Dreaming of a ‘Eurafrican’ Erasmus

, by Marco Riciputi

All the versions of this article: [English] [italiano]

Dreaming of a ‘Eurafrican' Erasmus

The EU-Africa Youth Summit held in Lisbon from 5-7 December 2007 came to an end after three days of work. Around 250 delegates of the two continents agreed on a final declaration that has been delivered to the Heads of States of the EU-Africa summit.

The closing day was invigorated by the participation of top level guests such as the President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Council José Sócrates, the Commissioner of the African Union for human resources, science and technology Nagaia Essayed together with young leaders like Bettina Schwarzmayr, European representative of the Steering Committee, and Diogo Pinto, Secretary General of the European Youth Forum.

Visa regime

The participants discussed several topics such as the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, good governance, peace, globalization, climate change. But the big issue remains the Visa system. Many participants were not able to reach the old continent because of the impossibility to get all the documents they needed. ’The summit is the sad and horrible proof of the Visa regime’, said Christoffer Grondstad, member of the European Youth Forum.

On the Visa System Commission President Barroso said that was one of the main points of the EU/Africa Heads of State summit even if no big change is expected. As Stefano Manservisi – Director General for Development of the EC – stated, ‘we can’t reform the Visa system as an act of good will, we have to prove to our people that a different system work well’.

Despite that, the Forum wrote a separate statement on Visa in order to keep high the attention. ‘We want to express our support for a special type of visa providing an easier and consistent procedure for people involved in international youth work, humanitarian work and educational exchanges’, affirms the document in which they denounced the increased cost to obtain the document. ‘Many examples of discrimination start in the long queues of some embassies and consulates’ in the opinion of the participants.

‘Give the mic back!’

The Africans participants hadn’t missed the opportunity to express their voices at the plenary sessions. The moderator wasn’t able to give the floor to all the participants and a Nigerian guy shouted at him ‘the only thing you can do is give the mic back!’ which immediately happened.

The African Union is only 5 years old, be patient’ replied commissioner Essayed, one of the main target of young people. ‘We need more money for science and technology.’ ‘No more Visa system’. ‘What has the African Union ever done for us? Where are the youth programs?’ Those were some of the many questions at the plenary session. Commissioner Essayed said that after the implementation of the African Youth Charter things will go better.

‘You always refer to the African civil society, but it doesn’t exist’, claims Marie Tamaifo from Cameroon, ‘we don’t even have free of speech in many countries’. A bitter situation stressed also by others participants. ‘We can’t build a democratic regime in Africa, it is up to you’, declared otherwise high EU officers Manservisi.

‘Network and make things happen’

President Barroso invited the young people to keep the contact alive also after the youth summit. ‘In the XXI century’, he said, ‘individuals more than politicians and politics, can change things.’ He also declared that in the next years, the mobility student programme Erasmus Mundi, will give more chances to the young people of Africa. Barroso warmly welcomed the Africans delegates. ‘We, Portuguese, have a past marked by colonialism and we want to forge our relationship on reciprocal partnership’, he said.

In order to keep the people connected a permanent Africa/European Union youth forum will be created. The Final declaration stresses also the high rate of the lack of job for the young people. «We note with concern that youth represent close to half of the world’s unemployed people» is stated in the document.

Finally, the great hope of the participants is a common space of student mobility with no barriers, a sort o f ‘Eurafrican’ Erasmus programme. On a more integrated EU/Africa youth policies approach, José Sócrates, President of the European Union Council, recalled the Joint Youth Strategy and, most of all, the mechanism to control the implementation of the Strategy. ‘The summit means recovering political dialogue after 7 years of silence’ he said, underline that can be considered a turning points in the relationship of the two continents.

Image: Flickr.com

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