OP-ED Opinions 

News24.com | On elections near and far, and on partnerships across the Mediterranean Sea

2019-06-09 07:00

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.

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