Europe in Africa: Trust-Building Exercise Ahead of EU-AU Summit & EU-Sahel Talks Cancelled

Written by | Monday, January 31st, 2022

Migration, climate change mitigation and the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic are expected to be the main themes discussed by European and African leaders at the upcoming EU–African Union summit in Brussels. Ahead of the summit, the bloc has sought to play up its contribution of Covid vaccines and status as one of the largest donors to the COVAX vaccine sharing initiative, as well as proposing its €300 billion Global Gateway program. But trust is fragile not least because the EU’s rhetoric of a ‘partnership of equals’ has rung increasingly hollow following the EU’s handling of the pandemic. There is a lingering perception that Europe shut its borders, without consultation, after South African scientists discovered the Omicron variant late last year. When it comes to the plan for a green transition and the need to reduce carbon emissions, both sides agree on that front, though African leaders want guarantees that the EU’s Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) will not apply to their companies. “If the EU imposes it immediately then it will kill infant African industries,” said one insider to the negotiations.
Meanwhile, pandemic-mandated lockdowns saw a drop in migrant crossings from North Africa in 2020, but numbers increased again last year. “Migration waves from Africa should be stopped rather than encouraged, and security needs to be improved [in the region] in order to achieve that,” Hungary’s Peter Szijjártó recently insisted. However, African leaders are unlikely to agree to any new commitments to readmit failed migrants with agreeing on new systems of legal pathways and exchange programs at all levels. “The frustration on the African side is that Europe is a fortress that is very difficult to get into, particularly for young Africans,” said the EU source.There has also been some disquiet at the francophone heavy focus by French President Emmanuel Macron and European Council President Charles Michel, both of whom have been driving the EU’s diplomatic effort ahead of the summit. In December, the pre-summit gatherings in Brussels hosted by Michel invited Senegal’s President Macky Sall, Congo-Kinshasa’s Felix Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, and African Union Commission boss Moussa Faki Mahamat, all coming from francophone countries, none of them representing major African states. Conspicuous by their absence were representatives from Nigeria and South Africa, the continent’s two main diplomatic and political players.
Meanwhile, ministers from Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger have cancelled joint talks with the EU at the last minute on Wednesday (26 January) favoring bilateral meetings with the bloc’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell. The latter refused to comment on reasons why the joint meeting had been cancelled amid chaos in the Sahel region following a series of military coups in Burkina Faso and Mali that have put the EU’s defense and security mission, Takouba, at risk of collapse. The the EU’s Takouba and French-led Operation Barkhane mission have sought to provide military support for the Sahel region’s governments against Islamic State insurgents. “This series of meetings allowed us to take stock of the very worrying situation in the Sahel region and of the latest events in Burkina Faso and Mali and the spreading threat to neighboring countries,” said Borrell. “The European Union intends and hopes to stay engaged in Mali and the Sahel but not at any cost… I asked the minister to provide concrete guarantees to ensure the effectiveness of our support missions,” the EU’s top diplomat added.

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