Great Lakes: no European consensus on the name of the EU special envoy for the conflict in the East of the DRC

The European Foreign Ministers met in Luxembourg on Monday and one item on the agenda attracted particular attention, namely the debate on the situation in the Great Lakes region. The 27 are once again alarmed by the chronic state of conflict in the east of the DRC. This situation is widely known to the Europeans who, on this subject, decided a long time ago to appoint a special envoy responsible for the entire region. However, in Luxembourg, the 27 were forced to acknowledge the impasse because this appointment depends on the attitude to be adopted towards Rwanda and this is a fault line within the EU.

Europeans unanimously share the obvious observation of the dramatic situation in the east of the DRC. In particular, they have “a shared awareness” that the “widely documented” Rwandan influence poses a problem of sovereignty and territorial integrity for the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In this context, in February 2023, the 27 had decided to appoint a special envoy for the Great Lakes, with a mandate for Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and the East of the DRC. The selection process, which is similar to an obstacle course, retained two names, including that of the former Finnish Minister of Foreign Affairs, a non-French speaker, who withdrew his candidacy. It was the Belgian diplomat Bernard Quintin who was selected. But this deputy director general for Africa within the EEAS, European diplomacy, was ultimately not appointed on Monday following pressure from Rwanda – while the appointment was still supposed to be confidential.

The cause is opposing visions within the Union. On the one hand, there are those who believe, like Belgium, that Rwanda must be treated without indulgence like all of Europe’s other partners. On the other hand, there are those who want to spare this country seen as a success, an African miracle. And this vision is very present within the cabinet of Josep Borrell, the head of EU diplomacy. And this is where the confidential information about the appointment of a Belgian diplomat could have come from.

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