Since becoming EU Commissioner for International Partnerships, I have had the opportunity to travel several times to Africa in my new capacity. My first trip was to Ethiopia with President von der Leyen. In Kenya I had the pleasure to visit the Kalobeyei integrated settlement meeting, among others, some unbelievable, brave young girls.

Other trips include the visit to Mauritania for the G5 Sahel Summit where security stability and development were discussed. In Burkina Faso we emphasised the importance of the nexus between humanitarian, development and stability. Moreover, in Addis Ababa we met African Union Commission’s colleagues together with more than 20 EU Commissioners present, thus demonstrating the strong bond between our institutions and our twin continents.

After returning from Addis and just as we had published EU’s Joint Communication ‘Towards a Comprehensive Strategy with Africa’, Covid-19 changed profoundly the way we practice international partnerships. Missions stopped with the end of flying and travelling. It has also created a sense of urgency regarding the Sustainable Development Goals which unfortunately seem to be drifting further away by the day.

After intensive months of video conferences, phone calls and other virtual interaction, I had last Monday the opportunity to lead the first EU humanitarian air bridge flight to Burkina Faso. As in all my trips, I made it a priority to get out and talk to people as much as possible. I feel it important to hear and learn from everybody, and especially from the youth, and to take all of that into account in my job steering the EU’s international partnerships. Because, what else than together exploring the new is partnership?

This is also exactly, what our Debating Africa initiative is about: talking to others, comparing notes and understanding everyone’s views. In the run-up to the EU-Africa Union Summit, we will be holding a series of institutional but also youth and citizen-led debates based on the five partnerships of our communication ‘Towards a Comprehensive Strategy with Africa’. The idea is to have an open dialogue with citizens and governments from Africa and Europe on the renewed Africa-EU partnership. We trust we are able together to work on closer geopolitical alliances and on safeguarding multilateral values.

The first debate in the series, hosted by Friends of Europe, takes place on 30 June. I will join a Zoom chat with African Union’s Youth Envoy, Aya Chebbi, as well as many youth and civil society organisations. We will discuss how to reset Africa-Europe relations in the face of an unprecedented health and economic crisis. I am excited to start our online stakeholder consultation on our Africa strategy, as I believe that it will also open new era of reaching out to the youth and their readiness to interact and reflect virtually. We will continue on 1 July in the context of a meeting of the High Level Group of Personalities on EU-Africa relations, which will focus on our partnership regarding the green transition.  We have also tasked all our Heads of EU Delegations to reach out to all stakeholders locally: governments, civil society, private sector, academics. Obviously, every context is different, and the implementation of the strategy may vary in each country. Our single strategy is a frame, under which a range of actions on the ground will take place, all with their respective specificities.

There is no doubt that there are many opportunities for Africa’s youth to transform their continent. I hope to hear from participants on how the EU and Africa can work better together to make the most of opportunities while addressing obstacles in the way. One thing I am sure of however is that having a strong partnership is in both our continents’ – and both our peoples’ – interests. Together we are stronger.

The new Covid-19 reality makes this relationship all the more important. As we wage a battle against a virus and prepare to recover from the economic and social shock of months of lockdown, now more than ever, we need each other. We need solid international partnerships. We need Africa and Europe working together, and “building back better”. Moreover, it is time we face up to reality and ask the next generation how they see the potential of the green and digital transitions for a sustainable recovery. The Debating Africa initiative is a great opportunity to ask questions, discuss solutions and have frank conversations.

After our conversation on 30 June we will have further sessions focused on specific themes and partnership priorities. With the EU-AU Summit later this year, 2020 was always going to be a pivotal year for EU-Africa relations. And, even though the situation is very different now to six months ago, I could not be more excited for the future of our partnership. So, tune in Monday and take part in Debating Africa! We need your voice. Together we will shape the new phase in our twin continents joint journey.

Jutta Urpilainen

Commissioner for International Partnerships