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European and African leaders from some 70 nations are seeking to improve political and economic cooperation between their two continents at a two-day Brussels summit.
The meeting comes as the European Union (EU) officially unveils plans to send 1,000 troops to the strife-torn Central African Republic (CAR) to bolster African and French forces already in the country. Christoph Hasselbach is a senior DW editor specializing in European affairs who is in Brussels for the summit.
DW: Christoph, has a timetable been set for the deployment of the troops to CAR?
Christoph Hasselbach: The plan is that almost 1,000 security forces - that is troops and police from several EU countries - will be assembled by May of this year and that they will be deployed in May, but only in the capital Bangui and at strategic places like the airport. They will be deployed there for six months. As far as logistics are concerned, Germany will provide two transport planes, others will do the same, but the Germans will not be sending any combat troops.
Why did it take so long to get to this stage?
Well, I think many European countries have complained that the French started this intervention on their own without asking them. The French enjoyed the international praise they received, but asked for support only after the event. Some governments have said this is not the way to do things. You have to agree on a European mission first – you acquire the support of others – and then you can do it together. A second reason is that some governments see the Central African Republic as somewhere that is far away, an internal problem in an African country, nothing to do with us. Those are the two reasons.
The crisis in CAR seems to have taken center-stage at this summit. What else is high on the agenda?
The big issue here is trade. Europe wants to turn this relationship with Africa from one of development policy - the Europeans give, Africa takes - into one of trade and investment. In other words, end Africa's dependence on European state-funded aid and strengthen the normal trade relationships and this is really the theme of this summit.
The EU has traditionally been Africa's biggest trading partner. Has the timing of the conference got anything to with China's increasing influence in Africa?
No, I think this is a coincidence, but it is true that the EU is very, very aware that China has become extremely influential in Africa. The Chinese have the advantage, if you like, that they don't ask African elites any awkward questions about democracy and human rights and so on. The EU does. In a way, this puts Europeans at a disadvantage. But the EU says that ultimately it is in Africa's interests and in particular in the interests of the African people rather than in the interests of African governments and elites. If Europe insists on good governance and democracy, this will ultimately be in Africa's interest too.
African leaders want a partnership between equals, a partnership based on mutual respect and equality rather than development cooperation. Do you see this happening any time soon?
Well, it is not only what Africa leaders want, it is also what European representatives like European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barosso are saying too. It is the official aim of Europe. But to be honest, a partnership of equals is one in which both sides are equally powerful – this is how the world works. Perhaps the only country that could really be an equal partner – because of its economic might – is South Africa. It is perhaps ironic that the South African president Jacob Zuma is not in Brussels. He has complained that the EU is cherry-picking its guests – it is inviting only the heads of state the EU likes. That sort of sums up the problem we have here.
Christoph Hasselbach is a senior DW editor specializing in European affairs
Interviewer Isaac Mugabi