New EU-Africa relations discussed at a critical time

The third EU-Africa Summit will take place in Libya on 29-30 November. Heads of State and Government of both continents will meet to discuss the current state of EU-Africa relations. The Summit will be the first in its kind where the EU will participate in its new post Lisbon Treaty institutional set-up. Many observed regard this meeting as crucial to consolidate the two continents’ relations. 

Both sides have agreed on economic growth, job creation and investment as the over-arching theme for the continent-to-continent discussions while peace and security, climate change and food security and the recurrent theme of the Economic Partnership Agreements will also be high on the agenda. The Summit will also discuss progress with the Joint Africa-EU Strategy (JAES) that was adopted at the last Lisbon Summit in 2007. 

Ahead of the Summit, two reports have been published with a view to better involve different categories of African and European stakeholders including civil society and the private sector, parliaments, and the policy research world. 

The first publication is the report ‘Building the African Union: An assessment of past progress and future prospects for the African Union’s institutional architecture’. The report is a joint effort by NAI and the European Centre for Development Policy Management. It comprises a collection of papers presented by African and European policymakers and researchers at a seminar in Uppsala last year. 

The authors present a list of concrete actions for strengthening the AU and an analysis of the role of the EU in supporting the AU’s institutional development. In relation, a number of questions are raised: What reforms are needed so that the AU can realize its new ambitions? Will the AU move towards a supranational organization or remain an inter-governmental institution? How much executive powers are African states willing to transfer to the AU institutions? How can the EU, or other partners, contribute to the AU’s development? 

Geert Laporte and James Mackie, the report’s editors, argue that it is crucial that the EU clarify how the new EU external action structures will affect its relations with Africa. This, in turn, will facilitate greater policy coherence, simplified support processes and improved delivery. The African states need to be stronger and more united in their views of how they can benefit from their relations with Europe. 

The JAES looks at the way the two continents relate to each other as a whole. At its centre is the concept of one Africa. According to James Mackie and Jean Bossuyt, this requires that EU member states move away from individual programmes and relations with different African states. Rather the EU has to present a more coherent package that is jointly agreed with the African side. The agreement is also inclusive by nature and seeks to involve all appropriate actors at its different levels. It is therefore important that actions are not centralized unnecessarily, but that regional economic communities in Africa are given key roles in carrying out JAES works. 

The Europe Africa Policy Research Network (EARN) is closely following the JAES and aims to be part of the monitoring of its implementations. The network met in October to discuss its just published report ‘Beyond Development Aid’. EARN argues that the JAES is important but that too little progress have been made. It therefore proposes an agenda for action on the future of AU-EU relations. 

‘Beyond Development Aid’ analyses the main constrains and opportunities for engaging in a more strategic dialogue and partnership between the two continents. The report focuses on what have been the outcomes of the political dialogue between the two continents in the period between Summits (2008-2010). It discusses in particular the areas of peace and security, global governance, trade and regional integration, and climate change. 

In the report it is argued that the JAES has the potential to overcome the traditional donor-recipient relationships. In order to achieve this outcome, the AU Commission mandate has to be boosted, and regional and non-state actors have to be more involved and given more active roles to play. The EU member states have to be more committed and have to clarify their common interests. 

The network warns that the partnership could become estranged from its political content since the two continents have very different views on contentious political issues. These views on major aspects of the partnership have not been sufficiently addressed. The political relevance of the JAES could therefore be undermined should these issues not be dealt with. 

For example, as NAI researcher Lisa Åkesson highlights in a report from the meeting in October, the issues of migration, mobility and employment has received scant attention in the JAES framework. These are topics of which the EU and Africa are of different opinions and individual countries have strong national priorities. 

EARN intends to stress and bring the attention to the political dimensions – not always acknowledged – of EU-Africa relations and shift the focus from Africa and African problems into global issues of common concern. 

The report is published at the initiative of the three institutes in charge of the EARN Working Group on Global Issues: the Institute for Strategic and International Studies (IEEI), the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA) and the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM). 

A leaflet, ‘Agenda for Action’, has also been issued, to allow for more quick reading of key messages. It explores which upcoming opportunities and common agenda can be envisaged for the near future.

Africa-Europe Summit
African Union
European Union
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