Opening speech at the High-Level Forum Africa-Europe ‘Cooperation in the digital age’
Ladies and gentlemen,
Last year, at the Abidjan Summit, I said that our relations were too important for us to meet only once every three years.
I should therefore like to thank Chancellor Kurz and President Kagame for organising today’s event.
Follow-up meetings such as this are necessary, even essential I would say.
I very much hope that they will continue, therefore.
As Moussa Faki often says, we Europeans and Africans have a comparative advantage.
But if we fail to nurture that advantage, we will forfeit it to others.
What we must do, therefore, is strengthen the ties that bind us in all areas: political, economic, cultural, human.
In keeping with that approach, I have been calling for a genuine Marshall Plan for Africa ever since I took office.
That plan would in turn generate massive private sector investment.
I say this because, despite its huge potential, Africa is still the continent which attracts the lowest volume of investment.
I want that to change, and one way of bringing about that change is to boost synergies between institutions, civil society and economic actors.
We need significant investment to generate sufficient growth and, by extension, several million jobs in order to cope with the impact of the population explosion in Africa.
It is those young people that we must offer a tangible response in the form of job opportunities and decent living conditions. In short, we must offer hope.
We have a duty to be ambitious.
We must not be satisfied with what is already on the table.
We need a stronger, more practical commitment.
This is why, when it adopted its interim report on the Multiannual Financial Framework for the period from 2021 to 2027 in November, Parliament proposed a significant increase in the funding earmarked for Africa.
The figure I have in mind is the equivalent of EUR 50 billion, which would effectively double foreign investment in Africa.
Because the task ahead of us is a huge one.
I remain convinced that the industrialisation of Africa and the development of industrial, social and digital infrastructure hold the key to a dynamic economic future for the continent.
This will make for better connectivity between Europe and Africa, but also, and above all, among Africans themselves.
That connectivity must of course also be digital; hence the title of this Forum.
Our task, then, is to foster the emergence of an ecosystem of entrepreneurs by supporting SME incubators and accelerators and start-ups and making access to credit easier.
We must help Africa take a technological leap forward,
from almost zero connectivity to 4G.
Let us not forget that the internet penetration rate in Africa is the lowest of all the continents. But that just means that it will pick up all the more quickly.
This also calls for high-quality training and education.
We must therefore encourage university exchanges and mobility as drivers for development, creating legal avenues for migration.
But that in turn calls for greater efforts by African states on the issue of returns and repatriations.
In particular because so many Africans are young people, innovation and digitalisation must be seen as catalysts for the development of Africa.
They are essential if Africa is to make the switch to a less polluting economy, by focusing on the energy transition and the management and recycling of waste.
Rwanda is a leader in this field, but there are creative minds at work throughout Africa.
I have seen this at first hand in the course of my visits to Niger, Tunisia and Côte d’Ivoire.
Africa needs a revolution in the areas of innovation and entrepreneurship, particularly female entrepreneurship.
A holistic approach is required, however, because business, trade and investment can only flourish and generate jobs and sustainable, inclusive growth in a climate of peace, security, stability, respect for human rights and good governance.
Let me take this opportunity to applaud the work of the African Union under the leadership of Moussa Faki and President Kagame.
Initiatives such as the digital single market, the single market in goods, freedom of movement for people and the open skies policy are particularly welcome.
They all point in the same direction, towards greater connectivity.
Lastly, let us not forget that together we represent more than one third of the countries in the world.
That is our strength and that is the strategic interest which should bring us together and give us unity of purpose.
We have common challenges and interests: migration; combating terrorism; addressing climate change; growth and employment.
Taking action on investment only makes sense if we take action on these fronts as well.