EU Commissioner for Development Mr Andris Piebalgs recently addressed the Irish section of AWEPA.
This was the first AWEPA meeting of the new Dáil and we had a very informative presentation and Q&A session with Commissioner Piebalgs on the allocation of his €10bn development aid budget. Just under 40% of this went to the African continent as a whole. During his contribution he made the point that what happens in Africa has a direct impact on the citizens of Europe, a point that is hard to ignore in the current climate of rising oil prices caused by instability in North Africa.
But it goes much deeper than that and he highlighted three specific examples:
1. War in Africa leads to the need to deploy our defence forces for peace enforcement missions.
2. Growth in African economies has a spin-off economic benefit with its closest neighbour, Europe.
3. Stability in the two previous examples leads to a significant reduction in illegal immigration to Europe.
The point that he was making is that the development aid budget is just as important to Europe as it is to Africa. It is a fund that we can all benefit from to a greater or lesser extent.
He stated that the EU objective is to support Africans to help themselves and the two key challenges to that are:
1. Food security
2. Energy security
While we are all familiar with the food security issues in Africa we tend to focus on energy security as a European rather than African challenge.
As a former EU Energy Commissioner Mr Piebalgs believes that world demand for oil and gas will increase as countries like Japan move away from the nuclear option and as a result the price of a barrel of oil will permanently move to a three figure value.
This brings with it a medium term challenge for energy security within the EU but a short term challenge in the continent of Africa.
The EU while addressing its own energy challenges also needs to support small scale energy projects in Africa which have economic returns for the local communities involved.
Finally the Commissioner commended the Irish Government for bringing the trade and development aid briefs under the one Minister, namely Jan O’Sullivan. He believes that this is a progressive move and one that will assist both the interests of Ireland and the developing countries.