Redefining EU-Africa relations

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

The 2007 Joint EU-Africa Strategy has opened a “new chapter” in their relations “which now needs to be written”, write John Kotsopoulos and Elizabeth Sidiropoulos for the European Policy Centre (EPC), ahead of the summit between the two continents on 8-9 December.

A future EU-Africa relationship based on “partnership and mutual accountability” would be hugely beneficial to both sides but “will not happen overnight”, they add. 

EU and African leaders have vowed that the summit will mark the beginning of “a strategic partnership”, say the authors, reflecting the changing nature of their relations as Africa becomes increasingly “stable and democratic” amid continued economic growth. 

Moreover, the role of other political powers there, such as China, has forced the EU to re-evaluate its relationship with Africa, they add. 

The EPC paper says the African Union (AU) represents the continent in EU eyes, but questions whether it is capable of implementing the commitments to be made at the summit, given that it has just 500 staff and operates in a fragmented environment whereby its members are also represented in numerous other regional bodies. 

What’s more, it continues to lack the same levels of organisational structure, supranational power and political commitment of its members as the EU, the authors assert. 

The paper outlines significant differences in the emphasis placed by the EU and AU on the issues of common concern, highlighting in particular Europe’s focus on promoting good governance and human rights, while Africa argues that its priorities should be economic development and poverty eradication.

African officials highlight perceived human rights violations towards migrants in Europe and the EU’s stance in the Doha negotiations as particular “stumbling blocks to progress” towards the joint strategy becoming a “real partnership”, claim the authors. 

The paper states that “Europe’s perception of Africa needs to evolve from ‘development client’ to fully-fledged partner”. For this to happen, “African states and the AU should develop a more comprehensive game plan […] encompassing both political and global issues”. 

The authors conclude that the process by which the 2007 Joint EU-Africa Strategy has been developed will prove more important than the final document produced, and “could potentially extend to the development of a stronger rules-based multilateral framework”. 

Moreover, the strategy reflects an “explicit acknowledgement by both the EU and Africa that ‘business as usual’ is not an option” any more. 

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