EU floats prospect of African debt relief to combat Covid-19

Financial assistance for Africa proposed at virtual summit of the coalition for Sahel nations

Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta(L), the President of Mali, Mahamadou Issoufou(2ndL), the President of Niger, Roch Marc Christian Kaboré(C), the President of Burkina Faso, Idriss Déby(2ndR), the President of Chad, and Mohamed Ould Cheikh Mohamed Ahmed Ould Ghazouani(R), the President of Mauritania, pose for a photo at the G5 Sahel summit in Niamey, on December 15, 2019. Leaders of the G5 Sahel nations paid homage at the graves of 71 Niger military personnel killed in a jihadist attack on December 10, 2019, ahead of a regional summit to coordinate a response to the growing unrest.
 / AFP / BOUREIMA HAMA
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European Council President Charles Michel has raised the prospect of offering debt relief to African nations as they combat the coronavirus crisis.

European leaders issued a variety of proposals on Tuesday to lift the continent and affected countries out of the coronavirus induced slump.

French prime minister, Édouard Philippe, outlined the schedule for the end of the coronavirus lockdown in France. He said the country would enter a "monitoring phase" in May to gradually restart six sectors. It would review its progress ahead of a June 2 deadline for the next phase. “We have to learn to live with the virus," he said. "No vaccine will be available in the short term, there is no treatment and we don’t have what they call herd immunity”.

Angela Merkel told a climate change summit that the reboot of the world economy must not come at the expense of the environment.

"It will be all the more important... to make it clear that we are not cutting back on climate protection," Merkel said in a statement at a virtual climate summit, the Petersberg Climate Dialogue.

Speaking at the conclusion of a virtual conference with the G5 Sahel nations, Mr Michel said funds made available by the EU had already been redirected towards health care and sanitation to help the region combat Covid-19.

Some of the €4.6 billion from the EU’s Emergency Trust Fund for Africa had been “reoriented,” the council president said, to meet a possible public health emergency on the continent.

However, Mr Michel said he would look to discuss with international partners a package for debt relief for Africa and called for a “common international approach“ to Covid-19 in the region.

He said he would meet in three months with African leaders to discuss their ongoing health needs.

The EU council head made the remarks following discussions with the G5 Sahel nations of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

The countries had been scheduled to hold a summit with the EU on the regional threat posed by cross-border terrorism. However, this had to be cancelled because of the coronavirus outbreak.

In a statement before the meeting, the European Union said it was “committed to working alongside” the G5S to “address the challenges facing the region”.

It added the coronavirus should not stand in the way of collaboration between the bloc and the G5S.

“The global Covid-19 pandemic cannot cause the European Union’s collective efforts in support of the Sahel to stall,” it said.

A constellation of European nations have committed themselves to fighting the Islamist insurgency that stretches across the porous borders of the Saharan nations.

Britain, the Czech Republic, Estonia and France have pledged over 800 troops to the newly formed Operation Takuba which will operate within the tri-border areas of  Mali, Burkina Faso.

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