EU Seizes on Putin and Xi’s G-20 Absence to Engage Africa

(Bloomberg) — The European Union plans to take advantage of the absence of Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin from this week’s Group of 20 to step up its outreach to nations of the so-called Global South, through a high-level meeting with African leaders on the summit’s sidelines.

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With both the Chinese and Russian presidents staying away from the two-day gathering in New Delhi, the EU wants to seize the moment, according to people familiar with the preparations who asked not to be named discussing internal strategy. The 27-nation bloc aims to show that it is serious about redefining its partnership with Africa, despite the troubled legacy of colonialism, they said.

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Among those due to take part are European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. From the African side, participants will include leaders from G-20 member South Africa as well as from Egypt, Nigeria and the Comoros, current chair of the African Union, the people said.

What’s being billed as a “mini-summit” takes place as competition intensifies for global influence amid a US-China standoff and divisions over Russia’s war on Ukraine.

While China and Russia have both made inroads with African nations, including by appealing to anti-colonial sentiment, Putin’s withdrawal from the Black Sea grain deal has hit developing nations the hardest, potentially leaving an opening for Europe to sway opinion among countries that have refused to condemn Russia’s war.

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Among the goals of their meeting in India on Sept. 9, European leaders want to endorse the African Union’s bid to become a permanent G-20 member, according to the people. Giorgia Meloni of Italy was among those leading on the AU’s G-20 membership at the last G-7 in Japan, while it is also a priority of this week’s summit host, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In May, during a visit to the African Union headquarters in Ethiopia, Scholz threw his weight behind calls for the bloc to become a permanent G-20 member to give it more say in efforts to tackle global issues like climate change. The chancellor argued that Africa must play a greater international role to reflect its growing importance in an increasingly fractured and multipolar world order.

Stronger Voice

Permanent membership, rather than that of an “invited international organization,” would give the African Union the same status as the EU. It’s part of a drive to provide African countries with a stronger voice when international organizations decide on measures that affect them, including efforts to address global warming — overwhelmingly caused by emissions from G-20 nations.

Also on the meeting’s agenda is a discussion of the consequences of Russia’s war against Ukraine for global food security — a situation that threatens to escalate after Putin refused to revive the UN-based grain deal after talks on Monday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Other topics include efforts to reform the global financial architecture, improving conditions for private investments and infrastructure projects in Africa, as well as the situation in the Sahel region, according to the people.

Scholz also wants to use the meeting to prepare an international conference due to take place in Berlin on Nov. 20 at which European and African leaders want to push ahead with the “Compact With Africa,” an initiative that aims to improve conditions for sustainable private-sector investment in African countries, including in infrastructure.

For the German chancellor, the mini-summit is another opportunity to convince African leaders that Europeans are serious about opening a new chapter in their cooperation, and to meet at eye level when discussing common challenges like security, migration, economic development and climate change.

The task is “to ensure that we shape the world of the future together on an equal footing” with emerging nations, Scholz told Deutschlandfunk radio last week, describing it as an “obligation” for western Europe and North America among others. “Given the colonial history and past in many of these countries, we have a responsibility to make today’s positive development possible,” he said.

(Updates with Italy’s push on the African Union in sixth paragraph.)

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