Last April, José Manuel Durrão Barroso visited Angola; the first President of the European Commission to do so. Barroso’s objective is to transform Angola into a strategic partner of the European Union. This means building a relationship through bilateral political and economical relations, but also agreements on vital global issues such as the security of energy supply, the stability in the Gulf of Guinea – where piracy is becoming an increasing threat – and the state of fragile democracies like neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo and Guinea-Bissau. Illegal fishing practices, migration, the opening of public procurement markets, investments and scientific cooperation are other possible areas of collaboration. Such approach is important from the EU’s point of view since, up to date, it has managed to establish such kind of relationship with only one other country on the continent: South Africa.
There is little doubt that Barroso’s personal equation has plaid a significant role in the process. The current EU Commission President knows Angola and its leaders particularly well. At the beginning of his carrier, in his capacity of Portugal’s Foreign Affairs Secretary General, José Manuel Durrão Barroso was one of the architects of the Bicesse peace accords of 1990 between the MPLA government and the UNITA rebels. In any case, Barroso’s approach is in line with previous moves of important European leaders. French President Nicolas Sarkozy – May 2008 – and later German chancellor Angela Merkel – July 2011 – visited Angola and signed a number of important contracts, including the supply of digital communication equipments for the Angolan army by the French company Thales and the sale of Friedrich coast-guard vessels by Germany. That alone shows that Angola is a special partner for the two main economies of the euro zone.
In fact, Jose Manuel Barroso just implemented at the EU community level the policy which has been already put on track by these European powers. He offered Angola to establish a special relationship. Eventually, Barroso’s visit was concluded by a deal on the need to establish a formal political agreement called the “common EU-Angola path” which aims at establishing a permanent dialogue on all the above-mentioned issues and which should be signed during President José Eduardo dos Santos next visit to Brussels.
Since the partnership involves Africa’s second oil producer, there is no doubt that energy will top the list of issues. The EU, which recently decided to impose an embargo on Iranian crude exports, values Angola’s stability and geostrategic situation, Barroso said. At the same time, Angola can benefit from the European expertise to reduce the flaring of gas associated with the different phases of oil exploitation. Angola is also particularly keen to develop its hydroelectric potential with the EU’s support. President Dos Santos has set indeed as a priority the construction of three hydropower dams on River Kwanza (Cambambe II, Laúca and Caculo Cabaça respectively). The Angolan head of state even told Chancellor Angela Merkel that his country was ready to open its water and electricity markets if significant investments were made to develop its hydroelectric potential.
Like it did with South Africa, the EU is eager to establish a cooperation with Angola in the peace and security sectors, in order to contribute to the settlement of crisis on the continent. In fact, the issue is to build on existing cooperation by strengthening for instance the dialogue which exists already in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where Angolan and European instructors are training the local police and military. Against this background, Barroso and Dos Santos discussed the organization in Luanda of a conference of the Gulf of Guinea Commission in partnership with the African Union and the United Nations by end 2012.
Other areas of cooperation should include sustainable development, mobility, education at university level, health and economic issues. In fact, Angola has become a major investor in the strategic sectors in Portugal, such as banks and energy and can help stabilize this particular member of the euro zone. That alone may justify Barroso’s statement that Europe would be “short-sighted” if it failed to be more present on the development front in Angola.
The EU-Angola cooperation will also cover democracy issues. That should not be too much of a problem since no serious alternative has emerged to challenge the MPLA, which needs no rigging to remain in power. Indeed, the birth of a UNITA splinter group, called the Convergencia amplia para a salvação de Angola by Abel Chivukuvuku, is likely to increase the MPLA’s chances to win the elections next year. As a result, Angola accepted without any problem the EU’s offer of a 1.2 million donation to finance the promotion of voters’ rights before the elections and costs of observation by Angolan civil society organisations.