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EU Delegations in Africa

Investing in Africa-Europe relations


Helly, D. 2015. EU Delegations in Africa: investing in Africa-Europe relations. (Africa YEEAS! Newsletter). Brussels: European External Action Service.

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This article appeared in the Africa-YEEAS! – the European External Action Service’ newsletter on EU-African affairs. It was taken from edition No.3 published in October 2015

The image of the EU is largely made in-country, and at the elite level is largely influenced by the extent to which the EU Delegation (EUD) manages to earn credibility vis-à-vis the country authorities and civil society. The ultimate success of the EUDs depends on leadership and the willingness of all European actors (in Brussels and on the African continent) to develop effective internal and external relationships.

In Africa, EUDs play an essential political and development role, especially in countries where not all Member States are represented.

EU Delegations in a post-Lisbon era: representing the whole of the EU 

EUDs are hybrid administrative constructs that combine diplomatic tasks (in virtue of their belonging to the EEAS) and operational tasks such as development cooperation and trade (a role inherited from EC Delegations).

The EUDs perform new function since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty. They act as chair of the EU presidency and are responsible for coordinating with the diplomatic missions of Member States and ensure the external representation of EU foreign policy with third countries and multilateral organisations (the African Union, the RECs and some international organisations based in Africa).

They are in charge of representing EU’s foreign policy, defending EU’s values and interests. They are also responsible for presenting and implementing EU common policies such as trade, development, fisheries, health, common agricultural policy, etc.

EUDs are also responsible of EU multi-annual development cooperation programmes, playing a key role in the programming of aid, and in the implementation of all development actions supported by the EU.

A key role for the Heads of Delegations 

With the Treaty of Lisbon, the role of Head of Delegations (HoDs) has significantly expanded. They regularly chair Head of Missions (HoMs) meetings; lead on EU political dialogue processes; and invest in demarches. They also hold the overall responsibility for clearly communicating the role of EUDs, EU policies and positions. In addition to these diplomatic coordination roles, HoDs are also ultimately responsible for signing off all the EUDs’ financial transactions.

Our research(1) has shown that a HoD with an EC/DEVCO background appear to be more at ease with EC programme management procedures than national seconded diplomats, who in some cases may even feel alienated by technical and administrative tasks, or show a limited interest in development cooperation altogether.

Over the longer term having a “development cooperation management bias” may not always be an asset, especially in those countries where the EU is phasing out development aid. Yet even in countries where development cooperation is phasing out (such as South Africa), having an understanding of development cooperation is still important at all levels of the EUD in the medium term.

A question to be explored is whether EU Member States national seconded diplomats will prove to be more skilful diplomats than those HoDs with an EC background, as a priori the latter were not specifically recruited to be whole-of-EU diplomats, but primarily in the past as EC representatives and administrators of funds.

In any case, what appears key to the success of a HoD is her or his ability to exert leadership and gain the trust and respect of Member States’ ambassadors to enhance EU’s foreign policy while respecting Member States’ competencies and interests.

Having knowledge of the context in which Member States’ ambassadors operate can be of help for this task. A lack of leadership not only undermines their role but the credibility of the EEAS altogether.

EU Delegations as a melting-pot 

A number of interviews conducted last year also reveal that EUD staff in Africa actually value the “biodiversity” of their new working environment, and appreciate the expertise brought by their fellow national seconded diplomats (NSD) – while the NSD also are generally impressed by the qualities, network contacts and “Brussels knowledge” of their Commission counterparts.

One of the challenges for EUDs will thus be to spread a common EU diplomatic practice, from analysis and reporting down to compliance and security rules. Local staff also contributes to this diversity and are a key resource, particularly with regards keeping an “institutional memory” and also have their own in country networks which are very useful to the EUD. Bringing together EC staff, NSDs and local staff is enriching and favours the creation of a common EU foreign affairs culture.

Our research on EUDs has also identified a number of assumptions on which our Centre is planning to work more in depth, in particular: Relations between EEAS and COM staff working in EUDs are generally constructive. But unresolved sources of tension may lead to a progressive disconnect between operational and political sections, and a gradual de-motivation of staff, which in its turn negatively affects EUDs performance in the long-run.

The need for beefed-up political sections in EUDs is another conclusion we drew from our research on their peace and security role.

Commission’s Directorate Generals with a strong external relations component will continue to rely on EUDs for logistical support, and retain the technical expertise and the “diplomatic leadership” in relations with the country authorities.

Over time and provided that EUDs dispose of the sufficient human resources, the EU agenda in third country will increasingly be defined by EUDs, with input from HoM meetings.

However, ECDPM has already found out that, for a variety of reasons, thematic expertise for instance in governance, decentralisation, security sector reform, climate change, energy or diplomacy (which is an expertise in itself) is not always available in EUDs or even in headquarters in Brussels to guide project planning and implementation.

While Member States and EU institutions are increasingly engaged in joint programming of aid in third countries (a process whereby they adopt joint cooperation strategies try to synchronise their programming cycles) the question of the availability and sharing of thematic expertise among Europeans (and not only with EU institutions) in specific sectors will become also highly relevant.

AFRICA YEEAS! was conceived from the beginning not only as a newsletter portraying the work and initiatives of the Africa Department of the EEAS but also as a space for debating ideas open to scholars and experts from outside the EU institutions. 

You can read more on ECDPM’s work on EU delegations in ‘A closer look into the EU’s external action frontline: Framing the challenges ahead for EU delegations’ and ‘Planting seeds and breaking eggs: EU delegations dealing with peace and security – the Sahel case and beyond‘.

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