The European Union (EU) on Saturday put human rights and illegal immigration at the top of the agenda of the EU-Africa summit underway here, preparing the stage for a clash between the two continents.
"We have put human rights at the center of not only the agenda, but also of the strategy," said Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates, whose country hosts the summit in the capacity of EU presidency, in his opening speech.
"Human rights are the direct expression of human dignity. They are the universal heritage of humanity, which we have to preserve and defend," he said.
Ghanaian President John Kufuor, who is co-chairing the summit with Socrates, said, however, it is necessary to correct the historical injustice and inhumanity in relations between the two continents.
"For almost 500 years, the relationship between the two continents has not been a happy one," he said at the opening of the summit.
Contacts between sub-Sahara Africa and Europe began in the 15th century with trade in gold, which degraded into the abominable slave trade over the next 300 years, he said.
The termination of the slave trade in the 19th century was followed almost immediately by colonialism and apartheid, said the Ghanaian leader, whose country holds the African Union presidency.
Kufuor asked for commitments to sustained economic, cultural and humanitarian cooperation and the recognition of Africa's right to integrate into the world economy in terms of trade, investment and capacity building.
Socrates also gave weight to illegal immigration at the summit, saying the issue is linked to human rights because lives are lost as a result of illegal immigration.
"This is a topic where the lack of dialogue and political cooperation has been most felt in the last decade," he said.
The two continents need to sit down together to regulate the migratory flows, giving preference to legal migration and combating illegal migration, he said.
Socrates also underscored peace and security, arguing there will be no development without peace and security.
Apart from differences over priorities, the two continents also need to sort out their trade relationship.
The traditional preferential treatments granted by the EU to African, Caribbean and Pacific nations must be replaced by Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) by the end of this year as the former have been declared illegal by the World Trade Organization.
Up to now, however, only 12 African countries have concluded EPAs with the EU. Many African countries fear the new rules, based on market opening, would lead to a flood of European products.
The two-day EU-Africa summit, the first in seven years, is expected to endorse a joint strategy and a three-year action plan.
The next summit is expected to take place at the end of 2009 in Africa.