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The European Commission president has said closer cooperation with Africa is a primary goal of EU foreign policy. Major issues like security and migration require common answers from leaders on both continents.
For her first trip outside Europe as head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen arrived in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on Saturday to "send a strong political message" underlining the EU's commitment to Africa.
"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," von der Leyen said in a speech alongside Africa Union (AU) commission chair Moussa Faki.
The former German defense minister said she was not going to present "some grand plan for Africa," but was in Ethiopia, the seat of the AU, "to listen" to the trends and developments shaping the continent, as well as its political and economic priorities.
"Only unity will make our continents strong in a changing world. The African Union is a partner I count on," von der Leyen said.
Strategic cooperation with Africa and managing migration are key foreign policy goals during von der Leyen's tenure as Commission president, which began on December 1.
She described the continent as Europe's "close neighbor and most natural partner." The EU is Africa's largest trading partner and biggest source of foreign investment and development aid.
Migration from Africa
But security issues and massive unregulated migration present challenges for both African and European leaders, who have sought in recent years to curb dangerous sea crossings to Europe.
Earlier this week, at least 60 migrants died when a boat capsized in waters off Mauritania on Africa's west coast. It was one of the deadliest disasters this year among migrants attempting to reach Europe.
The new Commission is aiming to help manage migration by pumping in regional investment to African countries in a bid to improve prospects, as well as building up the EU border agency, Frontex.
However, how to fund and manage migration is a contentious issue among EU member states.
The EU's support to African countries is based on mechanisms like the African Peace Facility, which was established in 2004 and has provided more than €2.7 billion in "peace and security" support with 14 African-led operations in 18 countries.
wmr/stb (AFP, dpa)