The head honchos of the European Union called on President Jacob Zuma in Pretoria on Thursday and in between expressing warm wishes on Madiba’s birthday, they also offered themselves to South Africa as a more “natural” partner than any of South Africa’s latter day allies. By KHADIJA PATEL.
Zuma hosted the SA-EU Strategic Partnership dialogue on Thursday at the Sefako Mapogo Makgatho Presidential Guesthouse in Pretoria. Herman Von Rompuy, the president of the European Council and José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission reaffirmed their commitment to a Strategic Partnership with South Africa “based on shared values and interests including the promotion of peace and security, human rights, democracy, the rule of law and sustainable development” across both regions.
In the run up to Thursday’s meeting this week, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies was involved in a heated exchange with the European Trade commissioner Karel de Gucht who issued a terse warning to South Africa at the South Africa-EU Business Forum.
He said European investors were “watching developments in South Africa very carefully” following South Africa’s “unilateral” decision to cut bilateral investment treaties with EU member states Belgium, Luxembourg and Spain.
Business Report said Davies responded by saying South Africa had scrapped the investment protection treaties because they were outdated and they would automatically have been renewed for 10 years if they had not been scrapped.
With South Africa’s inclusion into the Brics alliance, there have been fears among South Africa’s older trading partners like EU member states that South Africa would now abandon the EU for the likes of India and China.
The president of the European Council, however, appeared determined to assert his hopes of the EU’s continued significance to South Africa.
“We are the biggest trading partner of South Africa and we intend to stay that way,” said Barosso.
And despite South Africa’s perceived realignment with its Brics counterparts, the EU remains a crucially significant partner of South Africa.
According to statistics quoted by the South African Institute of International Affairs, the EU remains South Africa’s leading regional partner in terms of trade, and three-quarters of the foreign direct investment stock in the country originates from the EU.
Davies this week said between January 2008 and May this year, 350 foreign direct investments were made by European companies in South Africa, worth a total of R162.4-billion.
The European Investment Bank has also been financing municipal infrastructure, small and medium enterprise development, roads, telecommunications, water, and renewable energy since 1995, with total investments surpassing the €2-billion mark in December 2011.
The SA-EU Strategic Partnership was the first EU bilateral partnership with an African country when it was established in 2007.
Lesley Wentworth and Talitha Bertelsmann-Scott, researchers at the South African Institute of International Affairs describe the intention of the establishment of the strategic partnership as an opportunity to deepen the engagement of the EU region with South Africa beyond trade and investment – focusing on governance issues as well as peace and security on the African continent. “The agenda of the Strategic Partnership is broad and encompasses dialogue in a range of social, political and economic areas that involve many different government departments and other stakeholders,” they write.
Speaking after the meeting, Zuma noted: “South Africa is still faced with the inherited challenges of unequal wealth and resource distribution, inequality, unemployment and deeply entrenched poverty.”
He believes the historical role of European countries in the creation of these challenges makes them duty-bound to assist with redressing these challenges.
“We are of the firm view that given these realities, the EU should continue its development programmes in South Africa, complementing as they do, the work of government, within a developmental framework,” he said.
For his part, Barroso said that the way the EU now engaged with the African continent had changed in recent years and the EU was determined not to exert undue influence over the internal affairs of African states.
The theme of Thursday’s discussions was, “Job creation through inward investment”.
In his opening remarks, Zuma said the theme was particularly “timely and relevant, as both regions face challenges of unemployment, especially among youth”.
The joint communiqué released after the summit revealed that South Africa and the EU exchanged information on South Africa’s Youth Employment Accord and the youth guarantee, as well as on other measures to reduce youth unemployment.
“We agreed to work together to define a programme of specific actions in a number of areas, potentially including: technical support and exchange of information on youth employment programmes; possible twinning arrangements between colleges in South Africa and EU institutions; a conference on the role of EU investors in South Africa in support of the implementation of the Youth Employment Accord; and possible matching finance for youth-owned enterprises and cooperatives,” it read.
The thrust of external interest in the deliberations however rested on whether South Africa could persuade the EU to drop its economic sanctions against Zimbabwe.
But even before the meeting began a senior diplomat revealed that South Africa had already abandoned any hope of persuading the EU officials to cancel its sanctions against Zimbabwe.
Von Rompuy did however offer some hope. “We look forward to a full normalisation of relations and a deepening of our partnership with Zimbabwe,” he said.
He said the EU supported South Africa’s efforts to promote conditions that would enhance the chances of a free and fair election in Zimbabwe.
“The EU notes the efforts of the political parties in Zimbabwe, South Africa and the Southern African Development Community in ensuring the forthcoming elections are peaceful, transparent and credible. Our joint objective is contributing to a peaceful and stable Zimbabwe.” – DM
Photo: European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso (L) and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy talk at a European Union (EU) leaders summit in Brussels March 15, 2013. European leaders gathered in Brussels on Friday with differences over austerity and how best to tackle the social costs of the debt crisis set to dominate their two-day summit. REUTERS/Laurent Dubrule
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