Can EU-Africa relations be deepened? A political economy perspective on power relations, interests and incentives

In recent months, calls have been made to fundamentally rethink both the narrative and the practice of EU-Africa relations. The brief examines how much scope there is for deepening this crucial partnership. To this end, it analyses current EU- Africa relations with a political economy lens. This implies focusing on why things are the way they are and where is there traction to move forward.

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    Sixty years ago, the signing of the Rome Treaty (1957) paved the way for Europe to engage in development cooperation, starting with African countries. Ten years ago, leaders of both continents agreed on a ‘Joint Africa-EU Strategy’ (2007) geared at establishing a stronger political partnership. Parties are now preparing for the 5th AU-EU Summit (Abidjan, Ivory Coast, November 2017), a diplomatic high mass expected to update mutual levels of ambition in volatile times.

    The brief first considers the gap between the potential for enhanced cooperation and the rather sobering track record of EU-Africa relations. This is largely linked to the phenomenon of ‘path dependency’ in which both parties remain largely trapped. Openings in the wall are appearing though, mainly under the influence of dynamics within the two blocks as well as external events. Building on this, we provide examples of ‘pathways to change’ that can be observed in various policy domains. Drawing lessons from these actual laboratories of new modes of interaction, we present a set of potential political choices for policy-makers to reengineer EU-Africa relations.

    In the short term, we should not expect a major qualitative jump forward. Yet in the medium-term there are plenty of windows of opportunities that both sides could better exploit by: (i) putting their respective interests explicitly at the centre of cooperation; (ii) empowering core institutions to pursue owned agendas; (iii) unleashing the agency and resources of non-institutional actors and subnational authorities; (iv) opting for a strategic mix of result-oriented partnerships and (v) rationalising policy frameworks and instruments.

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