By Andrew Gardner
80 national delegations coming to Brussels.
The European Union will next week ready itself for the largest set-piece in EU history, the arrival of around national 80 delegations for the EU-Africa summit on 2-3 April.
Debate on the summit’s three themes ‚Äì people, prosperity and peace ‚Äì will take place at meetings of foreign ministers on Monday (17 March) and national leaders on Thursday and Friday (20-21 March), with the EU’s member states quietly aligning their Africa policies, as well as underscoring Europe’s commitment to moving the EU’s agenda more toward trade and security co-operation.
The most significant development, though, is likely to come from Africa, on 24 March, when leaders from the Economic Community of West African States, are expected to conclude protracted and difficult talks by endorsing an economic partnership agreement with the EU.
Security will dominate the debate by EU foreign ministers, with member states set to back a counter-piracy strategy in the Gulf of Guinea, where the scale and nature of attacks have provoked concern. The International Maritime Bureau recorded 58 attacks in 2012, including 10 hijackings ‚Äì and because tankers bringing refined oil from Europe have regularly been targeted, belief has grown that officials with knowledge of shipments have been colluding with pirates. But ideas about a civilian security mission focused on coastguards have given way to a multi-layered strategy with no mission.
Foreign ministers will also give their backing to a ‚Äòcrisis-management concept’ for a civilian mission to Mali, to advise and train Mali’s police, gendarmerie and national guard. The concept will need to be fleshed out over the coming months, in technical terms. The EU is already training Mali’s army. The mandate of that mission, which ends in May, is expected to be extended by two years.
Foreign ministers will also wave through a review of the EU’s Sahel strategy, adopted in 2011. The focus will remain on governance, deepening co-operation, and boosting security, as pre-conditions for development. But big issues for many member states are people- smuggling and arms- trafficking. The most obvious change may be in the way the region is defined, adding Burkina Faso and Chad to Mali, Mauritania and Niger. Some had argued for Algeria and Senegal to be added.