EU and Africa have a unique chance to rationalise their cooperation

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Mogherini on 28 November 2017 at the Africa-EU summit in Abidjan. [Council]

While 2018 is undoubtedly an important year for the European Union in terms of its own future, it is also a year for resetting its relations with developing countries and in particular with its continental neighbour on the other side of the Mediterranean, the African Union, writes James Mackie.

James Mackie is adviser on development policy at ECDPM in Maastricht. The European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM) has recently published its annual Challenges Paper, a series that explores the key debates on Africa-Europe relations for the year and beyond. 

The year actually presents a once-in-a-decade opportunity for Europe and Africa to arrive at a more coherent partnership, bridging the political, institutional and financial limitations of the frameworks that now regulate their cooperation.

In September, African and European policymakers are expected to start negotiations on the future of the ACP-EU Partnership Agreement, also known as the Cotonou Agreement. This is the first complete renegotiation of the Agreement since the Joint Africa-EU Strategy (JAES) was signed in 2007.

Despite the financial and legal weight of Cotonou, it is the JAES that provides the framework for much of the political and security dialogue between Africa and the European Union (EU) today. 2018 is a key moment in which the two Unions can bring these overlapping agreements closer together.

At the same time the two Unions will also each be dealing with other institutional and thematic issues with a close bearing on their relations. The EU will be making decisions on its next budget beyond 2020 (the Multiannual Financial Framework, or ‘MFF’) while simultaneously negotiating Brexit. Its African counterpart, the African Union (AU), will be working towards institutional reform and financial autonomy, in line with the Kagame and Kaberuka proposals. In addition, the two Unions will be tackling ongoing issues, not least migration and security, which affect both, though they do not always share the same interests.

Official statements emerging from the two Unions towards the end of 2017 show increasing awareness of the unique opportunity the year presents to address the fragmentation and growing divergence between the frameworks guiding EU-Africa relations. The joint conclusions of the Africa-Europe Summit in Abidjan at the end of November 2017 talk of building on the results achieved in the JAES partnership in the upcoming negotiations.

The European Commission’s  proposals for the negotiations, published a few days after the Summit on 12 December, suggest constructing the new agreement around three regional Compacts for the three ACP regions. The African one would be built on the JAES and would apparently also seek to “treat Africa as one”, a long-standing demand of the AU. What this will mean precisely for the EU’s association agreements with North African countries is not made clear, although there is a commitment to preserving them. We now need to see how this is picked up by the AU’s own summit at the end of the month (on 22-29 January) and then within the wider ACP negotiating mandate to be finalised at a special session of the ACP Council on 27 May 2018 dedicated to post-Cotonou.

For the AU to be able to play a full part in this proposed regional Compact and in the post-Cotonou agreement it should really also be a party to the agreement. However, the Commission’s proposal simply suggests that a “prominent role in managing the Compacts” would need to be assigned to relevant organisations such as the African Union.

Although in the past the EU has championed the JAES as an instrument for moving beyond donor-recipient relations towards genuine partnership with Africa, it has failed to link adequate means to the strategy. This has hampered any real impact. Instead, the major resources from the European Development Fund (EDF), such as the Africa Peace Facility (APF), remained linked to the Cotonou Agreement, with its ACP governance structures, and only a small pan-African envelope was provided  from the EU Budget’s Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI). A key issue to resolve will therefore be to see to what extent funds can be linked to the relationship between the two Unions.

This leads directly into another important EU debate in 2018: the MFF.

Although slow progress on Brexit has delayed the start of MFF to mid-year, funding will be at the top of the EU agenda from May onwards when the European Commission is due to publish its proposals.

From an Africa-Europe relations point of view, observers will be keen to see what the proposals contain on external action under Heading 4 on Global Europe. Will there be a proposal for a new peace and security instrument that might include the APF? Will the Commission once again propose to include the EDF in the EU Budget even though this can negatively affect the old EDF principles of security of funds and of co-management? There is some talk of a single instrument for development cooperation to give the Commission greater flexibility to manage funds, but what impact would that have on the ability of the European Parliament and the Council to ensure proper budgetary scrutiny?

While no-one wants to see them micromanage the Commission’s work it is also vital that funds for different purposes are carefully earmarked and that a clear distinction is made between funds for EU priorities and interests on the one hand, and funds for supporting partner country priorities and ownership on the other.

The progress of the Brexit negotiations is another concern for the MFF discussions and particularly in terms of the reduced resources that will be available to the EU. On the one hand, having 15% less funds should push the EU to prioritise more carefully what it seeks to do in international cooperation.

On the other hand, some thought should be given to how best to design instruments so that the UK might be encouraged to still cooperate closely with the EU albeit from outside. Might a post-Brexit UK even still be persuaded to contribute to a new EDF if this remains clearly outside the EU Budget?

The African Union will also be working on funding in 2018. The Kaberuka report on financing the AU proposes that the Union moves towards financing 75% of its own operational budget and 25% of its peace support operations budget. Progress towards this ambitious target is to take place over the next three years and the key fundraising measure proposed is the introduction of a 0.2% levy on certain imports. Some African states have already started to take steps to implement this decision, but there are still some hurdles to tackle and 2018 will show whether these can be overcome and whether all African states follow suit.

The Kagame report, on the other hand, relates to reforming the African Union in an effort to increase effectiveness by focussing its work on fewer issues. Implementation of the decisions is scheduled to take place over 2018 and 2019. Paul Kagame will be in a strong position to oversee implementation as Rwanda will take on the presidency of the AU as from this January’s Summit. Actions in 2018 will focus on making AU summits more effective and efficient and on clarifying the division of labour among the AUC, Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and other institutions. Henceforth the July summits will become focussed on coordination with the RECs and other Regional Mechanisms.

Both Unions thus have important institutional agendas of their own this year. At the same time they have a unique chance to rationalise and simplify their cooperation.   Now is a key moment to get it right.

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