The EU is hosting a three-day conference that started yesterday aimed at persuading African leaders, business and aid groups to embrace its policy of providing billions of dollars in more aid to poor African countries on condition they speed up political and economic reforms.
The gathering, which includes top European and UN officials and leaders from Uganda, Ethiopia and 14 other African nations, aims to put European development policy in play against recent Chinese overtures of trade and aid to Africa.
Beijing has launched closer ties with Africa without linking to democratic reforms or human rights, a development that has raised fears that the 25-nation EU will lose influence to China.
The EU believes tying aid to reform is the best way of improving the lives of Africans. Its revised plan for Africa approved last year aims to accelerate disbursement of aid to countries most in need of roads, rail links and telecommunications -- if they meet standards of good governance.
"We think there is no real development without governance," EU development spokesman Amadeu Altafaj Tardio said.
EU officials said the conference will focus on encouraging reform in Africa and persuading European businesses to invest more in African projects that could help alleviate poverty.
"We think the Europeans have to show openly their business interest in Africa," Altafaj Tardio said.
A breakthrough summit hosted by China this month led to Chinese and African companies signing agreements worth US$1.9 billion in infrastructure and telecommunications deals.
EU officials fear this could jeopardize Western moves to push for human rights, economic reforms and cleaner government. China has rebuffed criticism that their relationship is based only on meeting its hunger for natural resources, putting aside development and poverty concerns.
EU is planning to increase annual aid to Africa from 17 billion euros (US$21.8 billion) to around 25 billion euros by 2010. Within that, EU Development Aid Commissioner Louis Michel plans a 3 billion euro incentive fund to spur reforms.
The plan aims to reward countries that make positive changes toward democracy rather than threatening sanctions to those that misspend aid or violate democratic rules.
Aid groups, however, reiterated concerns that the plan only reinforces conditions on much needed aid.
"A policy of conditionality has never worked," said a statement issued by 17 non-government organizations. "Change cannot be imposed from the outside."
The charities participating in the conference said the EU was ignoring the role big business was playing in encouraging corruption in Africa. They also slammed the World Bank and the IMF for failed policies meant to fight poverty.