SOUTH Africa and the European Union hold their first ever summit in the French city of Bordeaux today but divergent positions on ways of tackling the political crisis in Zimbabwe have cast a pall over the event.
Africaâ€™s top economy and the EU, its biggest investor, want to take their relationship to a “new level” at the summit, attended by French President Nicolas Sarkozy â€” whose country holds the rotating presidency of the EU â€” South Africaâ€™s Thabo Mbeki and European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso.
“The Republic of South Africa is the main regional power in Africa and a member of the group of emerging countries. It is one of the drivers of growth in the continent and a success story that refutes Afro-pessimism,” the EU said in a statement.
It said the summit aimed “at taking relations between the EU and South Africa to the next level.”
The South African governnment was equally upbeat, saying “one of the main goals is to deepen relations between the European Union and South Africa.”
But the diametrically opposed positions of the two sides on seeking an end to the protracted political crisis in Zimbabwe, looms large.
The EU on Tuesday widened sanctions against Zimbabwe despite a deal between hardline President Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai aimed at finding a solution.
Mbeki, who has been widely criticised for treating Mugabe with kid gloves, managed to broker a deal between Mugabe and the opposition on a framework for talks on a future government.
The EU sees Mugabe as a tyrant who has stifled human rights and democracy and led the once-model economy to ruin. Zimbabwe has the worldâ€™s highest inflation rate.
Mbeki on the other hand, has so far failed to publicly criticise Mugabe, and appears vociferously opposed to any attempt to arm-twist the octogenarian leader.Although not on the agenda, the Zimbabwean impasse could mar the proceedings, officials said.
“Itâ€™s almost inevitable given that itâ€™s the key crisis in southern Africa at the moment,” an EU official said, speaking on condition of anonymity..
“South Africa has quite an important role in resolving that,” the official said, describing South Africa as a “key protagonist”. â€“â€“ iafrica