Magazine article African Business

Europe's Courting of Africa: With the EU Economy under Severe Threat, Europe Has Been Turning Its Gaze Increasingly towards Africa in a Bid to Increase Its Exports and Ensure Supplies of Commodities for Its Industries. but with China Now the Most Important Trading Partner for Africa, the Continent's Approach to the Renewed European Interest Is Lukewarm, Writes Richard Seymour

Magazine article African Business

Europe's Courting of Africa: With the EU Economy under Severe Threat, Europe Has Been Turning Its Gaze Increasingly towards Africa in a Bid to Increase Its Exports and Ensure Supplies of Commodities for Its Industries. but with China Now the Most Important Trading Partner for Africa, the Continent's Approach to the Renewed European Interest Is Lukewarm, Writes Richard Seymour

Article excerpt

Not for the first time, Europe is turning its lascivious eyes toward Africa. The dark history the two continents share with each other continues to evolve and, while never simple, is becoming increasingly complex.

Europe currently finds itself in an ex-tremely precarious economic position. The Eurozone especially is facing a crisis that threatens the continued existence of the single currency that so much was staked upon. The Republic of Ireland's extraordinary growth in the first eight years of this century, helped by its economic cycle harmonising, serendipitously, with that of the euro, came to a juddering halt when the banking crisis, which originated in the US, spread worldwide.

To avoid bankruptcy, the government was forced to accept a multibillion-euro bail-out package and a painful austerity plan to get its economy back on track.

Then Greece followed, with rioting in the streets of Athens, and another bail-out package that did not resolve the crisis but was more akin to reinflating a tyre when the hole has not been repaired.

A second bail-out followed, reluctantly. But with Italy and Spain sliding towards similar crises, and few of those who supported the introduction of the single currency in the first place now saying they would still think, knowing what they do now, that it was such a great idea, prospects for the immediate future look bleak.

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Trade within the EU is vital to its members, but with growth so tentative throughout the Eurozone, exports, a key driver of growth, are being stifled.

French and German banks are exposed to approximately half of the debt in Europe's most vulnerable countries, and Britain, though not part of the euro, is itself heavily exposed, not least of all because more than half of its exports go to Europe.

As a result, European governments are looking elsewhere for export markets. Africa, being a continent of terrific potential for growth is one such market that is being courted. Indeed, David Cameron, the British prime minister, risked criticism at home by-flying to South Africa for trade talks in the midst of a phone-hacking scandal back home which went to the heart of his government. In the most severe political crisis to hit Britain since the Profumo affair in 1963, it is alleged, and indeed in some case already proven, that senior journalists at the world's biggest selling English-speaking newspaper, the News of the World, hacked the private voicemails of celebrities, politicians and young murder victims and their parents, with confidential information provided by officers in the Metropolitan Police and allegations of a cover-up that brought high-profile resignations within the force. That the newspaper's editor at the time went on to become the UK government's communications officer turned the spotlight on Cameron, as he had appointed him against strong advice, and raised questions about his and his predecessors' relationship with the media baron, Rupert Murdoch, whose influence on British politics was deemed to have become too insidious. But that was not enough to keep the prime minister from leaving his post and making a pilgrimage to Africa.

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When Europe was in recession, Africa's economies grew, albeit from a low base, and that growth has increased at a time when Europe and, indeed, the US, still exist on a knife edge and could yet see their economies contract in a much feared 'double dip' recession.

There is now an increasing sense that not only is aid not the answer for Africa in the long term but that it might be going so far as to retard Africa's development in all areas.

Naturally, foreign assistance will have a role to play still, especially given the current desperate situation in Somalia, but more and more the emphasis is on trade and direct foreign investment. China has stolen a march on the rest of the world when it comes to Africa. …

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