Talks on a new EU-Africa partnership have been derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic, EU foreign affairs chief, Josep Borrell, conceded on Monday (21 September), as a key summit of the two sides has been postponed until 2021.
Speaking after a meeting of EU Foreign Affairs ministers, EU High Representative Borrell said that “the coronavirus restrictions have been slowing down our outreach efforts, but not our ambition to move our partnership to the highest possible level.”
“We have to use the coming weeks to agree on joint priorities that should pave our cooperation for the next decade,” he added.
In March the European Commission unveiled a document titled ‘Towards a comprehensive strategy with Africa,’ intended to kick-start a six-month consultation process that would culminate in a new blueprint to be agreed at the EU-African Union summit in October.
The 19-page document proposed partnerships covering green transition; digital transformation; sustainable growth and jobs; peace and governance; and migration and mobility, while a Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI) could provide up to €60 billion in guarantee operations to stimulate sustainable investments between 2021 and 2027, focusing primarily on Africa.
However, the October summit has become one of the diplomatic casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic, with officials confirming earlier this month that it has been postponed until 2021 although a new date has not been set.
After it became clear that travel restrictions to and from Belgium would make a physical meeting impossible, a plan for a virtual summit was mooted but then failed to command sufficient support.
Although a meeting between EU and African foreign ministers planned for next week has also been cancelled, EU development ministers will discuss EU-AU relations at a meeting on 28 September, Borrell told reporters.
Both sides say that the pandemic has emphasised the need to strengthen the ties between the two continents.
“The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has accentuated the fact that we need each other now more than ever,” Botswana’s EU Ambassador, Samuel Outlule, told EURACTIV.
“The EU-Africa partnership will be crucial in buttressing efforts to help countries and their economies to stay afloat and eventually recover in the coming years,” he said.
Meanwhile, a deal on the successor to the Cotonou Agreement between the EU and the group of African, Caribbean and Pacific countries is also expected to be announced in the coming weeks.
EU member states have been divided over whether to offer more generous or tougher conditions on migration and legal migration pathways, with the latter being a key demand of the African Union. Several issues around sexual and reproductive health issues and human rights questions are also yet to be resolved.
The pandemic is also likely to re-shape the debate between European and African leaders on trade and economics. African leaders are expected to demand that the new EU-AU partnership strategy involves mechanisms to promote investments in their infrastructure, manufacturing and the diversification of exports.
There are also demands for additional financial support from the EU to support African countries worst hit by the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the African Continent Free Trade Agreement will come into force in January.
In October, the Group of 20 (G20) major economies is likely to extend debt relief for developing countries, including Africa, affected by the coronavirus pandemic until at least the end of 2021.
The International Monetary Fund, World Bank and other market analysts are projecting that average African sovereign debt will rise to between 60% and 70% of GDP in 2021, with several countries expected to face debt distress.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]