The European Union’s most senior official in charge of relations with Africa has said the EU should stop lecturing the continent about gay rights.

Nick Westcott, the managing director for Africa in the EU’s diplomatic service said at a debate in Brussels on Wednesday that the EU needs a “strong message” when it comes to foreign policy and that the message should be “two-fold.” It should be “less apologetic about our financial clout and, secondly … more humble on the cultural issues.”

EU Observer reports Mr Westcott said: “We can lecture about lesbian, gays and bisexuals until the cows come home. And it will have a wholly counterproductive effect on our usefulness in Africa. We need to focus on fundamental values.”

In June, the European Parliament agreed to a new multilateral treaty with Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific regions (ACP), but it lacked protections in relation to sexual orientation.

The Cotonou Agreement governs diplomatic, trade and aid relationships between the EU and 79 African, Caribbean and Pacific states.

However, in the same month EU foreign ministers agreed a set of guidelines to “actively promote and protect” the rights of LGBT people.

The 20-page paper “reaffirms that cultural, traditional or religious values cannot be invoked to justify any form of discrimination, including discrimination against LGBTI [lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex] persons.”

Article 21 of the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights also prohibits “discrimination based on … sexual orientation.”

On Thursday, the President of the Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, announced his country would be leaving the Commonwealth just days after he told the United Nations General Assembly that gay people are a threat to human existence. 

According to Amnesty International same-sex sexual relationships are illegal in almost 40 out of 54 African countries.