Guest Column

On elections near and far, and on partnerships across the Mediterranean Sea

2019-06-09 07:00
EU Flag. (iStock)

EU Flag. (iStock)

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Europe is not only Africa's direct neighbour and ally. It also is its biggest trading partner and leading investor, far ahead of any other region in the world. What happens in Africa matters in Europe. And what happens in Europe matters in Africa, writes Martin Schäfer.

South Africa went to the polls last month. Oh really, Mr Ambassador, you might ask. What else is new? And indeed, it would have been hard to miss South Africa's election last month. It was a milestone in the country's 25 years of vibrant democracy.

But did you notice that Europeans also went to the polls last month? Around 400 million people across the European Union – from Greece to Finland, from Portugal to Poland – were called to cast their vote in European Parliament elections in May. Why should this matter in Africa? Why should South Africans care about an election thousands of kilometers up north? Why bother when there are so many pressing problems at home? Isn't the European election irrelevant? Too far away? Totally abstract?

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Europe is not only Africa's direct neighbour and ally. It also is its biggest trading partner and leading investor, far ahead of any other region in the world. What happens in Africa matters in Europe. And what happens in Europe matters in Africa.

We do well when our neighbours are thriving. And we excel when we, as neighbours, are joining hands, working together to build a better future for all. That should be self-evident, shouldn't it? Call it empathy, enlightenment, Immanuel Kant's Categorical Imperative, Ubuntu, or simply humanity: We all do best when we work together.

But unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be as self-evident as we would like it to be: Have a simple look around: The politics of 'Me First' – with the 'me' standing for a growing number of mainly bigger nations in the North, East and West – and the rise of blatant nationalism are not only challenging our multilateral, peaceful and respectful world order. They also risk reversing much of the progress made in global cooperation since the end of the Cold War.

That's why the outcome of the European election crucially matters on our continent, as well as here in Africa. I believe the poll has yielded a clear message for Africa: European voters want to be good international neighbours.

Three facts highlight this to me:

1) First, turnout in the European elections was up. In the first time in 40 years, turnout increased on a Europe-wide level (to 51% vs 43% in 2014). That shows: Europeans care. We care about politics. We care about our future. We want to get involved. That is good news for Europe, for our democratic institutions and for Europe's neighbours.

2) Secondly, the polls brought about a clear pro-EU and pro-integration majority in the new European Parliament. What is true is that the new parliament is somewhat more fragmented than the old one. But there is a clear majority of parties defending the European integration project and promoting multilateralism.

3) That brings me to my third point: The big shift towards a Eurosceptic, right-wing parliament that many in Europe had feared did NOT take place. I don't want to deny it: we clearly do have a challenge posed by right-wing, nationalist, ethno-centric and populist parties on our continent. They gained votes in many European countries, as they have done in other parts of the world, and also in South Africa. However, an overwhelming majority of Europeans is in favour of openness, of international cooperation and partnerships! In this election, a large majority of Europeans has spoken out in favour of good neighbourliness.

In my eyes, this highlights Europeans' strong support for the most successful integration, peace and prosperity project in history: the European Union. And it is also a clear mandate to build and develop the EU's and European countries' partnerships with Africa. More than a third of Africa's trade is with the EU. The EU's investment stocks represent 40% of FDI in Africa. The Africa-Europe Alliance, announced by EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker last year, aims to deepen these economic and trade relations, in order to create sustainable jobs and growth.

South Africa and Germany, as key players on their respective continents, are natural partners in this strategic endeavor. Chancellor Angela Merkel has sent her congratulations to President Cyril Ramaphosa, wishing him courage, skill and stamina for the tasks ahead.

We are looking forward to working with the president and the new government – at a bilateral level, where our economic ties are particularly solid. We want to further grow investment, trade and employment in South Africa. But we also look forward to engaging with the new South African team in the multinational arena, such as the UN Security Council. Germany and South Africa are both active, outward-looking global partners in addressing our common challenges. We know that no single country will be able to successfully tackle global or regional challenges on its own.

Let's use the momentum from our respective elections to make our partnerships grow and thrive. We stand ready to engage. As friends. As neighbours. And as visionaries for a peaceful pluralistic world of partnership and cooperation.

- Martin Schäfer is German ambassador to South Africa.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. 

Read more on:    africa  |  european union (eu)
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