S&Ds: regional integration in West Africa crucial to overcoming challenges

S&Ds: regional integration in West Africa crucial to overcoming challenges, S&D MEPs Maria Arena, Cécile Kyenge, Carlos Zorrinho and Ricardo Serrão Santos, West African Regional meeting of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly in Freetown, Sierra Leone,

Migration, sustainable development and Ebola recovery were high on the agenda of the West African Regional meeting of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly in Freetown, Sierra Leone on 22-24 February. The meeting was attended by S&D MEPs Maria Arena, Cécile Kyenge, Carlos Zorrinho and Ricardo Serrão Santos.

S&D co-ordinator for the ACP-EU JPA, Maria Arena, MEP said:

"The EU has to support the strengthening of regional integration in West Africa in order to promote the free movement of goods, services and persons within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) region. We cannot support the Commission's strategy on Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA) to work around important countries like Nigeria, Gambia or Mauritania which represent more than 70% of the population in West Africa.

"The way forward for EPAs must be to better understand the West African countries' concerns, to fully assess the impact of interim EPAs on regional integration and to work closely with civil society to advance asymmetrical trade and development agreements which protect the most vulnerable African economies."

Discussions on sector-specific sustainable development focused on agriculture, fisheries and renewable energy. S&D members highlighted particularly the serious problem of illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, which requires urgent measures in West Africa in order to address the economic, social and environmental challenges the sector faces, while supporting a large, dependant workforce.

Discussions also centred on Ebola recovery, with S&D MEPs congratulating the affected countries for the successful eradication of the pandemic and stressing the need for long-term structural investment in the health system.

On the issue of migration, S&D members noted the significant levels of cross-border migration within West Africa and the importance of institutional support and political coherence in responding to migration flows.

Cécile Kyenge MEP, vice-president of the Joint Parliamentary Assembly, said:

"Lack of development opportunities is one of the principle causes of migration in West Africa. We need a concentrated effort at all levels of government in countries of origin, transit and destination.

"Our approach must not only look at the movement of people but at the protection of rights of legally established communities and migrants, and the link between migration and development."

Members also focused on entrepreneurship in West Africa, and the opportunities for job creation if obstacles such as access to finance are overcome.

S&D MEP Carlos Zorrinho said:

"Entrepreneurship can stimulate knowledge-sharing, innovation and technological advances in sustainable development, while giving new perspectives to young people. We need to create entrepreneurship havens instead of tax havens."

At the closing of the session the S&D members congratulated Sierra Leone for its progress in organising the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2018, and expressed confidence for free, fair and peaceful elections. S&D MEPs emphasised particularly the importance of deploying an EU Election Observation Mission to monitor the elections next year.