Into Africa: Von der Leyen visit kicks off ‘geopolitical Commission’

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — It was a reunion of unions, European and African, as Ursula von der Leyen kicked off her “geopolitical Commission” with an official visit to Ethiopia.

“It has now been less than a week since the European Commission has taken office and here I am in the heart of the African Continent,” von der Leyen declared Saturday at the African Union headquarters that tower over the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa.

Standing alongside Moussa Faki Mahamat, the chairperson of the African Union Commission, von der Leyen emphasized she had personally chosen Africa for her first trip outside Europe, and said: “I hope my presence at the African Union can send a strong political message.”

“For my first visit, I have chosen the Continent hosting the world’s fastest growing economies, a Continent with immense ambition and aspirations but also with immense needs,” she said. “For us, the European Union, you are more than just a neighbor. Both our unions are built on a dream — a dream of peace and a dream of economic prosperity on our Continents.”

The trip is a clear signal of von der Leyen’s global ambitions for the next five years, through what she has branded a “geopolitical” European Commission.

But hanging over the Commission president’s whirlwind visit — she will be on the ground less than 24 hours — is the question of whether she will be able to make the relationship with Africa about more than just symbolism.

On her way to the African Union headquarters, von der Leyen’s armored Toyota SUV drove past a construction site with a huge sign from the project’s sponsor: “China Aid” — evidence of Beijing’s aggressive effort to build political and economic relations in Africa.

EU officials accompanying von der Leyen sought to answer preemptively the inevitable questions about whether a diplomatic push by Brussels into Africa could be too little, too late given China’s huge head start.

They cited International Monetary Fund statistics showing annual economic turnover between Europe and Africa in 2018 at €268 billion, more than double the €125 billion in turnover with China and dwarfing the €46 billion in turnover with the United States.

Later meeting Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for ending his country’s 20-year conflict with neighboring Eritrea, von der Leyen came bearing a clear message about the EU’s commitment to its continental neighbor to the south — with the country a potentially crucial partner in the bloc’s effort to stem a continuing flow of economic migrants across the Mediterranean Sea.

She also came bearing gifts: a package of EU development aid worth €170 million to support health programs, modernization of the country’s electoral system, environmental policies and economic development initiatives.

The EU’s new development commissioner, Jutta Urpilainen, accompanied von der Leyen on her visit to the prime minister’s office, where she participated in a ceremony to sign the financing documents with Finance Minister Ahmed Shide.

As the two European women posed for photographs with the two Ethiopian men, the meeting also showcased von der Leyen’s efforts to build the most gender-balanced College of Commissioners in EU history.

Abiy, who at 43 is among the world’s youngest prime ministers, congratulated von der Leyen on her new post, and said that his government was hoping for even more assistance from the EU in the years ahead.

“We are still demanding more financing support because we are ambitious,” he said. “We need financial support from Europe.”

Von der Leyen in her remarks returned good wishes over the Nobel Prize.

“I congratulate you and all the people of Ethiopia for the Nobel Prize,” she said. “Ethiopia is a very special role model.”

Abiy has stirred some controversy by declaring in advance of collecting the award in Oslo next week that he will not answer any questions from the press, or even from schoolchildren.

In keeping with that practice, he and von der Leyen gave brief statements but did not take questions during their joint appearance at the prime minister’s office.

Click Here: cheap INTERNATIONAL jersey