Briefing Notes (series)

Can EU-Africa relations be deepened? A political economy perspective on power relations, interests and incentives

Briefing Note 97

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November 2017

Bossuyt, J. 2017. Can EU-Africa relations be deepened? A political economy perspective on power relations, interests and incentives. (Briefing Note 97)

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Sixty years ago, the signing of the Rome Treaty (1957) paved the way for Europe to engage in development cooperation, starting with African countries. Ten years ago, leaders of both continents agreed on a ‘Joint Africa-EU Strategy’ (2007) geared at establishing a stronger political partnership. Parties now prepare for the 5th AU-EU Summit (Abidjan, Ivory Coast, November 2017), a diplomatic high mass expected to update mutual levels of ambition in volatile times. In recent months, calls have been made to fundamentally rethink both the narrative and the practice of EU-Africa relations.

The brief examines how much scope there is for deepening this crucial partnership. To this end, it analyses current EU- Africa relations with a political economy lens. This implies focusing on why things are the way they are and where is there traction to move forward.

The brief first considers the gap between the potential for enhanced cooperation and the rather sobering track record of EU-Africa relations. This is largely linked to the phenomenon of ‘path dependency’ in which both parties remain largely trapped. Openings in the wall are appearing though, mainly under the influence of dynamics within the two blocks as well as external events. Building on this, we provide examples of ‘pathways to change’ that can be observed in various policy domains. Drawing lessons from these actual laboratories of new modes of interaction, we present a set of potential political choices for policy-makers to reengineer EU-Africa relations.

In the short term, we should not expect a major qualitative jump forward. Yet in the medium-term there are plenty of windows of opportunities that both sides could better exploit by: (i) putting their respective interests explicitly at the centre of cooperation; (ii) empowering core institutions to pursue owned agendas; (iii) unleashing the agency and resources of non-institutional actors and subnational authorities; (iv) opting for a strategic mix of result-oriented partnerships and (v) rationalising policy frameworks and instruments.

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Our dossier on Africa-Europe relations

Which issues will European and African leaders discuss during the fifth AU-EU Summit? What is the current status of the relationship and how can it be strengthened? Ahead and after the Summit, we will try to answer these questions (and more) in our new Africa-Europe dossier.

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Francois Ekoko


2017-11-21 15:24:15

Dear Jean, Thank you for this analysis and the optimistic view for the medium term. The underlying assumptions for this analysis are that: 1- These partners are more or less equal; in other words that the power relation is balanced 2-These partners are both rationale; to put it mildly, their research and policy infrastructure as well as their internal decision making mechanisms and political will are coherently similar! 3- These partners are sincere; These premises or assumptions seem to me unfounded. AU-EU partnership is an asymmetrical relation. African leaders do not have the "gut" to say it loud and to the face of Europeans leaders! But we all know that. And Europeans leaders are too hypercritical to admit it openly! Intellectuals should have the courage to share this truth with their leaders! There is NO PARTNERSHIP! THERE IS A FRAMEWORK FOR EUROPEAN DOMINATION. Let's take the case of EPA, the overwhelming majority of African countries and Africans do not want it. But a number of European countries want it and are imposing it on Africa and Africans: No sincerity, no rationale, no balance of power as one side imposes roughly its views at will. A second example is what happened with Libya. While the African Partner was busy crafting an African Solution to the stand-off in Libya, Europe at least some leading European Countries were planning to destroy a sovereign country belonging to the African partner. And we all see the consequences of this lopsided partnership! It is intellectually misleading to talk about partnership when one partner is only looking for new ways to better dominate the other partner. In the past I have argued that if Europe is sincere, let it push for a Co-development partnership model; after all our two continents are so complementary! Let's give it a try! Let's African and European intellectuals come up with a new blueprint! Make a suggestion to the EU Commission and we will do the same with the AUC. There is a very interesting French quote that says: "trop d' impots tuent l' impot". Let me extend it to this partnership: "Excessive domination of a partner in pursuit of its absolute interests will kill this so- called partnership". There are signs in Africa that younger generations in the long term will blow up this "so-called partnership" if we do not fix it now ! Thank you.

European external affairsAfrica-EU RelationsBriefing Notes (series)Political economy analysisAfricaEurope