20 March 2014

Africa: The IV EU - Africa Summit - an Intercontinental Strategy Adrift?


The meeting will take place in Brussels on April 2and 3, 2014, gathering African and European partners under the theme 'Investing in people, prosperity and peace.'

The IV EU - Africa Summit will take place in Brussels on April 2and 3, 2014, gathering African and European partners under the theme 'Investing in people, prosperity and peace.' Notwithstanding the good promises, the preparation process that has been done lately showed several cracks between the two continents.

Signed in Brussels in 2007, the EU - Africa joint partnership aimed at creating a 'relationship between peers,' focused on the populations of the two continents. The testing ground of the partnership, and consequently its importance, would have been measured through the benefits generated for European and African citizens. Yet, something hasn't worked properly so far - it will be necessary to analyse the proposals for reform brought about by both Member States and civil society, keeping into account how global dynamics have evolved both in Africa and in Europe.

What has changed then, since 2007? The European Union is suffering for a massive loss in credibility into the African continent, yet it refuses to face the consequences. The Arab world has been overwhelmed by crisis for years, tragically highlighting that the enduring authoritarian regimes in Egypt and Libya was supported even by Europe; that the European Union is moved by 'ground-level' principles such as geopolitical stability and trade, more than by human rights and democracy. The revolutionary changes occurred in these two African countries took them out of the scene, hence pan-African development and African continental institutions improvement missed two of their leading actors. Both Egypt and Libya were among the main financial promoters of the African Union, crucial engines for intercontinental relationships with the European Union. Their progressive weakening has undoubtedly slowed down the relationships between the two continents, and triggered the internal fight for power in the appointment of the President of the African Commission, ended up in a victory of South Africa.

On the other hand, Africa is becoming more and more self-confident, diversifying its partnerships, in particular with China, India and Brazil; it has been reducing its dependency from traditional allies - such as the EU. Its renewed self-confidence lies on the awareness of being a 'young' continent, targeted by international investors even during a lingering financial crisis. This new awareness allowed Africa to show its dissent on the international stage, at the UN or during the WTO for instance.

The controversies connected with the International Criminal Court, accused of pestering African Heads of State and of being the new tool for Western countries in managing the world order, are poisoning the relationships between the two partners. Dealing with this matter, the European Union has repeatedly asked Africa to solve the issue at The Hague, instead of Brussels. Yet, the EU was committed in dealing with Africa as a 'peer' since the signing of the agreement, while it did not hesitate in signing bilateral economic agreements with other African actors, complying with the end of privileged exchange regimes as imposed by the World Trade Organization. For sure their actions were aimed at creating a 'no-barrier' market - yet they did not take into consideration that Africa is quite late in political and industrial policies development. To cap it all, several western strategic allies, such as Nigeria and Uganda, has recently adopted laws criminalising LGBTs, and both the EU and the US have expressed their deep disappointment, threatening retaliations - which have led to nothing. It won't be an easy summit.

Yet, there would be several reasons to renew mutual efforts: both continents are suffering for the effects of climate change, with disastrous effects on food safety and on the stability of entire areas. The economic and financial crisis forces these partners to make joint efforts for fighting tax evasion and corruption, subtracting remarkable funds to both Africa and Europe, reducing their investments in services. Africa is rich in the natural resources Europe needs so much, and the regimes regulating minerals extraction and use need to be reviewed. Finally yet importantly, migration flows - generated by both extreme poverty and humanitarian crises overwhelming Africa - need to be regulated on the basis of not only safety policies, but also aiming to create real job opportunities and to respect human rights.

The political dialogue generated by the partnership is crucial, yet it cannot be an end to itself. It shall be a tool for realizing joint benefits for European and African citizens. Failing this, it could turn into another beautiful, empty shell.

Marta Martinelli is Senior Policy Analyst, EU External Relations at the Open Society European Policy Institute. She writes in her personal capacity.

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