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Jacques Santer commends regional initiative

by Alex Kremer

Commission President's visit to West Africa

The European Union's commitment to regional development in sub-Saharan Africa is as strong as ever, but sustainable development can only come from Africa's own initiative. This was the message delivered by Jacques Santer, President of the European Commission, in his address to African heads of state at the UEMOA (Economic and Monetary Union of West Africa) summit in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, on May 10.

'I wish to emphasise from the start,' Mr Santer declared to the Presidents of Benin, Burkina Faso, Cd'lvoire, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo, 'that the European Commission and the European Parliament are both determined to make our partnership even more dynamic and in tune with today's rapidly changing world.'

The presence of the Commission President at the UEMOA summit marks a milestone in the European Community's support for regional integration in the developing world. With its own Commission, Council of Ministers and Court of Justice, the UEMOA appears to be consciously following the supranational model of regional integration pioneered by the European Union.

The sequencing of UEMOA integration, however, is almost the reverse of the European model. Already linked by a single currency in the CFA franc, the West African Union's member states are now pressing ahead with plans for integration of their 'real' economies. The implementation timetable agreed in Ouagadougou covers freedom of establishment, free movement of capital, mutual macroeconomic monitoring and the first steps to customs union with the harmonisation of external tariffs and the lowering or removal of intra-regional barriers to trade.

President Santer indicated that the European Commission is keen to discuss how the European Development Fund (EDF) can support these initiatives. Such aid could take the form of technical assistance and training as well as direct budgetary support to mitigate the short-term costs of customs union.

UEMOA is not, however, an aid project. Its member states have designed it to stand on its own feet financially from the start. A 'community solidarity levy' was due to come into effect on 1 July 1996. The money will be used for a structural fund programme beginning in late 1997, as well as to finance the Union's operating costs.

Meeting with the President of Burkina Faso, Blaise CompaorMr Santer said that it was particularly significant that his first official visit to Africa as President of the European

Commission was to Ouagadougou. Not only was it a reaffirmation of the partnership between Africa and the EU, and a statement of the EU's willingness to support regional integration in the developing world. It was also a tribute to the determination of the people of Burkina Faso and other African countries to promote their own development.

The European Community is Burkina Faso's second largest donor, contributing 10% of total aid payments in 1994. Since 1991, the EC has committed an average of ECU 45 million each year to development cooperation with this country, rising to a peak of ECU 100m in 1995.

Mr Santer visited the EDF-financed road improvement site at Tougan, close to the frontier with Mali, and noted that intra-regional transport links were an essential complement to the legislative programme of the UEMOA. He concluded his tour of regional cooperation projects with a visit to a photovoltaic pumping system financed by the EC under its West African solar energy programme.

Finally, on a more personal note, the Commission President was able to drop in on a project managed by the charity Chrens pour le Sahel. Mr Santer worked for this Luxembourg-based organisation before starting his career in politics and he was visibly pleased to see that it was still going strong - supporting home-grown African initiatives with a little financial help from the European Community.