The Celebration of the 25th anniversary of AEFJN in Brussels

 

The Africa-Europe Faith and Justice Network celebrated its 25th anniversary with a Eucharist and a Round Table on the 24th of April at the Chapel of the Resurrection in Brussels. Wolfgang Schönecke (AEFJN Germany) presided at the Eucharist and he was accompanied by Aniedi Okure (AFJN Washington) and Joseph Akono (AEFJN UK). At the Eucharist members of AEFJN, former collaborators and missionaries to Africa gathered in an atmosphere of joy to celebrate AEFJN’s 25 year commitment to the people of Africa.

 

At the Round Table two panels addressed the general theme of “Africa and Europe: Challenges for the Future” and the debates were moderated by journalist Guy Poppe. The celebration was attended by around 80 guests from both Africa and Europe, amongst whom the Nuncio to the European Union, the vice-president of COMECE (Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community), religious from in- and outside the AEFJN-network and participants of several partner organisations. The first panel discussion focused on the subtheme: Livelihoods of Africans under threat from economic expansion and globalisation. How does this challenge Europe?” The panel consisted of Begoña Iñarra (AEFJN), Annie Girard (AEFJN Cameroon) and Antoine Berilengar (Director of Centre for Studies and Training Development (CEFOD), Chad).

 

Begoña Iñarra started by giving an overview of 25 years of AEFJN; recalling AEFJN’s commitment to Africa and the current challenges. For 25 years AEFJN has worked towards more equal economic relations between Africa and Europe. AEFJN believes that the current neoliberal economic structures are the main cause of poverty in Africa. Despite economic growth in Africa, the gap between rich and poor has continued to increase, as well as the number of poor people. AEFJN’s activities have centred on EU economic policies which affect the African population and AEFJN voices the preoccupations of our African members to the European institutions. Over the 25 years the network has grown: from 19 congregations at the start to around 50 now; and 14 national antennae have been established in Europe and Africa supported by 150 lay groups and institutes.

 

The impact of the current globalisation and corporate-driven economic expansion on the African population was introduced by a compelling video from AEFJN Cameroon presented by Annie Girard. In particular, the socio-economic and ecological impacts for the Cameroonians as a consequence of inadequate agricultural policies and land grabs were addressed. Antoine Berilengar, Director of CEFOD in Chad, gave an exposé about the difficulties of natural resource exploitation in Chad and the work of his organisation CEFOD in Chad. CEFOD is a centre of studies that aims to influence government policies and to create a change from a grass roots level. According to Berilengar, it is crucial to turn natural resources, oil and mining products to the benefit of African populations.

 

The second panel centred on African farmers and workers under threat from trade policies and the scramble for natural resources. How should Europe respond?” Panellists included Wolfgang Schonecke (AEFJN-Germany); Mark Maes (11.11.11); and Leonardo Mizzi (General Director for Agriculture and Rural Development for the DG AGRI-European Commission). Wolfgang Schönecke addressed the harmful effects of the EU Biofuel policy in Africa, arguing that the EU Renewable Energy Directive contributes to land grabbing in Africa. He pleaded for the EU to cancel all its consumption targets for biofuels and to work towards a complete phase-out of all land-based biofuels in EU road transport. He also stressed that the EU should implement the FAO Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security.

 

 

Afterwards, Marc Maes talked about EU trade policy, more particularly the Economic Partnership Agreements and the top-down approach of the EU in the EPAs; ACP countries are forced to sign these disadvantageous trade deals. Indeed ACP-countries would have to do most of the adjustment towards more liberalized trade, while in the EU these structures are already present. Additionally, according to Maes, more liberalized trade is not a guarantee for poverty reduction, which is one of the aims of the EPAs. Next, Leonardo Mizzi stated his belief that the Common Agricultural Policy has evolved in the right direction as regards its effects for developing countries, since, according to Mr. Mizzi, the EU has enhanced market access for products coming from developing countries, allowing African producers to export more to EU markets. He also denied that the ACP countries are forced into signing EPAs. What followed was a lively debate between the three participants and many questions from the public. The debate provided a fruitful exchange of African and European ideas between the panellists and the public.

 

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