Stronger partnership with the EU needed to help make a difference in Africa

Published: 14 September 2006 0:00 CET

Jean-Luc Martinage in Brussels

The hard work and achievements of the 53 African Red Cross-Red Crescent National Societies in food security, HIV and AIDS, health and care and water/sanitation were highlighted in Brussels on September 11th during a two hour-special event organised by the Red Cross/EU Office and the Finnish Presidency of the European Union.

The objective was to gather EU decision-makers and representatives of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to show the need for more partnership between Red Cross-Red Crescent and the European Union.

In the opening speech, Mr Markku Niskala, Secretary General of the International Federation, pointed out the urgency of the situation in many African countries. “There is a dangerous link between poverty, HIV and AIDS and food insecurity,” he said. “We need to work together to maintain and accelerate the momentum which we have already created to make a lasting difference in Africa,” he added.

Mr Shimelis Adugna, Vice-President of the International Federation, advocated for more EU support. “The EU and the Red Cross have common goals so we should work together against poverty in Africa,” said Mr. Shimelis who concluded his speech by proposing that the International Federation, regional delegations and National Societies in Africa would consult regularly and work closely with Delegations of the European Commission.

Dr Asha Mohammed, Chairperson for the Health and Community Services Commission of the International Federation stressed that success in Africa in the humanitarian field is closely linked to strategic partnership.

She gave examples of recent achievements in Africa, such as the integrated measles and malaria campaigns which helped to save the lives of millions of children and the new five year-strategy developed in southern Africa with the help of more than 1,500 volunteers taking care of people living with HIV and children made orphans by AIDS. Dr. Asha also mentioned the food security programmes and water/sanitation activities in several regions of Africa.

European Union representatives in the panel underlined the need for more common work. Mr. Max Van den Berg, Member of the European Parliament and vice-chairman of the Committee on Development and Cooperation pointed out that the structures of Red Cross National Societies and their network of volunteers made them “serious partners to strengthen capacities.”

Koos Richelle, Director General of EuropeAid, highlighted the fact that for the first time the European Union has a single policy for development. Mr.Richelle said that time had come for donors to work together with “more cooperation, more complementarity and less flag-raising.”

Speaking on behalf of the Finnish Presidency, Mr. Juhani Toivonen, Deputy Director General of the Department for Development Policy in the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, made it clear that “the EU’s best intentions and programmes won’t achieve much if African and European efforts are pursued separately without a common framework.”

Mr. Toivonen added: “It is our intention to engage both European and African non-state actors and civil society in the development of the Joint EU-Africa Strategy.” Mr. Toivonen invited the Red Cross to engage in this process.

In 2005, the European Union adopted two documents that will guide the cooperation between EU and Africa in the coming years. One document is the “European Consensus” which has poverty eradication as its main goal.

The other EU Strategy for Africa “Towards a Euro-African Pact to Accelerate Africa’s Development” is a framework to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

There are similarities with the International Federation’s Global Agenda which also provides the framework to contribute significantly to the achievements of the Millennium Development Goals as well as the Algiers Plan of Action adopted by African National Societies in 2004.

After the speeches, the audience was given the opportunity to ask questions to members of the panel, discussing some controversial issues like the decision taken sometimes by EU donors to cut help in case of bad governance, seen by some as punishing beneficiaries, not governments.

A consensus arose on the fact that there was a need for good governance and more negotiations with governments before cutting funds but also for EU donors to be accountable to European tax-payers.

There was also a general agreement on the necessity for Red Cross-Red Crescent to be accountable to beneficiaries and for civil society to have its voice heard in humanitarian issues.

The panel was hosted by Luc Henskens, Director of the Red Cross/EU Office in Brussels. As a long time observer in humanitarian aid with the European Union, Mr. Henskens welcomed the perspectives of a stronger partnership.

But he also underlined that strategies and commitments needed to be translated into action to have a lasting effect in Africa.