This note is part of Institut Montaigne's ongoing work on the “The French Presidency of the European Union” which analyses the role and priorities of the presidency in advancing European decisions and debates, such as economic recovery after Covid-19, the EU’s external action, the EU’s green and digital transitions as well as the defense of common values in Europe.
On February 17-18, Brussels will host the heads of both European and African states for the 6th summit between the European Union and the African Union. Initially scheduled for October 2020 but postponed due to Covid-19, the highly anticipated event will take place at a time when both sides of the Mediterranean are facing turmoil, to say the least. Top of the agenda at the meeting between African leaders in Addis Ababa last February 5-6 was the recent resurgence of (at least attempted) military coups, particularly in West Africa. Europe, for its part, is facing a security crisis on the border between Ukraine and Russia. Against this backdrop, what should we expect from the EU-AU summit? What are the main stakes? Despite high expectations, it is unlikely that the summit will lead to an immediate change of course in EU-AU relations. However, the EU’s revisited approach towards Africa has the potential to change the partnership between the two continents over the years to come.
The relationship with Africa: an EU priority
Faced with the Ukraine-Russia crisis and the series of coups in West Africa, both Europe and Africa are currently preoccupied with domestic matters. Nevertheless, the relationship with its continental neighbor is a priority for the European Union. The numbers speak for themselves: the EU and its 27 Member States collectively provide €65 billion in official development assistance to Africa and trade between the two continents amounts to €225 billion a year. The renewed focus on Africa was initiated by the previous President of the EU Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, notably through the Africa-Europe Alliance that he announced in his 2018 State of the Union address. But it also occupies a prominent place in Ursula von der Leyen’s aspirations of leading a "geopolitical Commission". This was proven by her visit to Addis Ababa, where the African Union is headquartered, for her first trip outside of Europe, just one week after taking office. Ursula von der Leyen returned to Addis Ababa barely two months later, this time accompanied by 20 of the 27 Commissioners and the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell. Africa is the only partner mentioned in the mission letter of the Commissioner for International Partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen.
Over the past two years, the EU has developed a range of tools to improve its relationship with Africa. On March 9, 2020, the Commission laid the foundations for a new approach in a so-called communication titled "Towards a Comprehensive Strategy with Africa". Twenty months later, President von der Leyen launched the Global Gateway, a strategy to boost EU ties with the world. Notably, the Global Gateway organizes the financing of infrastructure projects in Africa, thus giving substance to Europe’s stated ambitions. The EU’s new trade policy and the Strategic Compass, a white paper that aims to define the Union’s security and defense outlook for 2025-2030, also serve to assert Europe’s position in the world, particularly with regard to Africa. Beyond these strategies, the wide range of European financial instruments is now grouped into a single Neighborhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI), which was adopted on June 9, 2021. Lastly, the creation of "Team Europe" - which unites the European Commission, the European Investment Bank (EIB), the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), as well as the Member States along with their development agencies and financial institutions for development - is a major asset. The aim of this new approach is to render the EU’s ambitions and initiatives more visible and comprehensible.
Africa is a natural EU partner for several reasons, foremost of which is the "common destiny" that unites the two neighbors. Peace and security, migration, climate change, the digital transition and the crisis of multilateralism are all common challenges facing the two continents. Africa is also an essential opportunity for European growth.
Add new comment