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Europe Targets World’s Major Uranium Producer Niger

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By Robert Johnson | IDN-InDepthNews Analysis


BRUSSELS (IDN) - The 28-nation European Union (EU) has decided to strengthen relations through “high level dialogues” with the world’s fourth largest uranium producer Niger during the EU foreign and security affairs chief Federica Mogherini’s first visit to Sub-Saharan Africa. Uranium is of critical importance for both civilian and military purposes.

High on Mogherini’s agenda in talks with President Mahamadou Issoufou, Prime Minister Brigi Rafini and Foreign Minister Aichatou Boulama Kane on September 18, 2015 was also the situation in the Sahel region – covering parts of northern Senegal, southern Mauritania, central Mali, northern Burkina Faso, extreme south of Algeria, Niger, extreme north of Nigeria, central Chad, central and southern Sudan, and northern Eritrea.

Niger is one of the three focus countries in the EU's Sahel security & development strategy, adopted by the European Union in 2011. The Sahel has a prominent place in European Union policy because, according to official sources, “Europe has numerous interests in the region, ranging from combating security threats, terrorism, organised crime and illegal migration to assuring energy security.”

A posting on the European Union External Action website says: “The ongoing instability in the Sahel, and the transnational nature of the security threats have confirmed the relevance of the regional approach taken in the European Union's Strategy for Security and Development in the Sahel from March 2011.”

This strategy was preceded by a constitutional and political crisis followed by a military coup at the beginning of 2010. Niger led an exemplary democratic transition process, culminating in local, parliamentary and presidential elections in the first half of 2011. The European Union played a vital role in supporting, funding and monitoring this process.

However, consultations conducted under Article 96 of the Cotonou Agreement led to a partial suspension of the cooperation with the EU. Nevertheless, after constitutional order was restored in the country, full cooperation was resumed in June 2011. The next general elections are planned for the beginning of 2016.

At the request of the Niger Government, the EU decided on July 16, 2012 to deploy a civilian mission to support Niger's internal security forces in their fight against terrorism and organised crime (EUCAP SAHEL Niger). This mission comes under the EU's common security and defence policy (CSDP). Following a request from the Niger authorities in July 2014, the Mission has been extended until July 2016.

“The EU and Niger maintain a regular and dynamic political dialogue which enables a broad range of issues to be dealt with, including regional, political (governance, security, migration, etc.), economic and trade issues concerning development and governance, including human rights, and also sectorial meetings relating to different aspect of our cooperation,” according to EU official sources.

Under the framework of the 10th European Development Fund (EDF) for the 2008-2013 period, the total reserved for EU cooperation to Niger amounted to EUR 571.40 million. In addition to providing significant macroeconomic budgetary support, the cooperation enabled action to be taken in priority sectors (as defined under the reference period), such as governance, economic reforms, support for growth in rural areas, food security, and assistance with regional integration (including transport infrastructure).

The budgetary and institutional support currently underway (Good Governance and Development Contract) aims to help Niger in its efforts to eradicate poverty, promote sustainable and inclusive growth, as well as the development and consolidation of economic and democratic governance.

The National Indicative Plan 2014-2020, totalling an initial amount of EUR 596 million, was signed in Nairobi on June 19, 2014. The four priority sectors are part of the continuity of the priorities of the National Indicative Plan of the 10th EDF, such as: food security and resilience, State capacity-building to implement social policies (education, health, among others), security, governance and peace-building, and opening up of regions affected by insecurity and the risk of conflict.

As in the past, the NIP renews its support for civil society. In addition to the National Indicative Plan, Niger also receives funding from regional instruments (National Indicative Plan for West Africa, intra-ACP programmes) and different horizontal (Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace) and thematic instruments (such as, for example, the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights).

The importance of Niger being the world’s fourth largest producer of uranium after Kazakhstan, Canada and Australia is also emphasised by the fact that mining industry is the main source of national exports, of which uranium is the largest export.

According to Wikipedia, Niger has been a uranium exporter since the 1960s and has had substantial export earnings and rapid economic growth during the 1960s and 1970s. The persistent uranium price slump brought lower revenues for Niger's uranium sector, although it still provides 72% of national export proceeds.

When the uranium-led boom ended in the early 1980s the economy stagnated, and new investment since then has been limited. Niger's two uranium mines – SOMAIR's open pit mine and COMINAK's underground mine – are owned by a French-led consortium and operated by French company Areva.

As of 2007, many licences have been sold to other companies from countries such as India, China, Canada and Australia in order to exploit new deposits. In 2013, the government of Niger sought to increase its uranium revenue by subjecting the two mining companies to a 2006 Mining Law.

The government argued that the application of the new law will balance an otherwise unfavourable partnership between the government and Areva. The company resisted the application of the new law that it feared would jeopardize the financial health of the companies, citing declining market uranium prices and unfavourable market conditions.

In 2014, following nearly a year long negotiation with the government of Niger, Areva agreed to the application of 2006 Mining Law of Niger, which would increase the government's uranium revenues from 5 to 12 percent. [IDN-InDepthNews – 27 September 2015]

Photo: Federica Mogherini in Niger | Credit: European Union External Action

2015 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters
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