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Eurafrica - Europe’s forgotten history

The vision of Eurafrica, an illustration from that era

The vision of Eurafrica, an illustration from that era

When European integration started developing in the 1950s, some of its founding member countries were still great colonial powers. Several of them were also fighting costly wars to save their colonial empires. They saw European integration as a way to preserve their colonial influence, or as a compensation for its loss.

So write Peo Hansen and Stefan Jonsson, researchers at REMESO, the Institute for Migration, Ethnicity, and Society at LiU.

Colonialism and the significance of decolonisation is hardly found at all in the current picture of the history of the EU, they state, and that is something they want to correct. In several fundamental documents, they have found wording which shows that the politicians of the time thought of a united Europe as a condition for exploitation of the riches of the African continent. This applies, for example, to the Schuman Declaration of 1950, which is usually reckoned as the origin of the EU’s predecessor, the European Coal and Steel Community, and the European Council’s Strasbourg Plan of 1952.

France especially pushed the question hard. At a press conference in Washington in 1957, when the Treaty of Rome had just been negotiated, the French prime minister Guy Mollet said: “A few days ago, we removed the last obstacle in [European unity’s] way, and now a broader unity is being born: Eurafrica, a far-reaching association in which we shall work together to promote development, prosperity, and democracy in Africa.”

Africa was regarded as a large supplier of natural resources and agricultural products, but also as an energy reservoir. Europe would offer Africa morals, culture, and civilisation, the thinking went, while Africa could offer Europe raw materials, territory, and resources.

The exploitation of Africa constituted a reason for the European states to work for a common cause. A future European community was in reality indistinguishable from a common, united exploitation of Africa, write the two REMESO researchers.

There is much that indicates that this also left its mark on more contemporary relations between the EU and Africa. As recently as 2007, France’s current president Nicolas Sarkozy declared: “What France wants with Africa is to prepare the development of Eurafrica, a great common fate that awaits Europe and Africa.” Today the EU, the USA, and China are fighting for control over Africa’s vast natural resources, cultivated land, and rising markets.

The research project, which in all its essential aspects is a pioneering work, is called ‘European Integration and European Colonialism’, and is financed by the Swedish Research Council. Longer articles will be published in two periodicals, Globalization and Interventions. The project will also result in a book, Eurafrica: The Untold History of European Integration and Colonialism, which will be published in 2012 by Bloomsbury Academic.

Therese Winder 2010-11-30

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Last updated: 2010-11-30