New Commitments, Old Realities: AU-EU Summit Yields Mixed Results

Written by | Wednesday, February 23rd, 2022

While yielding some results, critics were disappointed with the final outcome of the two-day summit between leaders of the European Union and the African Union. In a joint statement, the 6th African Union-European Union summit agreed on a “renewed partnership” based on “mutual respect”. Some of the concrete key results include Global Gateway package worth up to €150 billion; EU’s commitment to support the African Medicines Agency with €100m over 5 years; EU’s commitment to provide at least 450 million vaccines to Africa by mid 2022; EU’s commitment to provide €500 million from the EIB to strengthen Africa’s health systems; EU’s pledge to mobilize €425 million to speed up the pace of vaccination in Africa; EU’s and AU’s joint commitment to “engage constructively towards a comprehensive WTO response to the pandemic” including “trade” and “intellectual property related aspects”; and the launch of the “Just Energy Transition (JET) Partnership” between South Africa and international donors which was made official at COP26 in Glasgow.
The EU and AU came together last week to reset relations after two turbulent years that saw accusations of “vaccine apartheid” and “discriminatory” travel bans. The meeting was seen as an opportunity to open a new chapter to address common challenges, such as climate change, the energy transition, sustainable development and the economic recovery. Given its geo-strategic importance, Brussels is keen to strengthen ties with Africa and move past the donor-recipient dynamic that characterized the post-colonialism era and create a partnership of equals for the 21st century. While the two days of intense discussions likely strengthened the partnership between both organizations in several areas, major differences remain when it comes to tackling one of the world’s most pressing issues. With only 11% of its population fully vaccinated against Covid-19, Africa is lagging behind in the fight against the pandemic.
African leaders have accused Europeans of hoarding vaccine doses. But the main point of contention is the EU’s refusal to lift intellectual property rights on vaccines and other products. South African president Cyril Ramaphosa, for example, called for the EU to support AU’s demands to lift patent protections on Covid-19 vaccines. “They [Europe] have been giving vaccines but now we need to move to the TRIPS dispensation so we can produce our own vaccines. For us, that’s very important,” he said before the summit itself started. Also civil society organizations are urgently calling for a better partnership between Africa and Europe when it comes to health. “The African health system must be supported if we want to prevent this kind of pandemic from escalating to the rest of the world,” insists Edwin Ikhuoria, Africa executive director at ONE, an NGO that combats extreme poverty across the continent. “So if we don’t get the partnership that is needed, when there is a disease anywhere it can get to everywhere.”
South Africa’s president also said that a new partnership between Africa and Europe means “in many ways, for former colonizers to give back to the continent,” adding that the relationship should trigger investment in African economies and infrastructures. Senegal President Macky Sall, who is also president of the African Union, said on Thursday (17 February) that Africa is not responsible for climate change and, therefore, will need a “transition period” to adapt and be able to provide electricity to more than 600 million people across the continent. “We demand more climate justice,” he said ahead of the first day of the AU-EU summit. But there also were some positive developments, such as the WHO’s announcement at a side event that of the expansion of its tech transfer hub. The result is that Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia will be the first recipients of COVID-19 mRNA technology. “We now have a historic opportunity to look at the basis of a new kind of partnership, a renewed partnership, we want to build together,” Senegal’s President said. Ramaphosa commented that the WTO’s announcement “means mutual respect, mutual recognition of what we can all bring to the party, investment in our economies, infrastructure investment and, in many ways, giving back to the continent”.

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