EU chief Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday unveiled plans to muster investment of more than 150 billion euros for Africa, proclaiming Europe to be the continent’s biggest and “most reliable” partner.
The scheme is the first regional plan of the European Union’s Global Gateway — an investment blueprint that seeks to mobilise up to 300 billion euros ($340 billion) for public and private infrastructure around the world by 2027.
Seen as a response to China’s Belt and Road initiative, the strategy will use funding from EU institutions and member countries to leverage private-sector investment.
Speaking at a press conference in the Senegalese capital Dakar, von der Leyen told reporters she was “proud” to announce plans for Africa, where the aim was to amass at least 150 billion euros in investment.
She did not offer details about how the funds would be raised or spent.
The EU’s website says money under the Global Gateway will be earmarked for “smart, lean and secure links” in communications and transport and for boosting health, education and research.
Von der Leyen, who is president of the powerful executive European Commission, arrived on Wednesday to prepare for a summit between the EU and the African Union on February 17-18.
“At the summit, investments will be at the heart of the discussions because they are the means of our shared ambition,” von der Leyen said.
“In this area Europe is the most reliable partner for Africa and by far the most important,” she added.
Global Gateway is rooted in “the values to which Europe and Africa are committed, such as transparency, sustainability, good governance and concern for the well-being of the people,” von der Leyen said.
– China and Russia –
Speaking to AFP before arriving in Senegal, von der Leyen warned that foreign investment in Africa too often came with “hidden costs” attached.
Critics often accuse other large investors in Africa, such as China or Russia, as being less stringent on environmental protection or human rights.
China in particular is accused of luring African countries into debt traps, offering huge unaffordable loans. Beijing disputes the charge, arguing that its loans are designed to alleviate poverty.
For his part, Senegalese President Macky Sall told reporters on Thursday that he expected the EU-AU summit to produce a “renewed, modernised and more action-oriented partnership.”
“Europe and Africa have an interest in working together”, he said, referencing the geographical proximity of the two continents and common security concerns, among other things.
Sall added that he was committed fighting global warming, but stressed the need to finance natural-gas projects in order to boost industry and provide greater access to electricity.
He has opposed plans announced by a small group of countries at last year’s COP26 climate summit, including the US and France, to end financing for overseas unabated fossil fuels — those without associated carbon capture technology — by the end of 2022.
The final declaration at COP26 also said countries would “accelerate efforts towards phase-out of unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.”
Senegal, a poor nation of 17 million people, has high hopes for gas fields off its Atlantic coast.
The government has said it plans to start production by late next year or in 2024.