EU-Africa Relations: Changing the Paradigm Amid Shifting Geopolitics

Written by | Wednesday, January 13th, 2021

Since the AU-EU Summit held in Abidjan, 20-30 November 2017, a progressive shift in the political and policy approach to Africa occurred in the EU. This change was not only meant to respond to the increasing requests for more investments and job creation, coming from African leaders and stakeholders, such as the private sector, civil society and youth; it was also driven by the geo-strategic changes occurring on the African continent.

Beyond the historical and traditional or emotional ties between Africa and Europe as closest neighbouring continents, there are unquestionable figures that still confirm the importance of this partnership. The EU and its member states remain Africa’s main partners in terms of investments, trade, development cooperation, financial flows, migration. Nevertheless, the EU’s position and Africans’ perception of its role and relevance have been progressively eroded by the appearance of new, more assertive actors, driven by diverging agendas: China first, but also Turkey, Russia and the Arab states. Suddenly, in the world arena, Africa moved from being a problematic continent into being perceived as a young and dynamic continent that offers plenty of opportunities for investment and trade, as well as an important one for forging geopolitical alliances at the global level.

Therefore, establishing a new and purpose-suited strategic framework for the future of relations between Africa and Europe has become a real need and represents a major challenge for the EU. Too often, the EU with its system of principles and values has been seen as a patronising and difficult partner, with limited operational capacity and lacking real impact on the ground. At the same time, the EU has not been able to sufficiently promote the fundamentals of the European model as basic drivers for peace, stability and economic development. Considering these antecedents, the main challenge for redefining the EU strategy for Africa has been to move away from the Eurocentric vision of the African continent into building a new strategy with Africa based on common interests and shared responsibilities.

First and foremost, Africa needs a green and digital industrial revolution that can immediately profit from the new technologies available. It is in this perspective that the EU proposed in September 2018 a Europe-Africa Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs. The Alliance focuses on deepening the existing economic and trade relations as between equal partners, going beyond a traditional donor-recipient approach. It is built on four pillars: firstly, boosting strategic investment and strengthening the role of the private sector to create jobs; secondly, investing in people fit for the market by sustaining education and skills; thirdly, strengthening business environments and investment climates; and finally, tapping the full potential of economic integration and trade.

The Alliance is based on the mobilisation of innovative financing instruments, such as blending and the establishment of guarantees through a dedicated European Fund for Sustainable Development (EFSD), whose objective is leveraging private capital around development projects by both lowering the cost of the investment and sharing the risk. To complement the purely financial aspect of the EFSD, the Alliance also provides technical expertise to help develop and monitor new projects, and is meant to work closely with governments to help them improve the investment climate.

If the Alliance has been the first response to the most stringent request coming from African partners for more investments and job creation, its conception and development also triggered within the EU an in-depth reflection about a broader remodelling of the partnership with Africa, given that the Joint Africa-EU Strategy (JAES) of 2007 was clearly outdated. In addition to developing a partnership that is up to date with the global trends shaping the future of both our continents, there was the need to define how to approach the partnership in a more modern and mature way, taking into account the increasingly strategic position Africa has come to occupy in the international arena.

This desire to take EU-Africa relations to the next level is why, last March, the European Commission and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy put forward a proposal called ‘Towards a Comprehensive Strategy with Africa’. It marked the beginning of a new chapter for a more comprehensive partnership between the two continents. Namely, it envisages a partnership that turns some of the challenges facing Europe and Africa into win-win opportunities for both. The future partnership should be based on a clear understanding of respective and mutual interests and responsibilities and is articulated along these five key global trends: 1. (A Partnership for) The Green Transition and Renewable Energy Access; 2. (A Partnership for) The Digital Transformation, to boost the continent’s digital revolution; 3. (A Partnership for) Sustainable Growth and Jobs; 4. (A Partnership for) Peace, Security and Governance; 5. (A Partnership on) Migration and Mobility.

Even if the new comprehensive strategy for Africa was elaborated before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, its fundamentals remain more than ever valid, and COVID-19 has only made those actions more urgent. The World Bank’s Global Economic Prospects on implications of the COVID-19 pandemic as of June 2020 forecast the deepest and most synchronized global recession since WWII, with a deep contraction of 5.2% in global GDP in 2020; it also estimates that in sub-Saharan Africa economic activity is on course to contract by 2.8% in 2020, the deepest contraction on record, with the consequence of increasing extreme poverty. There is an urgent need to build back better and this can only be done by pushing even further the creation of a sustainable African economy with decent jobs for all, only reachable through an affordable Green Transition and Digital Transformation.

‚EU-Africa Relations: Changing the Paradigm‘ – Commentary by Domenico Rosa – Italian Institute for International Political Studies / ISPI.

The Commentary can be downloaded here

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