What’s Behind the New Marshall Plan?

Recently, a hot topic is circulating the political and economical lobbies in the EU, that is the „Marshall Plan with Africa“.

As is well-known, the Marshall Plan, officially the European Recovery Program, i.e. ERP, was originally initiated by the USA right after World War II in order to help Western Europe recover from the war devastation. Beginning in 1948, the plan offered over 13 billion US dollars to remove interstate trade barriers, modernize industry, promote labour union membership as well as to support democracy.

In the 1970s, Bruno Kreisky, Willi Brand and Olaf Palme began to propose a Marshall Plan for the developing countries around the world. In the 1990s, after the collapse of the Iron Curtain, the Marshall Plan idea was discussed for Eastern European countries to smoothly transition from socialism to capitalism.

Right now, the German „Marshall Plan with Africa“ is obviously the new eye-catching initiative, boosting enthusiasm in a difficult European struggling with the refugee problem, a challenging economy, increasing inequality and popular radical political parties. With a bigger Europe on mind including neighbourhoods not only like Eastern European countries, but also Middle East, North Africa, Sub-Sahara, Black Sea region and other former Soviet-Union countries, Germany’s new Marshall Plan has a clear focus: Africa, especially North Africa.

Why Africa? Because the European Union believes that Africa is the next China.

The new Marshall Plan, therefore, is virtually a strategy against  „China Angst“.

For Europe, China is turning into an increasingly intimidating power day by day. With its „One Belt, One Road“ initiatives and the „Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank“ proposals, China is resurging rapidly and expanding towards other continents, economically and probably ideologically, too. As a matter of fact, Africa has been a playground for China already for decades.

„North Africa has become a region not only filled with natural resources, but also with Chinese faces“. Such comments are causing anxiety in Europe. How to play a role in Africa to balance out China is obviously a new priority on the EU agenda, seeing the US government retreating from the global stage under the Trump administration.

The German government’s new Marshall Plan initiative through its Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development is built on three pillars, as was mentioned on a recent forum in Vienna organized by the Querdenker-Plattform, a think tank. First, economics, trade and employment; second, peace and security; third, democracy and the rule of law. This approach stresses fair trade as well as international standards for society and environment. Meanwhile, arm exports are aimed to be reduced, tax shelters be closed so as to eliminate illegal transactions.  All these are designed to improve the „general economic conditions“ of intra-Africa trade.

Europeans lobbyists are clear-minded that the game with Africa should be played differently from the one between the Chinese and the Africans. While they see not without envy how the Chinese are helping the Africans build infrastructure, esp. roads, the Europeans are showing enough confidence in going another way.

That doesn’t mean they are not racking their minds how to realize the new Marshall Plan. The recent Querdenker-Plattform forum is presenting an active neighbourhood policy by promoting twelve game changers based on understanding of heterogeneity, regional organizations, unequal economical development, even disunity within Europe due to historical experience and political science.

To name just a few of the game changers, one cannot help thinking how European they are. Idealistic, brotherly and with a touch of melancholy. The first is supposed to be a three-stage plan: declaring recipient countries, forming assistance and finally partnership. The second is a multi-level approach with a decentralised start. The third requires autonomous efforts of the recipient countries, with the participation of youth, women and NGOs. The fourth concentrates on the all-important role of education, including vocational training. The fifth is the Schumpeter Al-Idrisi Exchange programmes for students, teachers and Internet users. The rest focuses mainly on international coordination, trust building and long-term goals.

Becoming a hotcake, is Africa ready to be shared by everyone? The end of November will see the opening of the EU-Africa Summit. What will happen to the existing relationship of the European Union with Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific is a question that will continue to cause a lot of headaches in the coming months or years.

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