The Eorocrats' Burden?

The Eurocrats’ burden?

Imperialism alive and well in 21st Century Africa, courtesy of the European Union

Brian Denny analyses the relationship between Europe (or parts of it) and Africa, and gets a strong whiff of a system which would have been all too familiar in the century-before-last.

While excitable europhiles often extol the virtues of a single superpower holding sway in Europe, the bloc’s relationship with the undeveloped world is rarely discussed. However, over recent years the bullying and hypocritical approach of Brussels to the world’s poorest countries has become increasingly apparent.

This was on display two years ago at the height of the mock outrage over Jorg Haider’s supposedly “eurosceptic” far right Freedom Party joining Austria’s coalition government ‑ while 31 declared fascists enjoyed all the privileges of being an MEP.

In the week Brussels imposed pompous “sanctions” on Vienna ‑ which involved not shaking hands with Austrian ministers ‑ the EU demanded that 71 poor countries take back all immigrants as part of renegotiating the Lomé trade accords. Ministers from the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group complained that the racist demands broke all international law as it called for all asylum seekers to be returned even if they were not nationals of those countries.

Similarly, while Brussels deplored the severe drought in the Horn of Africa, EU officials rejected calls from Italian rice growers to send the decaying rice mountain, created by the ludicrous common agricultural policy (CAP), to feed 16 million starving Africans. European Commission spokesman Gregor Kreuzhuber immediately dismissed the idea and claimed that it would be “wrong” to send 500,000 tons of unused rice as it would upset the market, despite calls from the industry itself.

Last week, it was South Africa’s turn for mistreatment as Brussels ordered Pretoria to allow EU industrial trawlers access to it¹s rich fishing waters, despite consistent refusals from the government over the past decade. EU Ambassador to South Africa Michael Lake ignored all rejections from Pretoria and said that Brussels would approach South Africa with a new “proposal.”

During discussions on a £3 billion arms package three years ago, South Africa rejected proposals by Spain to link the arms deal with fishing rights. More recently, Pretoria dismissed EU attempts to link fishing rights to a free‑trade agreement giving South Africa greater access to European markets. South Africa has refused to enter into negotiations with the EU or with individual European governments on access to its fishing waters because of fears they will be exploited in an unsustainable manner.

The UN Environmental Programme warned last month that allowing EU‑based industrial fleets into places like Senegal “has had a devastating effect on some key stocks.”

South African director general of trade and industry Alistair Ruiters said that Pretoria remained opposed to EU access to its fishing grounds.

“We have told them there is no way we will allow the European nations to fish in our waters. We have said we will discuss technical issues, but access is not up for discussion,” he said.

However, Mr Lake warned that the issue of fishing rights had “not gone away” and said that EU access was vital.

Action for Southern Africa (ACTSA) also stepped up its campaign against Brussels unfair trade rules which are systematically destroying southern Africa¹s agricultural sector.

ACTSA, which was formerly the Anti‑Apartheid Movement, demands that the EU gives Southern Africa a fair chance to build an economy based on the areas where it is efficient and competitive, and that the EU ends the unfair advantages given to European agri‑business at the expense of millions of people in Southern Africa.

The region relies on the EU for just under half of all its exports.

However, ACTSA points out that Brussels is using the World Trade Organisation and the World Bank to push for Southern African countries to open up their markets to imports from Europe, whilst it is not prepared to open up its own markets in return.

The EU is due to enter into detailed negotiations with ACP countries this September over the issue of tariff levels for goods imported from these countries into the EU. Brussels is pressing for free trade areas called Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with poor countries.

This is an attempt to allow free access for European goods without corresponding access for poor countries and poses a grave threat to the African agricultural sector. The EU also imposes non‑tariff barriers, including quotas and phony food safety regulations.

ACTSA gives the example of the Namibian grape industry, which is growing rapidly and is expected to employ over 6,000 people by next year. However, the EU allows only 900 tons of Namibian grapes to be imported duty free, which must arrive over a two‑month period.

Outside these limits the EU imposes punitive tariffs on Namibia.

Campaigners state that “our supermarket shelves should be full of food grown in Southern Africa. Their agricultural industries are among the most efficient in the world. But the EU’s trade policies are preventing African farmers from selling their goods in Europe, condemning millions to poverty.”

ACTSA highlights the contradiction of giving countries such as Mozambique aid and debt relief, while at the same time imposing EU trade policies which devastate Southern African farming. It points out that in Mozambique, Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia over 75 per cent of the labour force is employed in agriculture ‑ including a very high proportion of women. It says that if Southern Africa had fair access to sell goods to the EU, the region could begin to overcome the poverty and powerlessness that results from relying on Western aid. ACTSA also points out the double standards of the EU which calls for the removal of subsidies from Southern African agriculture, while maintaining heavy subsidies for European farmers under CAP.

As an example, ACTSA highlights EU pressure on Swaziland to halt its funding of animal dipping programmes ‑ designed to maintain basic hygiene standards ‑ while at the same time spending millions on rescuing European farmers whose livestock were hit by BSE.

Such examples can be multiplied by each ACP country which are exposed to the underlying neocolonial relationship with Europe which continues to this day. Ghanaian revolutionary nationalist hero Kwame Nkurumah articulated this states of affairs back in the 1960s when he pointed out that “Europe as a whole, and West Germany in particular, find profitable outlets for big business through agencies such as the European Common Market.”

He highlighted the “disappearance of numerous old fashioned colonies owing allegiance to a single metropolitan country and the replacement of “national imperialisms” by a collective imperialism” ‑ today known as the EU.

Nkurumah pinpoints the nature of African nations caught in this bind as “a state where political power lies in the conservative forces of the former colony and where economic power remains under the control of international finance capital.”

This view of international relations may well be unfashionable within academic and political circles in the rich west but remain a stark and brutal reality in the increasingly poor south.

The author, Brian Denny, is foreign editor of the MorningStar.