The recent drowning off the Italian coast of hundreds of migrants, most of whom came from Africa, shocked the European Union into addressing the issue at a recent summit. However, a broad rethink of migration to Europe and a proposed action plan was postponed. Questions about the EU's attitude to Africa and its citizens remain. Andris Piebalgs is the EU Development Commissioner, a key figure in the European Union's executive. Deutsche Welle asked him how EU development policy could be modified in order to improve living conditions in Africa.
Andris Piebalgs: I think the best way to avoid such tragedies is to fight the root causes. Most of these people are either running away from insecurity, as is the case in Syria, or from extreme poverty. We are trying to refocus the program for growth, for food security and nutrition so that people have more trust in the future in their own country. And I think if we manage this, then there will be no more boats sinking off the coast of Lampedusa. It's definitely a long-term process and it also very much depends on how much the EU and its member states will continue to invest in development cooperation, particularly in the poorest countries.
DW: Do you think that countries, particularly at this time of economic crisis, are really going to devote a lot more money to Africa? Experts say a great deal more money is needed.
AP: Not really, I think! I will be very honest here. I think the most important thing is to encourage development successes. A recent example is Niger where child mortality has decreased threefold. Such positive examples are necessary and we are now starting a new program with our partner countries and we will encourage them to demonstrate to the world that the money invested makes a huge difference.
One of the pillars of EU cooperation is good governance, together with democracy and human rights. Do you think that African countries, African governments are really open to the issue of improving their governance standards?
I believe they are. It's evident that the continent generally is moving forward. If you look at the Mo Ibrahim Index it demonstrates improvement. It is a real snapshot of Africa and I believe we just need to continue to encourage the African countries to work with our partners and to talk more about the issues that worry them.
Do you think the African countries are willing to listen to a message about good governance? After all, they have the Chinese. China is prepared to provide lots of money and invest heavily in countries, even if they do not come up to the standards of good governance.
We should not necessarily say that Chinese investment goes against good governance. It's not accompanied by political dialogue about good governance or about human rights which is what we do, but we should not see it as going against what we are doing in African countries.
The agenda for change which you have introduced also includes the need for more cohesion, so that no other EU policies clash with the goals of EU development policy. What progress has been made, especially in areas like agricultural or fisheries policy?
On fisheries, I would say we now have substantial change. This was indicated by the vote in the European Parliament on a fisheries partnership agreement with Mauritania. Regarding agriculture, I think we are demonstrating that the EU is advancing.
Still, when you talk to representatives of civil society, the example is often quoted of how the chicken industry in West Africa is suffering. Chickens, or parts of chickens, from the EU are still going there. They are cheaper there and the local poultry industry is suffering. How do you plan to avoid this kind of thing happening in the future?
The challenge is a bit different. Basically, we need to support the local farmers because the challenge is to be competitive if you are an African smallholder. And in the next financial period we are looking to invest more than 3.5 billion euros ($4.8 billion) in African agriculture, food security and nutrition, particularly focusing on the Sahel zone. I have been there myself and you see there that access to finance is absolutely necessary. The problem is only acute if you are unable to compete but to do that you need access to finance, access to infrastructure etc. So our focus is very much on strengthening the competitiveness of African farmers and then I would expect, in conjunction with trade measures, that you will no longer see poultry from the EU in Africa but quite the opposite. We will have poultry from Africa in EU markets.
Interview: Daniel Pelz