1409 Coming back to Ordinary Time


Ordinary Time settles back in the AEFJN after the summer break with the news that Pope Francis will visit the European Parliament on November 25 at the invitation of its president Martin Schulz. The president stated that the reason for the invitation is that today we live in a globalised world in which the European Union must play a role as promoter for greater justice and greater cooperation and it should be a tool for the creation of a more just and equitable world. The European Parliament is the place where this is being discussed. The Pope has a huge impact on the global debate on the changes we need. Therefore, a man with such importance should speak in that context in which the role of Europe in the world is discussed[1]. The pope’s visit comes in the midst of turbulent times in international politics with multiple and divergent crises such as the crisis in Ukraine, the growth of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Ebola epidemic.


Thousands of African people have been affected by the eruption of Ebola and the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared that the current outbreak of Ebola is a public health emergency of international concern[2]. Basic social conditions in the affected countries could have avoided many casualties and the fact that Ebola has penetrated into densely populated areas has worsened the situation among the population. Meanwhile, the work of the Health Security Committee of the EU has focused more on prevention within the EU through measures such as medical evacuation, equipping EU hospital structures to respond to eventual cases in Europe, and advice to travellers rather than economic aid, prevention and treatment. More economic aid, medical means and qualified personnel is need on the ground in the affected countries to avoid new infections.


Meanwhile the media has practically ignored the negotiations going on recently between Africa and Europe on Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs). The EPAs will have dramatic consequences for the African population but it seems that it has less relevance for the European authorities. Under the threat of restricting European market access to many African countries, many African countries have accepted the abusive conditions imposed by the European Union. Regions like the South African Development Community (SADC), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) concluded their negotiations in July and the East African Community (EAC) have resumed negotiations in September to conclude the EPA in spite of unresolved issues like export taxes, domestic and export subsidies and the so-called non-tariff barriers. 


Civil society both in Africa and Europe has denounced the negative consequences of such agreements that would keep African countries dependent on export of their raw commodities. It will also tie the hands of African governments to boost their industry that would create better paid jobs and reduce the inequalities among the population. More alarmingly, EPAs could undermine the food sovereignty of the poorest countries. In a continent where 60% of the population works and derives their livelihood from the agricultural sector, the EPAs risk impoverishing the producers and would cause a negative impact on the environment among others. The winners of EPAs seem to be more likely in European companies that can increase their market share while the EPAs ignore the potential for food crises because local food producers might be squeezed out by low-priced food imports. 


The international community is worried about the humanitarian crisis of Ebola but paradoxically, developed communities like the EU, ignore the consequences of imposing its economic power via EPAs that is likely to perpetuate underdevelopment in Africa. The EPAs are most likely to maintain Africa in its position of resource provider for European markets whether this is from mining (minerals) or agriculture (food products, agrofuels). This prevents African economies from spurring economic development that in turn will allow improving social services and sanitary conditions. Then we might wonder whether the EU is really worried about the African people or whether it is perpetrating self interest in its trade policy and its response to the Ebola crisis.


For many years now many streams of African migrants try to arrive in Europe. People have left their families and homes because they have no alternatives in their countries for finding a job, or are simply fleeing from poverty, hunger and armed conflicts. Again Europe feels threatened by the instability of Africa. Many are the causes of instability in Africa and we cannot blame only Europe for the responsibility of these situations. However, Europe has the possibility to help African people if it is willing to modify the EPAs to a truly mutually beneficial economic agreement.


African countries have made many efforts in the last decades to reinforce their democracy, to develop economic systems attentive to their realities, to create a nascent industry and to improve basic social services like health and education systems. They have been fighting corruption and in some countries they have had to overcome armed conflicts. Africa also has had to deal with the consequences of the poverty caused by many years of economic submission to other countries.


The visit of the Pope Francis to the European Parliament is an opportunity to claim the role of the EU as an institution that wants to recognise the dignity all people and wants to create more equality among nations. Like Jesus, AEFJN wants to come back to ordinary time with the joy to work with God, to serve the Kingdom of mercy and truth, righteousness and peace, because even today Jesus is in our lives and walks in the realities of ordinary life in order to reach all, beginning with the least. Jesus went through all the towns and villages… and when he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and dejected (Mathew 9, 35).


Finally, AEFJN wants remember in our prayers Sisters Olga Raschietti, Lucia Pulici and Bernadetta Boggia, three Xaverian Missionary Sisters of Mary that lost their lives during their mission in Burundi as witnesses to God’s mercy in Africa.


Jose Luis Gutierrez Aranda

AEFJN Policy Officer

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