Europe-Africa Ties at Crossroads: Doomed to Work Together but EU Must Rethink Its Approach

Written by | Sunday, October 25th, 2020

A decade on from the Arab Spring, it is obvious that the European Union’s strategy toward Africa and the MENA region in particular has delivered neither greater stability and security nor any progress towards democratisation and government accountability. With the COVID-19 pandemic lingering on, low oil prices and worsening economic situation as well as popular demand for change, governments across Africa may soon have little choice but to adapt. The EU is strategically well-positioned to facilitate these processes, but to do it successfully, it needs a new playbook and toolbox. Countries in Europe and Africa are “doomed to work together and find common solutions” as partners, as Nasser Kamel, Secretary-General of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM), argued in a recent interview, adding that this cooperation is necessitated particularly by the growing climate emergency in the region. “We are doomed to try to help our neighbours so we can help ourselves.”
UfM is a multilateral institution bringing together all the EU countries and their southern neighbours, which was created as a culmination of the Barcelona Process initiated 25 years ago with the aim of strengthening ties between both sides of the Mediterranean. Its secretary-general sees climate among the top challenges the EU and its southern neighbours are facing together, as the Mediterranean is one of the “hot spots” of climate change. With the Mediterranean basin warming 20% faster than the global average, “we are really living a climate emergency,” Kamel warns. The UfM also teamed up with the EU’s largest Cross-Border Cooperation (CBC) initiative, the ‚Mediterranean Sea Basin Programme,‘ to promote economic and social development and to address common environmental challenges in the region by strengthening the impact of regional projects. “Cooperation between local and regional authorities in Tunisia and Italy, Morocco and Spain, and others has yielded real results on the ground,” Kamel said.
But the EU’s Africa strategy should also put more focus on the promotion of gender equality and building bridges between African and European women, argues Chrysoula Zacharopoulou who is an MEP and member of Parliament’s Women’s Rights Committee and rapporteur on the EU-Africa Strategy. The recent „European Week of Action for Girls was a great opportunity in this sense, and I was very honoured to take part in it. Let’s build bridges between African and European women. Long live the sisterhood,“ Zacharopoulou says. „Women and girls have been particularly exposed to the consequences of the (COVID-19) crisis … (but) at the same time, and this is a paradox, the health crisis has highlighted some feminised careers which play an essential role in our society but which are undervalued,“ the Greek MEP explains, adding that „recovery can be an opportunity to place gender equality back at the heart of the EU’s priorities.“
At the same time, however, civil society groups complain that they have been repeatedly shut out from having any influence over the plans to ‚reset‘ or ‚restart‘ EU-African relations. “We have never been asked to participate (in AU-EU summits) and we don’t know the agendas,” Million Belay, co-ordinator of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, told the reporters. Belay and other civil society leaders also complain about African governments being prevented from taking more ownership of the ‘strategic partnership’, because there is a prevailing sense that „the EU has had a big hand … (and the blueprint) has not been drawn up by Africa – a heavy European hand.” African governments see as one of their priorities within the framework of the EU-Africa Summit to secure improved trade terms that will enable their countries to develop domestic and regional manufacturing with a view to increasing exports. In this context, Belay questions “how (it can) be that we don’t talk about improving value chains in Africa, or sustainable food systems in Africa?” Moreover, “I am quite shocked that agriculture or sustainable food systems are not on the agenda – over 70% of Africans are small scale farmers. It’s our main source of GDP and most Africans live in rural areas, and our agriculture is in shambles. Agroecology should have been on the agenda,” says Belay.

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