Challenges Papers (series)

Questioning old certainties

Challenges for Africa-EU relations in 2012

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December 2011

Mackie, J., Görtz, S., Roquefeuil, Q. de. 2011. Questioning old certainties: Challenges for Africa-EU relations in 2012. (Policy and Management Insights 3). Maastricht : ECDPM.

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Changes on the African continent and in the European Union (EU) have occurred at a dramatic pace in recent months. Taking a step back, a picture emerges of deep underlying shifts, affecting many of the agreements and policy instruments linking the two continents across the Mediterranean. These will clearly also have a major impact on wider EU relations with the ACP and the reform that is expected there as we approach the 2020 end of the Cotonou Agreement.

Key Messages

Dynamics unleashed by the financial crisis, the EU’s new post-Lisbon structures and Africa’s rising power permeate most interactions between the two continents. The euro zone is grappling with the monetary crisis.

In Africa a new and very different context is emerging. A sense of Afro-optimism is clearly discernible. The political transitions initiated in North Africa continue to inspire others abroad, and there is promising new momentum for regional integration.

EU external policy is undergoing a reorientation. It will place more emphasis on promoting ‘European values’, such as human rights, democracy and the rule of

The Joint Africa-EU Strategy (JAES) is another case of values seeming to conflict with interests and implementation falling short of ambitions. The JAES, based on the core value of an equal partnership between the two continents, has clearly lost some momentum on the European side. The transition to new EU institutional structures has played a role in this slowdown.


A question repeatedly asked throughout this paper is whether the overall goal of advancing Europe’s interests is reconcilable with the values that the EU is committed to pursue.


Democratic transitions are still fragile, but they bear real promise for improved governance, democracy and accountability. The Arab Spring has taken many by surprise on both continents. Longstanding relationships relying on illegitimate power structures have come to an end, and new alliances have to be found.

The new EU policy towards North Africa is ‘incentives-based’. ‘More for more’ is its underlying principle. Countries that reform ‘more’ will have more access to benefits.

In terms of values there is a clear EU commitment to peace and solidarity, better donor coordination, regional integration, human rights, poverty reduction and support to the world’s poorest countries.

Africans must decide which partner can best serve their various interests. The EU is a good candidate to support capacity in financial administration, but with the current financial crisis, the EU is unlikely to be able to contribute as much as in the past. Old certainties therefore are changing and those that have relied on European support will have little choice but to look elsewhere.

The triangle of EU values, EU interests and a more self-reliant Africa opens a number of options and scenarios. Partners on both continents will be engaging afresh, setting new directions in light of the changing context.



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Cross-cutting TopicsEuropean external affairsChallenges Papers (series)African Governance Architecture (AGA)African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA)Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS)Cotonou AgreementJoint Africa-EU Strategy (JAES)Lisbon TreatyPost Cotonou