Commissioner Abou-Zeid, ladies and gentlemen
For many years, digital issues did not feature much – or at all – on the world's agenda. ICT was usually considered as more of a luxury.
Nice to have, but not essential. To be thought about after covering basic needs – electricity, running water, sanitation, healthcare.
Things have changed a lot. Still, it is only quite recently that the European Union and Africa have started to discuss deepening their digital cooperation.
Whenever I visit Africa, I see that people are avid users of technology. And especially mobile, used even in places with no electricity or water supply.
Digital advances and take-up across the continent are huge.
ICTs contribute around 7% of Africa's GDP. A significant share that is forecast to rise - mainly thanks to the strong mobile sector.
To me, this demonstrates ICT's large potential for development.
Many tech entrepreneurs are using the expansion of Africa's mobile infrastructure and rising smartphone ownership to provide new services tailored to local interests and cultures.
And why not? They are making the best use of technology, of progress.
Entire countries and regions feel the benefit. In the modern world, sustainable development and growth go hand-in-hand with building digital economies.
This is why the EU has made digital technology and services an integral part of its development policy.
It targets four areas: affordable broadband connectivity, digital skills, digital entrepreneurship and using digital across all sectors of the economy.
I know that we can do more together.
Regional cooperation is a good way to start.
But why not also build a pan-African Digital Single Market? This could lead to a trans-continental digital economy space where everyone gains - in Europe as well as Africa.
These are the reasons why Commissioner Abou-Zeid and I invited you today: to discuss how to use the digital economy to create jobs and raise quality of living.
How EU and African businesses and governments can best work together as equal partners.
The EU's External Investment Plan addresses many issues relevant to Africa. It aims to reduce investor risk in areas such as connectivity, e-services, digital mobile payments and increasing access to finance for startups.
Since business is its main beneficiary, I would like to hear your views on how we can use this instrument to support African digitisation.
For our discussion today, these questions may be the most relevant:
First: how can we make broadband affordable in Africa and connect under-served rural areas? What does the business community expect from governments with public policies?
Then: how can we work together to equip the world's youngest population with digital skills? How can we help startups to scale up, to employ young people, to develop innovative products and services that have a practical use in society?
Finally: how do we make sure that digital is fully integrated across different sectors? How to get more governments to digitise public services, how to support small farmers with e-agriculture, how to use digital services to improve people's access to education and health?
I look forward to the discussions. Thank you.