Making policies work



The EU and Africa: The policy context for development


The EU and Africa: The policy context for development , BOND, ECDPM, November 2010

Share Button

Relations between the European Union (EU) and the African continent are undergoing significant transformations. Key changes in the policy context include far-reaching regional integration processes in Africa and in Europe and the rise of new international partners for Africa, in parallel with increasing recognition of partnership and ownership as important cooperation principles. These dynamics are reflected in the cooperation frameworks between the continents, and in the way these frameworks have been developing and have been used.

African Union flag EPA BOND ECDPMBy understanding the policy context, as well as the specific added value, funding and institutional aspects of the main frameworks for EU-Africa relations, stakeholders in Africa and Europe can seek to engage with and influence the way the EU and Africa interact.

EU-Africa relations are currently informed by two main agreements, namely the Cotonou Partnership Agreement (CPA), between Europe and 79 African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries, also the basis for Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs), and the Joint Africa-EU Strategy (JAES).

These agreements and EU-Africa relations in general have continually evolved, reflecting changing regional dynamics such as deepening integration processes in both Europe and Africa (reflected in the development of the African Union (AU) and in the Lisbon Treaty), difficult EPA negotiations and a move away from a more traditional donor-recipient relationship to one based on mutual accountability and ownership.

As the mandates of the CPA and JAES continue to evolve, avoiding incoherence and duplication and ensuring complementarity will become key challenges.


The Cotonou Partnership Agreement (CPA), originally and predominantly a donor-recipient relationship between former colonial powers in the EU and former colonies in the ACP countries, has evolved into the largest North-South partnership in the world. The agreement now covers issues such as aid, trade and policy coherence for development, as well as political issues such as governance, migration, and peace and security. Although the 50-year-old partnership has greatly shaped the way ACP countries, the ACP Group and the EU conceive and manage their external relations, global and internal developments are challenging the traditional dominance of the CPA as the key framework for relations between the EU and Africa.

In terms of trade, the preferential access to EU markets enjoyed by ACP countries for over 30 years on a non- reciprocal basis is under pressure to comply with World Trade Organization (WTO) rules. However, the proposed solution – EPAs – has not progressed as planned, with the negotiation of just one EPA having been completed by 2010. With divergent positions on issues of principle and technicalities, the EPA negotiation process has placed a heavy burden on the EU-Africa relationship, and it has also put pressure on the inner coherence of the ACP. Following the second revision of the CPA, completed in March 2010, trade – one of the key pillars of ACP-EU

relations – was de facto removed from the CPA. It still remains to be seen what shape the trade regimes between the EU and many African countries and regions will take, to replace the trade dimension of the CPA. Meanwhile the JAES partnership has so far failed to address the gap in any meaningful way.

Development cooperation, in the form of the European Development Fund (EDF), is also under review, with indications that the special treatment afforded to the ACP could soon disappear. Institutional rearrangements within the EU following the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon coupled with a reduction in available resources due to the financial crisis, are likely to fundamentally change the nature and processes of development cooperation between the EU and the ACP. Furthermore, EU-Africa relations and cooperation in the areas of aid for trade (AfT), peace and security, and migration have increased in both political profile and allocation of development funding.

The CPA remains the key relationship for development cooperation and implementation, especially in light of its control of the lion’s share of the funding available for EU-Africa cooperation. However, the increasing prominence of the AU as a key institutional partner and the relatively new JAES are challenging the relevance and dominance of the CPA.

The JAES, conceived as the ‘overarching framework for EU-Africa relations’, was agreed by African and EU heads of states in 2007. Its purpose is to establish a new strategic and political partnership between Africa and Europe based on a joint vision and common interest. In some cases, the JAES supersedes the political dimensions of the CPA, while at the same time, all funding remains within the remit of the CPA and its institutions. The JAES has yet to prove its added value for both parties.

These shifting dynamics create a number of challenges. In the short term, resources are spread across many processes and if, in the medium to longer term, additional EPAs are concluded across Africa and the JAES gains momentum, questions will be raised on the added value of the CPA beyond 2020.

In the face of these multiple and sometimes competing frameworks and agreements, Europe and Africa will continue to shape and redefine their relationship. Moreover, there are a number of real opportunities in the coming years to reduce existing incoherence, to create synergies and to ensure that these frameworks are responsive to the needs of stakeholders in both Africa and Europe and provide appropriate mechanisms for addressing existing and emerging global and regional challenges. They include the EU-Africa Summits in 2010 and 2013, the falling into place of the new EU institutions in external relations in 2011, the negotiations of the reform of the EU’s forthcoming budget – the so-called ‘multi-annual financial framework (2014-2020)’ – for external relations starting in 2011, and the final revision of the CPA in 2015. Through these processes, civil society organisations (CSOs) can play an important role in the coming years, contributing to shape the future of EU-Africa relations. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


European external affairsReportsResearchACP Group of StatesEPA Development Programme (PAPED)European Development Fund (EDF)Joint Africa-EU Strategy (JAES)AfricaEurope

External authors

Eleonora Koeb

Romina Vegro