EU Australia Online - News & information from the capital of Europe direct to Australian businesses

“Empty Chair” Policy: Britain To Boycott EU-Africa Summit?

  • September 21st, 2007
  • Posted by Nina Plonka

ten-downing-street.jpgThe British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has threatened to boycott the EU-Africa summit in December if Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe tries to attend.

The move has led to an awkward choice for other Europeans, and could threaten the success of the meeting, wanted by both sides to address burning problems with development needs, ill-health and migration.


Gordon Brown published an article in the London Independent on Thursday (20.09.07) saying that if Mugabe tried to defy a collective travel ban imposed on him by several states, his own attendance “would not be appropriate”.

Mr Brown made clear he was determined to try to help people of Zimbabwe, now, on all credible reports, experiencing severe economic crisis:

Four million people are said to have already fled the country, or tried to leave, out of a population estimated at 12.8 million in 2001; 80% of the population are unemployed; four million will be on food aid by the end of the year, and with high levels of HIV-AIDS further endangering the population, life expectancy has fallen to just 37 years.


Mr Brown is not alone in blaming inept and malevolent government for this collapse, and so, while he says the summit would be a good opportunity to intensify partnerships between European and African leaders, he will not tolerate the presence of a President who’s seen as abusing his own people.

Zimbabwe, he says, is well known for “no freedom of the press, torture and mass intimidation of the political opposition.”

He has encouraged other leaders to help with a transition to full democracy in Zimbabwe, which would mean helping with boycotts similar to his own ban on Mugabe.

In his statement this week he called also on the UN Security Council to review the country’s situation more regularly and to send in a humanitarian mission.

Later on television Mr Brown said the international pressure on Mugabe would be increased, with sanctions to be expected from the European Union “in the next few days”.


Robert Mugabe was invited by the host country Portugal, holding the EU Presidency, because other African leaders wanted him to attend – The Independent reports.

Lisbon said the relationship between Europe and Africa was more important than the problems with Mugabe, and its government fears the meeting might collapse if its invitation is withdrawn.

British officials concede that other European countries probably won’t follow their Prime Minister’s lead and that the summit may well take place without him.


Grave concerns over rights, and the ire of Britain especially over the devastation caused in a former colony, compete with a strong drive getting under way in Europe to mobilise relations with Africa on many fronts.

The European Union wants highest-level meetings and collaboration among all of its members, together with every African state or territory.

Main concerns are to assist with building and rebuilding economic infrastructure; to tackle odious public health menaces with potential to spread far beyond Africa’s borders, and regulate immigration.

Migration plans developed by the EU would see the Europeans involved in training and workforce planning within Africa, helping to organise the movement of workers to jobs, both among African states, and to-and-from Europe itself.

The scheme would facilitate legal immigration to make up for a dwindling EU workforce, and would be in parallel with far more vigilant work against illegal movements of people.

EUAustralia reported on the plan when approved at last December’s summit of EU heads of government:

“The European Commission has already been at work, merging different functions relevant to immigration, so that in practice they are well co-ordinated: aid for refugees in desert camps, health care, economic development assistance for poorer countries, employment programs, or education and training …

“A congress at Ministerial level took place last month, at Tripoli in Libya, of all African countries, all members of the European Union, and other European states.

“A full-scale summit of the leaders of those countries was proposed by the Europeans this time, with co-operation on migration issues already listed as one of its key purposes.” (EUAustralia, 16.12.06).


Gordon Brown, “It is right that I make clear my position: We will not shirk our responsibilities”, The Independent, London, 20.9.07. (21.09.07)

“Exclusive: Brown throws down extraordinary challenge over Mugabe”, The Independent, London, 20.9.07. (21.09.07)

Brown droht mit Boykott bei Teilnahme Mugabes“, Spiegel Online.,1518,506809,00.html (21.09.07)

“World is speaking up on Mugabe”, 10 Downing Street (Home). ,and (21.09.07)

EUAustralia Online, “Rebuilding Africa”, 27.4.07; “A Bigger Europe and Migration Under Control”, 16.12.06.
Picture: Door closed to Robert Mugabe at No.10