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Germany/Africa: Berlin’s halfhearted overtures

By Ben Fox
Posted on Thursday, 10 October 2019 10:51

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives in Gao, Mali 2 May 2019.†REUTERS/Andreas Rinke -

Berlin has been seeking to improve trade ties and convince the country's big companies to invest more in Africa and match government contributions. It is seen as part of a long-term plan to reduce the flow of African migrants to Europe.

[This article is part of our series on Europe-Africa relations. Follow the links for our overview on Europe’s Africa stance, our UK/Africa and our France/Africa articles.]

But so far the new rhetoric is yet to be matched by reality.

  • Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has prioritised the links between economic growth and long-term security in Africa to stem immigration, which has become a political football in Europe and severely weakened Merkel’s position.
  • It has seen Germany take a fresh interest in security, particularly in West Africa.
  • Germany has been France’s main European ally in financing and contributing military support to the G5 Sahel alliance. In May, Merkel pledged more than €100m ($110m) in funding for the Sahel region during a a West Africa tour that took her to Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.

Similarly, the European Union’s (EU) External Investment Plan – backed by France and Germany – seeks to leverage the EU’s budget to encourage private companies to invest in the region.

The bloc’s €3.4bn Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, set up to help combat migration flows, meanwhile, has also been earmarked for a role concentrating resources.

Both seek to improve trade ties and convince their countries’ big companies to invest more in Africa and match government contributions as part of a long-term plan to reduce the flow of African migrants to Europe.

Marshalling resources

The ‘Marshall Plan with Africa’ initiated by the federal ministry for economic cooperation and development, was the centre piece of Germany’s G20 presidency in 2017. It sticks primarily to the blueprint promoted by the European Commission for increasing private investment in Africa but without increasing public spending commitments.

“It centres around two clearly defined objectives. One is to improve African infrastructure. The other is to increase private investment to Africa. Both will ignite a process of generating jobs for ordinary Africans,” said professor Paul Collier, who advised the German government during its G20 presidency.

But progress has been slow

  • None of the planned bilateral ‘compacts’ have yet been agreed;
  • And the ‘Marshall Plan’ reference is viewed by many as clumsy paternalism.
  • “It is not something African leaders like very much. It gives the impression of something being done to them,” says Domenico Rosa, a senior European Commission official.

At the EU level, the new German rhetoric is also yet to be truly felt on trade.

Merkel has argued that the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs), which were effectively mothballed by Jean-Claude Juncker’s Commission presidency, should be re-opened.

  • But that requires majority support among EU member states, upon whom she has put little pressure.

Similarly, although Berlin is known to be uncomfortable with the France and Spain driven EU rapprochement with Morocco – which observers say undermined Germany’s former president Horst Köhler, who resigned as the UN’s envoy for Western Sahara in May – it has stayed silent on the matter.

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