Jan Vanheukelom, Bruce Byiers and Alfonso Medinilla, ECDPM paper, April 2020.
With EU programming for the 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework underway, a new ‘geopolitical’ European Commission in place with Africa high on its agenda, and the sixth EU-AU summit intended to take place this year, it is a good opportunity for the EU to rethink its engagement with Africa’s regional agenda. Since this paper was written, the outbreak and spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has altered the context for regional cooperation dramatically, but many of the issues raised remain valid.
This paper aims to feed thinking on external support to regional organisations. Using a number of short examples, it highlights how regional integration processes on the African continent are complex – in terms of the range of actors, interests and power relations between and within countries – and the need for the EU and other external actors to understand and adapt to the interests and incentives of their African counterparts – whether through the AU, the regional bodies or bilaterally. We draw on two strands of work: evaluations of support to African regional organisations by the EU and the World Bank Group in 2019, and ECDPM research on the political economy of regional integration in Africa.
These are part of a growing body of analysis pointing to the need to support regional integration differently. We argue that more of the same and ‘trying harder’ will not suffice and propose for a more contextualised and adaptive approach to supporting African continental and regional organisations. International fora such as the planned sixth EU-AU summit and the diplomatic process around it are opportunities to rethink old models of regional development. The COVID-19 pandemic serves to underline the importance of doing so.
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