György Hölvényi MEP tells Mace’s Themistoklis Asthenidis about his expectations for a new partnership deal between the European Union and the African Union covering five major pillars: green transition and energy access, digital transformation, sustainable growth and jobs, peace and governance, and migration and mobility.
Themistoklis Asthenidis: You’ve advocated for a change in European-African policy following “a centre-right, Christian-Democratic position”.
Can you outline your political priorities when it comes to your party (the European People’s Party or EPP) view on African policy?
György Hölvényi: In previous deals, trade, economics and education have typically come low on the agenda. Fighting poverty has dominated the discourse. But there’s actually no need to separate these issues. We need a holistic, people-centred approach and we must engage in dialogue with our partners. This is the approach our group, the EPP of the European Parliament, has had in the past. An example was the Windhoek Dialogue, an initiative to provide a platform for political dialogue with African counterparts as equal partners.
We must listen to our African partners instead of lecturing them; we can only achieve sustainable development in areas where they also want change. Development must be led by Africa.
We also need to recognise that the EU of today is radically different to the EU 20 years ago. With the accession of new member states in 2004, a whole new group joined the union – countries without a colonial past and a new approach to Africa.
Our countries’ transition from dictatorship to democracy is also an important lesson to be shared with our partners. In the last few years I’ve had the opportunity to visit 14 African countries and there is clearly great openness in these countries. For instance the countries of the Visegrád Group are taking steps to set up their own specialised humanitarian and development agencies.
From the discussions I’ve had with different partners across the African continent, it’s clear that security is one key starting point. Africa needs security and stability, otherwise any economic growth will be unsustainable. To tackle growing poverty in Africa we need jobs on the continent. 10 to 12 million youth enter the workforce each year but only 3.1 million jobs are created in Africa. This gap must be closed but it can only be done if young people get access to the necessary skills. The EU needs to support African partners to increase access to quality education and to invest in vocational training. Public-private partnership is crucial in this context. Education and training must take into account the needs of the labour market. For Christian Democrats this is our cornerstone.
TA: As a member of the European Parliament’s Development Committee and as development coordinator for the European People’s Party you have been actively involved in the drafting of your group’s position paper on Africa policy, especially when it comes to development cooperation. What are the key themes and priorities of the paper and how do you envisage the paper influencing your group’s Africa policy in the coming years?
GyH: As I have outlined, security, education, job creation and private investments are key pillars for our group. We believe that these areas are all interlinked and will empower Africa’s development itself.
Another burning challenge is the impact of climate change. We need to invest more to assist African countries to increase resilience. Innovation in agriculture and water management are vital in this context. This leads us directly to the issue of food security and investments in agriculture, which cannot be divided from the issue of job creation. 70% of Africans make their living through agriculture.
We need to approach development cooperation from a holistic perspective and we need to put more emphasis on the synergies and coherence of different policy areas. This is also a question of efficiency. The EU is the biggest donor in the world but in terms of efficiency falters. This puts the credibility of the EU’s development policy at risk. Addressing corruption, supporting good governance and tackling the consequences of Covid-19 are also topics linked to the above-mentioned challenges and which require action from our side.
TA: How does your position paper intend to promote research and innovation that can help us end hunger in a continent that is the world’s fastest growing continent, and also home to more than half of the world’s population facing food insecurity?
GyH: Sub-Saharan Africa has a quarter of the world’s arable land but only produces 10 per cent of its agricultural output. The African continent has the ability for self-reliance in food production, if the right conditions are given. Of course, different countries and regions are facing with different challenges. However, in general the low productivity of staple crops makes African agriculture uncompetitive. We must empower African farmers to increase competitiveness of the agricultural sector in Africa.
African farmers are lacking the financial opportunities to make innovations and adapt climate resilient agricultural methods. They are also facing difficulties in terms of access to market.
We must increase investments in agriculture and secure access to micro-financing for farmers. The EU can effectively take actions in this field with its powerful toolbox in investments and financial services. Next to financial support, policy dialogue, technical assistance and knowledge exchange is very important. EU should promote African innovation and the various nature based solutions already gaining international attention.
TA: Ahead of the adoption of the European People’s Party position paper on Africa Policy, your group hosted a hearing with external experts in order to discuss your policy priorities on Africa. How did the stakeholders involved in this process react to your proposals, how do they approach the upcoming Summit and what have you learned from their contributions?
GyH: The hearing we hosted was an important opportunity to integrate the views of experts from Africa into our position paper. We covered the field of private investments, trade, job creation, agriculture, good governance, and the role of faith based organisations in development cooperation and the growing presence of China and other international competitors in Africa. The guests underlined that a lack of security is a crucial barrier to private investments.
In the field of education and vocational training they noted that training must be aligned with the requirements and possibilities of the job market. This is very important to EU policy making, notably in the context of an increase of 6 billion euro dedication to education related expenditures.
70% of the African population is under age 30. Access to the job market can only be achieved through education if they get the necessary skills.
Speaking about education and human development more generally, we must note that 40% of the health and education services in the sub-Saharan region is provided by churches and faith-based organisations. They are partners, often neglected by the European Commission, despite the fact that they have direct access to vulnerable people, regardless of their religious affiliation. Churches are a well-integrated part of civil society in Africa. Their work in education and health care often provide the only possibilities for people to have access to these services. They are covering areas where the state comes up short.
Their role is also indispensable in conflict mediation. For instance, in the case of the Central African Republic where the Archbishop and Chief Imam of the country visited Muslims and Christians in remote areas aiming to stop the violent clashes in the country.
TA: Often, we hear our African partners ask for “trade, not aid” and that is traditionally a position manifested by the centre right. How important is it that the EU moves away from its previous donor-recipient relationship in which Africa was dependent on development assistance? You have previously spoken about a “development policy that has been captured by left-wing and liberal political forces over the past thirty years”. Is there enough momentum at the European Parliament for a fresh approach to our relationship with Africa?
GyH: To answer to this question, I refer to Nana Akufo-Addo’s (President of Ghana) speech to the European Parliament last December. He stated that Africa wants an equal partnership with Europe and underlined that they need cooperation, not aid in development policy. We are ready to be committed partners to Africa in this. This approach is not only rooted in the values of our group, but this is also what African partners ask for. This must be understood by all political groups in the European Parliament.
The EU alone cannot solve all the challenges our neighbouring continent faces, but we can be credible partners if we support them to cope with their own challenges. We cannot make false promises or mislead our partners.
We must also see that young people are most valuable for Africa. They are the ones who can realise the economic growth ahead of Africa in the next decade. Migration is not a solution in itself for the challenges of the continent, but we must tackle the root causes of migration.
TA: The Green Deal affects all aspects of the EU’s partnership with Africa. How do we ensure that the EUs Green Deal is fit for purpose globally, and empowers a trade and development cooperation of equals?
GyH: Africa is responsible for only 2-3% of the world’s carbon-dioxide emissions but suffers the most due to the consequences of climate change. It is a burning question: how to effectively empower Africa to cope with desertification, flash floods, water scarcity and energy poverty?
Our group always favours local solutions and this must be applied in the case of green transition too. We must support local initiatives, because every region has its special needs. For this we need reliable local partners. Of course, large-scale infrastructure investments in connectivity and energy production are needed too, but action on a local level cannot be neglected.
TA: How do you foresee that the position paper will influence policy formulation at the EU – Africa Union Summit, and beyond? Is this a technical paper, or a political manifesto?
GyH: We aim to have a political paper, which will give a strong sign ahead of the Summit on the position of the largest group in the European Parliament. The EU Africa relations need a vision and a political agenda in the spirit of dialogue and mutual respect. We want to move into this direction.
Now, after the midterm elections in the European Parliament this paper will give us political guidance for a longer perspective. We intend to outline an ambitious but realistic agenda for making a real change in cooperation between EU and African countries.
With this paper we want to give political steering to the Commission, not only for this summit but for the longer term.
TA: What should we expect from the EU-Africa Union Summit?GyH: It is a hard question. With the French presidency we indeed have a momentum for a fresh start for EU-African relations. We must understand that we need a strategy with and not on Africa. We must have closer dialogue with our African partners on an institutional as well as on a political level. One summit won’t change the entire discourse, but it can act as a starting point.