Brussels – The European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has proposed a new alliance with Africa to deepen economic relations and boost investment and jobs.
The proposal could help create up to 10 million jobs in Africa in the next five years alone, Mr Juncker said. The vision involves what he calls a "continent-to-continent" free-trade agreement. It is part of the European Union plan to deepen ties with Africa to counter the growing influence of China.
Europe has a complicated message for Africa. On the one hand, European Union leaders are still preoccupied by the challenge of uncontrolled immigration and its political consequences.
Hence the call from Jean-Claude Juncker for 10,000 more guards to prevent Africans, and others migrants, from crossing Europe's borders.
And with more guards, more old-fashioned aid money too, to support weak and impoverished African states and to encourage their citizens to stay at home, rather than joining those heading to Europe.
But increasingly, Europe is emulating China's approach to Africa – focusing on trade, and on partnerships – not conflicts and charity. "We have to stop seeing this relationship through the sole prism of development aid," Mr Juncker acknowledged. Right now, the EU imports as much from Switzerland as from the entire African continent.
So there is enormous opportunity for growth, and job creation – crucial for Africa's booming population. Indeed Mr Juncker, pointing out that by 2050 a quarter of the world's population would be African, sketched out a plan, or an aspiration, to create up to 10 million jobs in Africa in the next five years alone.
Mr Juncker said Africa was Europe's twin – a supportive nod to this continent's attempts to build its own version of the European Union. He predicted that these twins would eventually form one giant free-trade zone – "a partnership between equals."
But although the African Union agreed on a free-trade zone in March, it will take years, maybe even decades, to reach EU levels of economic integration.
Still, there will be support in Africa for any overtures towards a more balanced, mutually respectful, relationship with Europe. And the timing is good.
In recent years there has been something of a backlash here against what some perceive as China's neo-colonial approach to Africa – draining the continent of its raw minerals in return for cheap loans, huge but sometimes shoddy infrastructure projects, and a strategic reluctance to look too closely at high-level corruption.
Europe, which points out that already 36% of Africa's trade is with the EU, compared with just 16% to China, is keen to exploit its geographical advantage in terms of proximity to the continent at the same time as it confronts the politically divisive issue of uncontrolled migration.