EU Africa ministerial meeting 2014. Photo: European External Action Service, creative commons.

Researcher: EU needs coherent Africa policy

The results of the elections to the European Parliament in May point to two current trends in Europe. Both may lead to changes in EU policy towards Africa, according to NAI researcher Liisa Laakso.

The political grouping of green parties in the European Parliament made progress in the 23–26 May elections. Similarly, the grouping of nationalist right-wing parties also increased its seats in parliament.

“It means there could be room for an improved EU policy on how to mitigate effects of climate change in Africa. It also means, however, that we might see policies tainted by the extreme right's desire to fight illegal migration and the closing of the EU’s borders with Africa”, Laakso points out.

The European Parliament is relatively weak compared to national assemblies, as it has neither the exclusive right to legislate nor the possibility of submitting bills. However, EU parliamentarians can table questions to the European Council and European Commission and ask them to draw up new policies.

The Commission, with the Council, is the implementing body and where the real power is. Therefore, Laakso views a German proposal to appoint a commissioner with a special focus on Africa as interesting. As it is now, commissioners have portfolios with thematic areas, which means that Africa-related issues end up with several commissioners.

Liisa Laakso.

“But since European cooperation with Africa has many overlapping policy issues – such as migration, climate, security and development – it is difficult for several different commissioners to have a common take on Africa policy. One example is the EU's agricultural policy, which protects European products against competition from Africa, while EU development policy promotes agriculture in African countries. Therefore, it sounds reasonable to have a commissioner responsible for ensuring coherence in policy”, Laakso remarks.

The EU also recognises this need and the Commission for the next budget period (2021-27) proposes to reduce bureaucratic instruments, as well as to integrate the European Development Fund into the EU budget, to get a clearer focus and a more coherent policy towards Africa and other partners.

Another possibility for African countries is to strengthen their bargaining position with Europe. So far, however, they have been bad at reaching favourable agreements. Current negotiations on a replacement for the Cotonou Agreement, which expires in 2020, are an opportunity for a change of direction.

“It is often said that Africa does not speak with a common voice and therefore does not reach favourable terms. However, the EU member states do not have a homogeneous view of African policy either. And since the EU strives for consensus, a common Africa policy risks becoming diluted and, in practice, ineffective”, Laakso concludes.

TEXT: Johan Sävström

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