21 March, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Portugal: Bridge-builder between Europe and Africa

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