Summit fails to deliver vaccine help to Africa
China Daily

Ursula von der Leyen (left) with other leaders at the EU-AU summit in Brussels on Friday. (Photo: AFP)

The sixth summit between the European Union and the African Union on Thursday and Friday has drawn fire for failing to agree to African leaders' call for a patents waiver on COVID-19 vaccine technology and for making empty promises.

More than 40 African leaders attended the summit, delayed for 18 months because of the pandemic and other reasons. Days before the meeting, the EU promised to invest 150 billion euros ($170 billion) in Africa through its Global Gateway initiative, money that many say is just existing funding being relabeled.

After heated discussions on Friday, the two sides failed to reach a deal to temporarily suspend intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments, a key demand by many African leaders.

"The European Union wants to be Africa's partner of choice," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Friday afternoon. "This is basically the summary of the summit." She acknowledged that a compromise on the waiver had been impossible and suggested a spring deadline for an "end to the discussion".

"We had a very good, intensive, constructive discussion on the question of TRIPS waiver and compulsory licensing," von der Leyen said. TRIPS stands for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, an agreement between members of the World Trade Organization.

South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa, standing between von der Leyen and the European Council President Charles Michel, said "governments that are really serious about ensuring that the world has access to vaccines should ensure that we approve TRIPS waiver as we've put forward".

Previously Ramaphosa had criticized rich Western countries for fueling "vaccine apartheid". He told the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle on Friday that he had told EU leaders that if the waiver agreement could not be reached, the summit would be seen as a failure.

Peter Kamalingin, director of the Oxfam International Pan Africa Program, said: "EU leaders continue to make a song and dance about the importance of their relationship with the African continent. Yet they once again put the interests of their profit-hungry pharmaceutical corporations first.

"The point-blank refusal to even consider the waiver at this summit is shameful and an insult to the millions of people in poorer countries who have needlessly lost loved ones because of vaccine inequity."

While Europeans are getting boosters, only 11 percent of Africans have been vaccinated.

"It is time for African leaders, governments and people around the world to seriously call into question Europe's commitment to their so-called partnership of equals," Kamalingin said.

Top agenda

Lai Suetyi, associate professor at the Center for European Studies at Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, said she saw the summit as little more than another talking shop. "The top issues on the agenda, the EU's investment package to Africa, COVID-19 vaccine inequality and migration, still feature highly in the traditional donor-recipient relationship between Europe and Africa," Lai told China Daily.

With this historical legacy, there is no concrete breakthrough in EU-AU collaboration, and a new partnership between Europe and Africa announced in the Joint Vision for 2030 in reality provides little new, she said.

Ludger Schadomsky, head of Deutsche Welle's Amharic service, said in an opinion piece on Friday: "The African Union has had more than enough of the EU's policies cloaked in the guise of a 'partnership on an equal footing', when all Brussels, Paris and Berlin really care about are markets and migration deterrence."

Most of the EU funds earmarked for African countries are merely relabeled, he said. "This is not fresh capital, and that is seen as an affront from Nigeria to Ethiopia.

In an article titled "Unequal partners", Benjamin Fox, opinion editor at Euractiv, a pan-Europe news network, wrote on Friday: "After two years of waiting, it is hard to avoid the sense that this week's EU-AU summit was glossy but painfully light on substance."