July 1, 2008 / 9:09 AM / 12 years ago

ANALYSIS-Africa seeks sympathetic hearing from French-led EU

By Ingrid Melander

DAKAR, July 1 (Reuters) - Africa will press former colonial power France for less paternalism from Europe and more flexibility on migration and trade during the French European Union presidency starting on Tuesday.

"Expectations are traditionally high when France takes over such European responsibility," Senegalese political analyst Babacar Justin Ndiaye told Reuters.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who assumes the rotating six-month EU chairmanship, has insisted he wants to update the relationship of France and Europe with the world's poorest continent, moving away from dependency and paternalism.

But Africa is sceptical about just how generous Europe is prepared to be about granting freer access to its people and goods, and many are wary of Sarkozy's plan to create a Mediterranean Union involving the countries of North Africa.

Some leaders, like Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, warn too that Europe risks missing out on opportunities for increased investment in a fast-growing continent, at a time when companies from China, India and Gulf Arab states are snapping up deals.

"Today, we (Africa) are courted by everybody," Senegal's Information Minister Abdou Aziz Sow told Reuters.

He warned Europe to beware of arriving "too late", urging the 27-nation bloc to move quickly to consolidate an economic alliance with a continent rich in oil and strategic minerals.

African sensitivity remains high over migration, one of the French priorities for its EU presidency. Sarkozy wants EU leaders to adopt a migration pact that includes a commitment to expel more illegal migrants, while making provisions to attract high-skilled workers to jobs in Europe.

While promising cooperation to try to halt the departure each year of thousands of illegal African migrants who risk their lives trying to reach Europe in rickety boats, African governments demand more legal work visas for their citizens.



DOUBTS OVER MEDITERRANEAN UNION

"I agree with his (Sarkozy's) opposition to illegal migration, I tried and I know it's not the right way," said one young Senegalese, Mamadou Fall, who nearly died in his attempt to reach Spain from Morocco in a boat.

"But we need legal migration ... What needs to be done is to open the borders, and let people come in," he said.

Fall and others condemned French and EU plans to concentrate on allowing in highly skilled migrants, saying this would exacerbate an existing "brain drain" of talent from Africa.

"They will suck the blood of Africa," said Fall's cousin Talla, an English teacher.

"Tensions ... are far from over because the problem of immigration is far from finding a solution," said political analyst Ndiaye.

French-speaking African states have welcomed Sarkozy's promise to dismantle "FrancAfrique", the cosy post-colonial relationship in which Paris gave military and political backing to rulers it favoured -- and removed them when it saw fit.

But his project for a Mediterranean Union, to be launched in Paris on July 13, is seen as potentially divisive. "It raises problems for the unity of Africa," Senegal's Sow said.

Bowing to German fears that it could split the EU, Sarkozy has accepted that all EU states can join the Mediterranean club.

Reaction from Africa has been positive from staunch French allies Morocco and Tunisia, pro-business countries keen to strengthen ties to Europe to lure investment and create jobs.

But oil producers Algeria and Libya are not enthusiastic and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has poured scorn on the project.

"This is taking us for fools," Gaddafi said in June. "To fragment Africa and make its north join Europe, I strongly object to this idea and will not allow it."

Lancine Sylla, a political analyst and sociology teacher from Ivory Coast, whose ties with former colonial ruler France are warming again after bilateral tensions, said working on EU-Africa relations could help move away from the past.

"With globalisation, it's better to have not just states dealing with states, but regions dealing with regions," he said.

But many Africans said the continent cannot expect too much from Europe. "We should be counting on ourselves to develop Africa, because Africa is for the Africans, and Europe is for the Europeans," said Ivorian teacher Jonathan Kouame in Abidjan. (For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: africa.reuters.com/) (Additional reporting by William Maclean in Algiers and Loucoumane Coulibaly in Abidjan; Editing by Pascal Fletcher)



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