Making policies work


Time to move to an interest-driven Africa-EU political partnership (part two)


Laporte, G. 2017. Time to move to an interest-driven Africa-EU political partnership (part two). ECDPM Talking Points Blog, 26 June 2017.

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At the end of November, African and European Heads of State will meet in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, for the 5th Africa-EU Summit. Every three years this high-level event provides a good opportunity to feel the pulse of the African-European partnership and explore ways to revitalise or deepen it.

This year will be particularly timely as the Joint Africa-EU Strategy (JAES) is celebrating its 10th anniversary. Last May, the European External Action Service (EEAS) and the European Commission issued a Joint Communication for a renewed impetus of the Africa-EU Partnership. EU Foreign Affairs Ministers have endorsed it last week during the Foreign Affairs Council.

In his second blog on EU-Africa relations, Geert Laporte proposes eight measures for Europe and Africa to build the strong partnership that everyone seems to want. But is everyone willing to support the tough decisions that these measures would entail?

Here is the million Euro question: how can we make the EU-Africa partnership work in practice? How can we get political traction and move towards a ‘partnership amongst equals beyond aid’ based on ‘mutual respect’ and ‘strong common interests’?

In the relatively short history of Africa-EU ‘Summitry’, both sides have skillfully avoided speaking openly about the controversial issues that divide both continents. The success of a Summit was not measured in the quality of the dialogue but on the number of participating Heads of State and how long it took to agree on a Joint Declaration.

While a Summit should never turn into a shouting match, it remains important to address the ‘elephants in the room’ in the preparatory process leading to the Summit. A recipe for a solid ‘new-style political partnership’ could be made on the basis of some of these eight ingredients.

One: Foster a more coherent European foreign policy in practice.

Since the Lisbon Treaty, the EU has deployed major efforts to strengthen its external action. While the Global Strategy is a promising guiding document, the reality is sometimes very different. Consistent European efforts towards the African continent are difficult to put into practice because of the different competing silos and vested interests within the EU system.

The Post-Cotonou ACP-EU negotiations are a case in point and provide a unique opportunity to overhaul Europe’s Africa policy. They should be intimately linked to the Africa-EU dialogue. Yet the Joint Communication only dedicates a short paragraph to this: it is not yet clear whether the EU and Africa will have the political courage to address this issue during the Summit and work out solid alternatives to a cooperation model that is no longer fit for purpose.

Two: Build stronger and self-sufficient pan-African and regional institutions.

Africa needs strong, legitimate and assertive institutions that are no longer suffering from extreme aid dependency if it wants to be a credible partner in the relationship with Europe and the rest of the world. The 2016 Kaberuka plan has created expectations regarding the sustainable financing for the African Union, through a 0.2% levy on imports entering the African continent. African heads of state committed themselves to implement this plan from 2017. This would generate a revenue of more than 1 billion Euros a year, to fund the AU’s operational, programme and peace and security budgets. These structural systems to ensure financially autonomous African institutions, both at pan-African and regional levels, are essential but they need to be accompanied by effective enforcement mechanisms.

Three: Be clear about interests.

Both parties need many more occasions for frank and constructive discussions on frustrations and interests in the partnership. Instead of presenting itself in a somewhat patronising way as the ‘moral conscience’ and ‘do-gooder’ in Africa, the EU would gain more trust and respect if it would clearly express its interests in Africa, acknowledging that it is not always straightforward to get the right balance between values and interests.

It is easier for the EU to speak out on democratic change in a small country like The Gambia than in emerging African ‘powerhouses’ where economic interests, political stability and security are key priorities. Obviously, also the African Union could be more explicit on why the EU is an important strategic partner for them, on what it could offer to Africa which other partners might not be able to deliver.

Four: Work towards a real people-centred partnership.

Official parties in both Europe and Africa tend to stress in their discourses the commitment to create more space for civil society organisations and social and economic actors in all their diversity. ‘Leave no one behind’ is the new buzz expression to stress that also vulnerable and marginalised groups should be benefitting from the partnership.

There are many innovative and worthwhile initiatives mushrooming in Africa, largely initiated by young African generations, which are hardly known. Many of these use innovative technologies to reach out to large groups of society in areas such as education, agriculture and law. However, in many African countries, minimal levels of support for these types of initiatives are lacking.

EU-Africa cooperation modalities and procedures need to provide the right incentives to these start-ups that often operate in volatile and restrictive contexts. This would involve a degree of risk-taking and more flexible forms of direct funding support that go beyond the existing rather heavy systems that no longer fit these new dynamics.

Five: Strengthen the knowledge base of the Europe-Africa partnership.

The growing complexity of the global challenges requires different forms of knowledge and expertise beyond ‘traditional’ development issues. We will need to see a fundamental reform of the human resources strategy in both European and African institutions that can reflect the new ambition of mutual interests and help in the various international negotiations.

This ‘knowledge generation’ will have to use innovative, sophisticated and evidence-based methods along political judgement. Political leaders will have to act on this knowledge and take decisions accordingly. You can bring the horse – policy makers – to the water – knowledge – but you can not force it to drink if vested interests are too strong.

Six: Organise high-level political dialogue between summits.

It is essential that Europe and Africa sustain a regular high-level dialogue on key issues. In addition to the already existing Commission-to-Commission dialogue, there should also be more structured high-level engagement between European and African Ministers of Foreign Affairs and at thematic Ministerial level. Recent initiatives such as the visit of the EU High Representative Mogherini to the newly appointed Chairperson of the AU Commission Faki in March are promising political signals that need to be nurtured.

Seven: Make good use of the negotiations for a new EU multiannual financial framework.

It may sound technical but the 2017 mid-term review of the EU’s financial instruments is a highly political process as this will also have an impact on Europe’s foreign policy strategic orientations. It will be an opportunity to work towards more integrated and consistent policies and instruments, including in the relationship with Africa. This is a strategic opportunity to bring more consistency and political relevance in the – sometimes contradicting – mix of financing instruments and policy frameworks for cooperation.

Eight: Bold confidence restoring measures would be welcome.

A crucial element to restore trust in the partnership would be for Europe to back Africa on some of its top priorities. In the international fora, the EU could become the advocate of the African continent on some of the major global themes and the reform of global institutions – such as Bretton Woods institutions, UN Security Council, etc.

In key domains of the Europe-Africa relationship that have soured relations in the past, such as the negotiations for the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) or the management of migration and visa regulations, it would help if the EU were more willing to listen to African concerns to be reflected in more balanced compromises.

Europe and Africa are ‘condemned’ to work together. But it is time to do this in a spirit of renewed mutual interests and shared global agendas, to tackle the enormous challenges ahead – together.

Read the first blog post of this series: ‘Time to move towards an interest-driven Africa-EU political partnership (part one)‘.

The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of ECDPM.

Photo courtesy of the European Parliament via Flickr.

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Alfred de Jager


2017-07-27 18:31:48

You wrote down very diplomatically some issues but in the end the discussion needs to be on changes in policies, since the current situation in not helping Africa to evolve fast enough. If we want to develop Africa quicker and with more common sense we need to intervene in the current persistent system. For example Europe (and China) are still fishing in African waters and thus depleting this resource and damaging local fishery economy. Europe even cans the African fish in Spain, leaving out any work opportunity for workers in the Coastal areas of the Big Continent. In analogy to that still too many products from the tropics (cocao, coffee, timber, rubber, cotton, gold, diamonds) are exported as primary goods without added value and processed in Europe for the European market, instead of being processed in Africa for the European market. To disrupt these historically grown inbalances we need a much more intervening industrial policy. Europe should/could define a tax system that creates an incentive for European Companies now processing Tropical goods in Europe to move gradually such processing to the place to primary good in grown or mined. In this manner Africa can evolve from a primary goods providing economy, with all the lack of opportunties that goes with that, to a more plural system. African leaders could discuss such issues and propose such disruption to their European counterparts. After all if we want to create these so much wanted reliable institutions than we must also find a manner to fund these. And taxing thousends of workers is allways much less subject to corruption than taxing 1 big company for extracting primary goods. In that sense all issues are interlinked and you may focus much more on that.

Francois Ekoko


2017-06-26 14:46:18

Dear Geert, Thank you for your well thought 8 points. I found them being a very good basis for discussions. I however have two reservations all dealing with your working assumptions, that is likely to lead unfortunately to consolidate the current mode of partnership that we all want to see dismantled. 1- Your point three stating Europe should come clean on balancing "values and interests in Africa" is a real one. From an African viewpoint, it should go further; indeed with time, it is clear to Africans that the "value" part is simply a tool or even a strategy to better project, advance and promote European interests in Africa. Realists will argue that "after all, relations between states or group of states are about interests and power; if Europeans can continue to fool the Africans, so be it". Indeed, Europe continues to do so, and has never stopped using the tool or strategy of "moral conscience" or "do-gooder" with the corollary of "her values" to impose to Africans. If we agree on what precedes, then part of the basis of your point of a partnership interest-based has to be revisited. Individual interest-based partnership can only apply for partners of equal or quasi-equal power; which is not the case right now. As we all know, in power relations, the dominant partner tends to impose its will, and will always devise new tools and strategy to keep its advantage. The risk of your proposal of regional interest-based partnership is to lead towards the reproduction of the same model of exploitation. This time around there will be a good excuse, on the paper it is an interest-based partnership and if Africans cannot defend their interests, that is their problem! That of course does not take into consideration all other constraints, obstacles and pressures already embedded in their original partnership system for decades put in place by the same Europeans! On the other hand, this is not an excuse for Africans for their appalling attitude when it comes to defend vigorously their interests especially when they face some of their former colonial masters ( it is understandable that they have to weigh in the political consequences including the political survival of the leaders, their lives and the destabilization of their countries). I acknowledge however that things are changing, unfortunately too slowly to the liking of most Africans; more and more African Leaders are speaking up and standing up for some interests, which is a good start. 2- The second working assumption in your proposal is that individual countries in Europe and in Africa have the same level of interests and leverage in this partnership more than in their bilateral relations. Again, powerful interests at the bilateral level will override the separate regional interests. In addition, some powerful countries in Europe will continue to push for their national agenda within Europe in spite the opposition of African countries and even some weaker European countries! See the whole drama around EPA! In conclusion, the proposed regional interest-based partnership in its current shape will not make any difference for Africans and Africa! If it has to make a meaningful difference, Africa and Europe should first agree on the "developmental foundation of their Partnership". And for Africans the best foundation will be "Co-Development". Then, each region will put on the table its assets, liabilities, strengths and weaknesses and both will look for complementarities and work for mutual benefits knowing the failure of one is surely the failure of the other partner, and the success of either region is equally for the other region. This is a total paradigm shift! IS EUROPE READY?



2017-06-26 11:02:50

An EU industrial Marshall Plan ‘with’ Africa for mutual interest Interest driven Africa-EU industrial partnership leading to political partnership Massively strengthen the EU knowledge base of our neighbouring continents strengths - Broad media coverage of the African human and environmental disasters enhanced by the vested interests of the aid industry make Western entrepreneurs believe there will never be a market for their products in Africa. - Funding the aid industry out of corporate social responsibility make EU entrepreneurs feel good. This does not help Africa to transform itself its rich natural resources. - Broad awareness creation of the strengths of Africa will accelerate investments in manufacturing industries by Western entrepreneurs; create buying power for an African middle class and quick-start a virtuous circle of more literacy, even more buying power, governance and democracy. - Private investors will of course give priority for African countries with a stable political environment. More fragile neighbouring countries may gradually engage in more governance and participate in pan-African institutions in order to also attract foreign direct investments. - Africa’s trump cards for a rapid industrialisation: (1) its educated demographic dividend; (2) its eternally renewable energy sources (the sun);(3) its arable land to feed the World; (4) the integration of African SME’s in digitised international industrial value chains;(5) Africa’s financial elite in search of enduring industrial investments vs. investments in commerce and real estate. - The inclusive and sustainable industrialisation of Africa: a main way to tackle root causes of instability, inequalities, poverty, and forced migration. - The massive circular migration Africa-EU for young well educated African professionals: an incentive for EU entrepreneurs to make a first investment in Africa without any risk.

Cross-cutting TopicsEU-Africa Summit 2017AfricaEurope