Home News EU-South Africa summit tackles diplomatic, trade differences

EU-South Africa summit tackles diplomatic, trade differences

Published on 14/09/2011

South Africa and the European Union head into their fourth summit Thursday with differences over Libya, Zimbabwe and trade policy looming over the talks.

South African President Jacob Zuma and the president of the European Council Herman van Rompuy will meet in the rest camp of Skukuza inside Kruger National Park, which is famous for its big game.

Officially, the talks will be focused on development and trade.

But South Africa’s strident criticism of the NATO bombing campaign in Libya will be hanging in the air.

Just hours before leaving for Kruger on Wednesday, Zuma will host a panel of African Union leaders in Pretoria for talks on Libya.

The bloc has so far refused to recognise the new leadership in Tripoli following the overthrow of Moamer Kadhafi — and that position appears unlikely to change during the meeting.

Zuma on Tuesday called on the National Transitional Council (NTC), whose forces now controls most of Libya’s territory, to form an “inclusive” government.

South Africa, which holds a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council, did vote for the resolution that imposed a no-fly zone over Libya.

Since then however, it has accused NATO of overstepping its mandate with the bombing campaign that turned the conflict in NTC’s favour.

Zimbabwe also remains a contentious issue for the two sides.

Three years ago, it was South Africa that brokered the deal that created the power-sharing government between veteran ruler Robert Mugabe and his long-time rival Morgan Tsvangirai.

South Africa has taken up Mugabe’s call for Western nations to lift the travel ban, asset freeze and arms embargo imposed against him and his inner circle over a series of flawed elections marred by deadly violence during the last decade.

Pretoria argues that lifting the sanctions would shore up the fragile unity government and show that the West is not playing favourites in Harare.

In South Africa, the European Union is supporting preparations for UN climate talks in Durban, due to run between November 28 and December 9.

The EU has financed the talks to the tune of six million euros, which the EU ambassador in Pretoria, Roeland van de Geer, described as a sign of faith in South Africa’s “moral authority” to advance the negotiations.

Preparatory talks have put the Europeans on one side, with South Africa, seeking to speak for the whole of Africa, on the other.

The debate is whether it is possible to negotiate new commitments to limit greenhouse gas emissions, and how the world should divide that effort among rich and developing nations.

The EU, South Africa’s top trade partner, has for years been in talks on an Economic Partnership Agreement with seven southern African nations. It is a delicate question that is likely to figure in Thursday’s summit.

European Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht will participate in the summit, after a swing through Namibia where he said some “misunderstandings” about the trade pact had been cleared.

South Africa is loath to give the impression of holding trade talks without its six partners; but the country is the region’s economic powerhouse and the main intermediary with the EU for the talks that have run over several years.

Despite South Africa’s economic might on the continent, it remains a major beneficiary of European aid, notably a 126-million-euro grant to the health ministry to bolster the public health system, especially in the fight against AIDS and tuberculosis.

During 2007-2013, South Africa is set to receive 980 million euros from the EU, or an average of 140 million euros a year.