New EU chief in Ethiopia for first trip outside bloc

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European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen arrived in Ethiopia on Saturday, her first trip outside Europe since assuming her post, for meetings expected to touch on migration and support for African security operations.

The former German defense minister, who took office December 1, landed in the capital Addis Ababa during the morning and headed first to the African Union headquarters for talks with AU chief Moussa Faki Mahamat.

She is scheduled to sit down later with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, this year’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate as the country prepares for landmark elections next year.

The EU is Africa’s largest trading partner and biggest source of foreign investment and development aid.

But the two blocs have struggled in recent years to find ways to curb the number of African migrants heading north to Europe using perilous sea routes.

Just this week at least 62 migrants died when a boat capsized off the coast of Mauritania.

Both African and European officials are keen to address root causes of migration like poverty.

The EU has also been a strong supporter of the AU’s peace and security efforts.

Its African Peace Facility, a mechanism established in 2004, has allocated more than 2.7 billion euros for peace and security operations, targeting 14 African-led operations in 18 countries.

Yet European officials have signaled they want to shift away from providing stipends for troops in places such as Somalia, where the EU is a main backer of the regional peacekeeping force known as AMISOM.

The AU has struggled to get member states to impose a 0.2 percent levy on eligible imports so the body can provide more of its own financing - an initiative the EU supports.

Following meetings with Faki and Abiy, von der Leyen, the commission’s first woman president, plans to meet Ethiopian President Sahle-Worke Zewde, the first woman to hold that title.

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