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A Unión Europea e África: cara a unha redefinición estratéxica e de asociación




Por Jean Clarys

“Africa is undergoing significant change, it has evolved greatly (…) More than just a software update, we propose to install a new software together, adapted to the ongoing transformations,” said Macky Sall, then President of Senegal and Chairperson of the African Union (AU), calling for a “fresh start” during the sixth AU-EU summit in February 2022. This call to adapt AU-EU relations to a new context allows for the opening of reflections on new analytical perspectives to rethink the synergies between the European Union and the African continent.

Indeed, on both sides of the Mediterranean, there is a growing desire to overhaul and rejuvenate relations between the two continents. From the northern perspective, this renewed interest in Africa was initiated by former European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, particularly through the Africa-Europe Alliance he officially announced in his 2018 State of the Union address. This extended hand towards its southern neighbor has been further emphasized under Ursula Von Der Leyen’s presidency, who, just one week after taking office, made her first foreign visit to the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, where she affirmed that “the African Union (AU) is the European Union’s (EU) main political and institutional partner at the pan-African level.” 

Just two months after this initial visit, Ursula Von der Leyen returned accompanied by 20 of the 27 commissioners and the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell. From the southern perspective of the alliance, African leaders, in addition to strengthening this partnership, also wish to rethink it fundamentally. Thus, in his inaugural speech as Chairperson of the African Union, Macky Sall declared, “Africa is more determined than ever to take its destiny into its own hands,” assuring that he wants to develop “renewed, fairer, and more equitable partnerships” with international partners. 

Following the last AU-EU summit, Patricia Ahanda questioned the possibility of the emergence of a “shared leadership” between the two Unions, while Charles Michel, President of the European Council, and Macky Sall, published a joint op-ed in Le Journal du Dimanche on the eve of the summit, in which they announced their desire to “jointly establish the foundations of a renewed partnership.” 

Dous anos pasaron dende o último cumio UA-UE, que pretendía encarnar un importante cambio histórico tanto moral como materialmente entre os líderes destas áreas xeográficas, institucionais e políticas. Nun contexto no que as noticias europeas sobre cuestións xeopolíticas están en gran medida dominadas pola guerra de Ucraína e o conflito israelo-palestino, e onde as poucas noticias sobre o continente africano se centran en cuestións migratorias e de seguridade en África, este artigo pretende ofrecer unha visión xeral das relacións entre os dous continentes veciños a través da lente dos discursos oficiais e das iniciativas dos principais actores e analistas da asociación entre a Unión Africana e a Unión Europea.


I. Motivacións para reforzar a asociación UE/UA

A. Lazos xa fortes entre os dous continentes

Máis aló das relacións UA-UE, pola súa historia compartida e proximidade xeográfica, África e Europa manteñen naturalmente importantes lazos. Estes vínculos privilexiados ilustráronse primeiro nas relacións económicas. O comercio entre os dous continentes ascende a 225 millóns de euros anuais. Con case 30 millóns de euros destinados a África ao ano, a UE segue sendo o principal doador do continente por diante de Estados Unidos, Xapón e China. O total conxunto da axuda pública ao desenvolvemento da Unión Europea e os seus 27 estados membros ascende a 65 millóns de euros anuais.

Máis aló desta estreita cooperación económica, a proximidade entre os dous continentes tamén se evidencia na cooperación militar e civil europea en África. Das sete misións militares que realiza actualmente a Unión Europea, seis concéntranse no continente africano. Catro destas misións teñen como principal obxectivo formar forzas armadas locais: en Somalia (EUTM Somalia, desde 2010), en Malí (EUTM Mali), na República Centroafricana (EUTM CAR, desde 2016) e en Mozambique (EUTM Mozambique, desde 2021). novembro 2008). As outras dúas misións abordan a piratería marítima nas costas somalíes (EUNAVFOR Atalanta, desde 2020) e vixían o cumprimento do embargo de armas imposto pola ONU a Libia (EUNAVFOR Irini, desde marzo de XNUMX).

In addition to these military missions, the European Union also deploys four civilian missions in Africa. Since 2013, the EUBAM Libya mission has assisted Libyan authorities in managing borders. The EUCAP Somalia mission, initiated in 2016, aims to strengthen Somalia’s maritime capacities, particularly to support the military mission against piracy. Two other civilian missions operate in the Sahel region: EUCAP Sahel Niger (since 2012), which aims to improve the capacities of Niger’s defense and security forces, and EUCAP Sahel Mali (since 2014), which helps strengthen the capabilities of Malian law enforcement.

B. O crecente papel de África no mundo

This renewed interest from the European Union in the African continent is also explained by an international geopolitical context where Africa occupies an increasingly prominent place, while Europe suffers from a certain decline in its international centrality, both economically and geopolitically. Thus, far from being the only power refocusing its international strategy towards the African continent, the EU faces fierce competition from third powers on African soil. China, the United States, Turkey, India, Japan, Russia, Brazil, South Korea, and the Gulf countries represent as many aspirants for strengthened cooperation with various African countries – aspirations that go far beyond the mere importation of natural resources.  

Although in 2024, Africa still plays a minor role in the world economy, representing 3% of global economic output in 2023, the continent boasts some of the most dynamic economies on earth. Many analysts anticipate that the continent will be the fastest-growing region by 2027. In this context, the European Union sometimes struggles to convince its Mediterranean partners to trust it, facing competition from various third powers, which manage to deploy homogeneous national strategies while intra-European fragmentation sometimes undermines the EU’s credibility and effectiveness on the continent.

In this international scramble for Africa, the EU’s main competitors are China, the United States, and Russia. The “China-Africa”, “Russia-Africa”, and “USA-Africa” summits follow one another at a rapid pace, embodying this significant enthusiasm. Each of these powers deploys its own strategy according to an agenda defined by sometimes very different priorities. China is undoubtedly the most influential foreign power in Africa. Its large-scale investments in infrastructure, mines, and development projects have significantly strengthened its presence. China is involved in numerous large-scale projects, such as the construction of railways, ports, and urban development initiatives.

Moreover, the Belt and Road Initiative has extended the country’s influence across the continent, making it a key economic partner for many African countries. In November 2021, China organized the 8th Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in Dakar. At the same time, the Middle Kingdom has significantly increased its investments on the continent, reaching $2.96 billion in 2020, an increase of 9.5% compared to 2019, for a total sum of $140 billion over a decade. However, although very high, this investment represents only half of what the European Union plans to invest in five years .

The United States, meanwhile, adopts a multifaceted approach to its influence in Africa, combining development aid, diplomatic engagements, and military cooperation. On October 5, 2021, as part of the Blue Dot Network, the United States financed projects in Africa amounting to $650 million. In December 2022, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen stated, after the USA-Africa Summit, which brought together 49 African heads of state in Washington, “A thriving Africa is in the interest of the United States. A thriving Africa means a larger market for our goods and services. It means more investment opportunities for our businesses.” This event led to a promise of $55 billion in US investment over three years. Additionally, Joe Biden is now advocating for granting Africa a permanent seat at the G20, of which South Africa is currently the only African member.

Aínda que oficialmente a administración Biden-Harris tenta separar a súa ofensiva africana da súa rivalidade con China, é evidente que este espertar no continente pretende contrarrestar o avance da potencia asiática, cuxo comercio con África pasou de 10 millóns de dólares en 2002 a 282 dólares. millóns en 2022.

Regarding Russia’s influence in Africa, it is interesting to note that it is mainly strategic and political. Russia’s strategy primarily aims to gain support for its global positions, particularly within the UN General Assembly. Russia’s involvement often includes military cooperation, notably through the Wagner Group, which provides security services to various African governments in exchange for access to natural resources like gold and diamonds. Russia’s influence is less economic compared to China’s, but strategically significant.

Other powers, less obvious to the general public in their presence on the African continent, are also deploying growing strategies in Africa. This is the case of South Korea, which positions itself as a key partner in Africa’s development strategy. Japan is also increasingly investing in the continent, finding it a means to gain diplomatic support from the 54 African countries that collectively represent more than a quarter of UN members. India, on the other hand, views its relations with the African continent as a stepping stone in its “quest for superpower status.” 

With Egypt and Ethiopia recently joining the BRICS, Brazil hopes to deepen its economic and diplomatic relations with the two countries to strengthen its place in this group. Turkey’s commercial and defense relations are at the heart of its strategy in Africa. Over the past two decades, trade between Turkey and Africa has increased from $5.4 billion to over $40 billion in 2022. Additionally, Turkey has become a key player in the changing security landscape on the continent. Ankara, already present in North Africa and the Horn of Africa, has concluded defense agreements with West and East African countries, including Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and Rwanda. While the details of these agreements vary, from security provisions and technical support to military training, they often include arms sales provisions. 

This picture would remain incomplete without mentioning the growing influence of Gulf countries on the entire continent. The United Arab Emirates, for example, are attempting to expand their relations with East African countries to project their power and contain Iranian influence. Overall, the Gulf countries’ strategy in Africa is motivated by economic diversification, securing food and energy supplies, increasing their geopolitical and cultural influence, and protecting their security interests. 

Finalmente, é fundamental destacar o crecente papel das principais potencias africanas no desenvolvemento do resto do continente. É o caso, por exemplo, de Exipto, particularmente en Nixeria pero tamén en todo o continente. Estas estratexias son moitas veces apoiadas por principais actores privados; para Sudáfrica (MTN Group, Shoprite Holdings, Standards Bank Group), para Nixeria (Dangote Group, UBA), para Marrocos (Attijariwafa Bank, OCP Group) ou para Kenia (Equity Bank, Safaricom).

C. Un destino compartido que impoñen retos conxuntos

Thus, while the already close relations between these two continents and Africa’s centrality in the world are factors in the renewed interest shown by the EU and the AU for this partnership, an awareness of a shared destiny imposing common challenges further strengthens the willingness of leaders on both sides of the Mediterranean to reaffirm their cooperation. It is in this spirit that Ursula von der Leyen declared on the eve of the AU-EU summit: “Africa needs Europe and Europe needs Africa.” Africa is now perceived as an essential and intrinsically linked partner to Europe’s future. In this sense, in June 2022, African and European diplomats met in Addis Ababa to reflect on “Why Europe and Africa Need Each Other in Times of Crisis.” 

These shared challenges can be roughly summarized in the following themes: “peace and security, migration, climate change, digital transition, and the crisis of multilateralism,” to which the energy issue naturally adds. One of the first shared challenges facing the two continents lies in managing migratory flows. Based on the axes defined in the Valletta Joint Action Plan, which aims to support African and European partners by strengthening migration governance, two initiatives were launched following the February 2022 AU-EU summit, namely The Atlantic/Western Mediterranean Route TEI and The Central Mediterranean Route TEI. 

Os seus obxectivos, compartidos entre os dous continentes, pódense resumir en 5 puntos:

– Prevent irregular migration and combat human trafficking and smuggling,

– Create an environment conducive to development and promote legal migration and mobility pathways,

– Help partner countries ensure the protection and economic autonomy of migrants,

– Facilitate sustainable return and reintegration of stranded migrants,

– Address the root structural causes of irregular migration and forced displacement.

Peace and security are also common challenges that bind the two neighbors, due to their geographical proximity and the importance of human and economic flows between the two continents. In terms of peace and security, the EU’s goal is to support African initiatives to combat terrorism and promote African actions for the continent’s stability, by supporting peacekeeping operations and strengthening local capacities. Indeed, instability and insecurity in Africa inevitably have repercussions on Europe. Thus, in close collaboration with the African Union, the EU deploys its resources to foster “African solutions to African problems” in Somalia, the Sahel, the Central African Republic, and Mozambique. 

The issue of climate change is also at the heart of shared challenges between the two geographical areas. On the eve of the AU-EU summit, Josep Borrell, Vice-President of the European Commission, announced, “In recent years, the EU has mobilized to help Africa adapt to its consequences (those related to climate change), notably through the Great Green Wall project against desertification, but we will have to significantly increase this effort in the future. We must also join forces to make the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) a success. Together, we represent 40% of the UN countries, and together, we can put the world on a path to more equitable and sustainable development.”

No tocante á cuestión enerxética, debido á aceleración da historia ligada a un contexto de crecente tensión xeopolítica e competencia, a UE entendeu que África é un dos socios máis lexítimos para acadar o seu obxectivo estratéxico de autonomía. A cambio, os líderes africanos subliñan o interese dos seus países por cooperar cunha Unión Europea capaz de apoiar ao continente nun proceso de industrialización que permita a transformación dos recursos naturais in situ en enerxía convertida. 

En canto á dixitalización do continente africano, moitos actores reclaman o acceso á tecnoloxía satelital e a instalación de cables submarinos. Non obstante, hai un gran obstáculo que superar, que reside no déficit de acceso á electricidade que sofre boa parte da poboación africana. Así, apenas máis dunha de cada dúas persoas ten acceso á electricidade en África en 2024. Se continúan as tendencias actuais, menos do 40% dos países africanos lograrán o acceso universal á electricidade en 2050. A dixitalización de África, pero tamén o seu corolario, que é a democratización do acceso á electricidade, son prioridades para ambos os socios.

Finally, the European Union, like the African Union, shares the principles of multilateralism. To carry more weight in international institutions, the two geopolitical entities have an interest in cooperating to enable the advent of a reformed, fair, and representative multilateral system that reflects the needs of all actors. In this regard, Europe wants to support Africa’s proposals to reform multilateral institutions such as the United Nations Security Council, the WTO, and the Bretton Woods institutions, just as it supports the AU’s accession to the G20.

II. Cara a unha nova asociación?

A. Cambio de paradigma da axuda á cooperación

While the interest in strengthening the partnership garners unanimous support on both sides of the Mediterranean, the desire to “lay the foundations for a renewed and deepened partnership” also calls for a revisited approach with African leaders aiming to open an era of shared leadership. Koen Doens, Director-General for International Partnerships (INTPA) at the European Commission, speaks of a “paradigm shift” by emphasizing that the term “development” no longer meets the expectations of both AU and EU leaders. Now, “Team Europe moves forward with Team Africa, as partners,” rejoices Koen Doens. 

It was at the summit on February 17-18 that this new vision of the alliance between the African Union and the European Union was formalized, marking a major and historic turning point in relations between the two continents. The overhaul of the AU-EU relationship aims to be radical in the sense that it revisits “the semantics, vocabulary, nature of their interactions, but also infrastructures, economy, health, innovation, climate, and employment.” 

This way of rethinking relations between the leaders of the two continents aligns with the French strategy, a country that is one of the main drivers of this dynamic within the EU. Emmanuel Macron committed to this at the New Africa-France Summit in Montpellier on October 8, 2021, by explaining that he wanted to revisit “more generally all the semantics of development: what allows for this common finance, its instruments, its grammar.” It is also interesting to note that the 2022 AU-EU summit was placed on the European agenda thanks to the French Presidency of the European Union (PFUE), which made the strengthening and overhaul of Africa-Europe relations one of its main priorities.

This rebalancing, desired by African leaders for several years, must therefore allow for the transition from a hierarchical relationship, focused on aid from Europe to the African continent, to an “equal-to-equal partnership.” Patricia Ahanda emphasized the day after the February 2022 summit that for this diplomatic rebalancing to become a reality, Europe must establish a fair and equitable cooperation process with Africa. At the same time, African states must demonstrate their ability to position themselves as true partners by establishing a common strategic agenda. Macky Sall’s speech at this event, mentioning the installation of new software in Euro-African relations, illustrates the determination of African states to end past imbalances and finally build a win-win partnership for both continents.

B. Áreas temáticas definidas arredor de proxectos concretos

A asociación entre os países europeos e o continente africano diversificouse significativamente. Hai só cinco anos, os estados membros centráronse principalmente nas cuestións migratorias e de seguridade. Hoxe, estas cuestións son só dous aspectos dunha imaxe moito máis ampla, incluíndo o cambio climático, a dixitalización, a conectividade, o comercio, os dereitos humanos e moitas outras áreas. 

Esta redefinición da estratexia europea coa UA céntrase en cinco asociacións temáticas:

– Green transition and access to energy,

– Digital transformation,

– Growth and sustainable job creation,

– Peace and governance,

– Migration and mobility.

Investment in infrastructure is the common denominator of these five partnership axes and is at the heart of the African demand. A close adviser to the AU presidency confided to Olivier Caslin, a journalist at Jeune Afrique, that the most important thing “is that Africa can have the infrastructures it needs.” Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, head of investment and infrastructure at the South African presidency, also emphasized that “creating new infrastructures in all areas will play a very important role in the continent’s future.” In the same vein, Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), explains that the issue of infrastructure is central because without solid foundations, there is no effective and long-term economic development possible. 

In response to this African demand, the EU announced, at the end of the AU-EU summit, the deployment of the Global Gateway, a €150 billion project over seven years aimed at infrastructure investments in Africa. The announced goal of the European Commission is to “support projects wanted and carried out by Africans,” with a priority on transport infrastructures, digital networks, and energy. “We will invest with Africa to create a green hydrogen market that connects the two shores of the Mediterranean,” declared Ursula von der Leyen in October 2021. This green transition is also at the heart of the African Union’s Agenda 2063, named “The Africa We Want.”

En conxunto, os eixos definidos por este programa corresponden aos anunciados pola Comisión Europea en materia de asociacións temáticas. Estes son: acelerar a transición verde, acelerar a transición dixital, acelerar o crecemento sostible e a creación de emprego digno, fortalecer os sistemas de saúde e mellorar a educación e a formación. A continuación móstrase unha lista de exemplos para comprender a realización desta iniciativa para 2030:

– Accelerate universal access for all in Africa to reliable Internet networks. For example, the UA-EU Digital4Development hub will deploy the undersea cable in the Mediterranean that will connect North African countries to EU countries. An extension of the cabling towards West Africa is currently under consideration, with the first landing in Dakar. Finally, the Africa 1 digital submarine cable will connect Europe to the entire East African coast.

– Integrate African and European multimodal transport networks in line with regional and continental frameworks and adapt these networks to the economic potential of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

– Improve vaccination coverage and strengthen the African pharmaceutical system with regional manufacturing capacities to meet local needs and demand. More concretely, in this sense, the Team Europe Manufacturing and Access to Vaccines, Medicines, and Health Technologies initiative aims to support African partners in strengthening local pharmaceutical systems and manufacturing capacities,

– Invest in young businesses and the development of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Africa, for example through IYAB-SEED, which places particular emphasis on supporting women entrepreneurs.

C. Unha asociación máis aló do diñeiro

Thus, while concrete actions are defined to enable the strengthening and overhaul of the partnership between the two continents, some analysts emphasize the importance of going beyond the economic aspect of this cooperation. Lidet Tadesse Shiferaw, a researcher specializing in peace and governance issues on the African continent, pointed out that “Europe and Africa must have the courage to envision a partnership beyond money.” 

Neste sentido, algúns analistas, como Nicoletta Pirozzi, responsable de relacións institucionais do Istituto Affari Internazionali, explican que, por exemplo, no que se refire ás cuestións migratorias, é necesario un cambio de discurso para abordar o fluxo de persoas non como unha preocupación de orde pública senón como un fenómeno estrutural con potenciais beneficios económicos e sociais para Europa e África. 

Ademais do diñeiro, moitos líderes africanos piden unha maior consideración e respecto da Unión Europea e dos seus estados membros polas posicións africanas. Esta demanda aliña co rexurdimento dun movemento de non aliñación. Os líderes africanos solicitan aos líderes europeos un cambio de visión sobre as posicións dos países africanos nos foros internacionais e as súas interaccións con potencias ás veces rivais da UE. 

A striking example of this disagreement lies in the European Union’s reaction to the results of the United Nations General Assembly vote on the “Aggression against Ukraine” resolution in March 2023. During this vote, many African countries abstained or did not vote, forming the largest regional bloc to act in this manner. The EU was “shocked” by this result, which was perceived by African countries as questioning their sovereign right to vote freely.

African countries also denounced “Western hypocrisy,” accusing European countries of treating peace and security issues in Europe seriously while neglecting conflicts elsewhere in the world. During a roundtable organized by the European Think Tanks Group (ETTG) and the Regional Bureau for Africa of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), titled “Assessing the Implications of COVID-19 and the Ukraine War for Africa and Europe-Africa Relations,” a European representative admitted that “with hindsight,” at that moment, Europe’s reaction to African countries’ position in the context of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had been “excessive” and that it had been “a narrow way of looking at the relationship” between the two geopolitical areas. 

Another way to approach this partnership beyond money involves increased consideration of the consequences of European internal policies that sometimes impact the entire African continent and its population. The examples, although they may not seem obvious at first glance, are numerous. The EU’s agricultural subsidies through the CAP make European products more competitive, which can undermine local African production and threaten the continent’s food security. Another example is the new carbon border tax deployed by the EU (CBAM), which, according to some analysts, acts as an obstacle to Africa’s industrialization. A study cited by African Climate Wire indicates that the CBAM could reduce Africa’s total exports to the EU by 5.72% and lower African GDP by 1.12%. 

Moreover, it is interesting to note that the EU’s strict sanitary and environmental standards for imports can exclude many African products from the European market. Finally, a last example of a way to approach the UA-EU partnership beyond economic issues could lie in increased European support for the influence of African countries in international forums. The European Union has committed to distributing special drawing rights to African countries. These special drawing rights are assets created by the IMF and allocated to states that can spend them without incurring debt. 

Ademais, a UE colabora estreitamente coa UA para fortalecer as capacidades institucionais africanas proporcionando coñecementos técnicos e apoio financeiro. Este apoio atópase na asistencia prestada pola UE para reforzar a cooperación coa Axencia Africana do Medicamento (AMA) para harmonizar as normas e as normativas do continente. Esta iniciativa facilita a participación dos países africanos en organizacións internacionais de saúde como a OMS. Finalmente, en colaboración coa OMC, a UE axuda aos países africanos a reformar as súas políticas comerciais e a integrar as normas internacionais, mellorando a súa capacidade para negociar e influír nas normas comerciais mundiais. A UE tamén ofrece asistencia técnica para axudar aos países africanos a comprender e aplicar as normas da OMC, reforzando así as súas posicións nas negociacións comerciais internacionais.

III. Quedan moitos retos por superar

A. Estratexias nacionais diverxentes nos continentes europeo e africano

Aínda que a Unión Europea está composta por 27 países e a Unión Africana está formada por 55 países, un dos principais retos aos que se enfronta a asociación entre estas dúas entidades é falar cunha soa voz a ambos os dous lados da colaboración. Por parte africana, a ausencia de representantes de Malí, Guinea, Sudán, Níxer e Burkina Faso no VI cumio UA-UE, países sancionados entón pola CEDEAO tras golpes militares, ilustra á perfección as dificultades para unificar todos os países pertencentes á Unión Europea. continente baixo a mesma organización. 

Thus, many analysts denounce the heterogeneous geopolitical climate in Africa that would prevent the construction of symmetrical relations with the European Union. These analysts point to “the lack of a common strategic vision of the African Union,” the individual and uncoordinated economic initiatives of some African states, as many structural obstacles to a virtuous and beneficial partnership for the entire continent. To overcome this challenge, it seems essential to strengthen intra-African cohesion initiatives such as the AfCFTA, the African Union Peace Fund, or the Africa CDC. 

Estas estratexias nacionais diverxentes tamén se atopan ao norte do Mediterráneo, onde a fragmentación intraeuropea menoscaba a credibilidade e a eficacia do discurso e da acción europea no continente, debilitando, en particular, o efecto panca que poderían exercer os Estados membros se estivesen máis unidos. Esta dificultade para conciliar os intereses estratéxicos dos distintos estados membros deriva en primeiro lugar dunha heteroxeneidade no nivel de interese mostrado polos actores europeos cara ao continente africano. Así, algúns países europeos, como Francia, teñen unha profunda atracción polo continente, materializada nunha estratexia organizada e multimodal. Francia é tamén un dos principais motores da proactividade europea cara ao continente africano.

Non obstante, este interese polo continente africano dista moito de ser unánime entre as nacións europeas. Así, só 11 dos 27 estados membros amosan unha estratexia oficial máis ou menos transversal e integral cara ao continente africano. É o caso de Alemaña, España, Italia, Polonia, República Checa, Malta, Estonia, Francia, Bélxica, Portugal e os Países Baixos.

B. Persisten puntos de tensión entre Europa e África

Finally, many points of tension persist between Europe and Africa. Firstly, African leaders denounce a gap between European discourse and action. The Global Gateway initiative is one of the first victims of this sentiment. Thus, following the announcement of its deployment, a close adviser to the AU presidency admitted, “There are doubts that part of the amounts promised by Brussels merely recycle previously allocated EU funding.” Presented by the EU as a massive and European response to Africa’s infrastructure needs, the Global Gateway has raised high expectations. However, the fact that a significant portion of the announced funds is slow to be mobilized has given the impression of an exaggerated communication operation.

The EU’s strategy of announcing “breakthroughs” or “flagship initiatives” at various summits, often to compete with other African partners, could ultimately do more harm than good to this partnership. While the EU committed at the 6th AU-EU summit to invest more on the African continent to promote peace, the March 2021 merger of the African Peace Facility with other instruments to benefit the creation of the European Peace Facility has widened the gap between discourse and action. Thus, of the €5.62 billion budget of the FPE for 2021-2027, €3.1 billion has already been deployed or promised to Ukraine, spreading the fear among African partners that the European commitment to peace and security in Africa may significantly diminish.

 Although African states understand this new priority, they also emphasize that, despite the EU’s commitments, the EU’s orientation towards the East preceded the Russian invasion. In line with this difference in treatment between the Eastern neighborhood policy and its treatment of the partnership with the African continent, Nicoletta Pirozzi noted that more than 7.8 million Ukrainian refugees entered the EU in 2022, with a record number benefiting from temporary protection, while at the same time less than 140,000 migrants arrived by sea across the Mediterranean, triggering a strong opposition from many EU member states regarding rescue, reception, and relocation obligations. This exposed the EU to accusations of double standards in the treatment of migrants and refugees from Ukraine, on the one hand, and Africa and the Middle East, on the other. 

These tensions reached their peak during the COVID-19 crisis around the issue of the temporary waiver on intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines. Indeed, the European Union was one of the main opponents of this waiver. African leaders then accused the hoarding of vaccines, and Namibian President Hage G. Geingob denounced a situation of “vaccine apartheid.” Aware of this health challenge, Ursula von der Leyen promised a €1 billion investment from the European Union to strengthen vaccine production capacity in Africa, starting with the financing of vaccine production centers in South Africa, Senegal, Egypt, Morocco, and Rwanda.


Mentres os discursos populistas a ambos os dous lados do Mediterráneo denuncian a ameaza que representa o veciño do sur na retórica de extrema dereita en Europa, ou o veciño do norte na retórica extremista anticolonial en África, a asociación entre a Unión Africana e a Unión Europea parece estar nun nivel interesante para construír unha sinerxía virtuosa entre os dous continentes. Así, é evidente que os intereses comúns son compartidos polas poboacións pertencentes ás dúas entidades xeográficas, institucionais e políticas.

These common interests, exacerbated in a polarized, competitive, and ultra-globalized world, impose the necessity to rethink and profoundly reform the partnership that binds the AU and the EU. This overhaul echoes a strong desire from African populations and leaders to gain sovereignty, independence, and consideration. However, structural and sometimes mental barriers still hinder this institutional, economic, and political revolution. Simply observing the map showing the IMF’s projection of the distribution of nominal GDP worldwide highlights the deep structural imbalance between the share represented by African nominal GDP compared to that represented by European nominal GDP. 

Europeans, aware of this asymmetry, have already started rethinking relations with the African continent for several years. This paradigm shift is seen in the communication of March 9, 2020, “Towards a Comprehensive Strategy with Africa,” in the development of the new EU trade policy, in the determination of the Strategic Compass, in the creation of Team Europe, or with the creation of the NDICI.However, this 6th AU-EU summit paves the way for a historic turning point in the functioning of this partnership, marking a 180° shift from a development aid dynamic based on a donor-beneficiary relationship to an equal-to-equal cooperation.

This profound mutation will first occur through a refocusing of the partnership from aid to trade and investment. In this sense, several major African economic actors published an op-ed in Le Point, explaining that “Capital must be at the heart of the European strategy for the continent’s development.” They emphasized that “European investments, if wisely directed, can become powerful levers to encourage innovation, strengthen infrastructure, and promote sustainable economic growth in Africa. Africa, on the other hand, has much to offer and has exceptional human and natural resources.” 

Non obstante, para permitir esta virtuosa sinerxía, os europeos deben abandonar a súa esaxerada percepción do risco en África. Esta sobreestimación do risco repercute no atractivo dos países africanos, facendo que o custo do capital sexa prohibitivo para os investidores, con tipos de interese moito máis elevados que en Europa ou EEUU. Por iso, as axencias de cualificación, actores fundamentais deste proceso, deben adoptar un enfoque máis matizado e equilibrado. Espérase que este aumento dos investimentos europeos teña máis en conta as prioridades do continente africano, especialmente no que se refire ao acceso á enerxía nun territorio onde o 43% da poboación aínda carece de electricidade.

Africa’s industrialization depends on it. This infrastructure development and the expected technology transfer will allow Africa to benefit more from the added value of its production, rebalancing relations between the two continents. Finally, beyond this economic solution, the main solutions for establishing a constructive partnership and overcoming the errancies of previous decades would also lie in reducing the gap between “commitments and realization,” recognizing differences when they arise, and managing conflicting positions respectfully. 

More generally, reviewing the UA-EU partnership framework by moving from primarily institutional and state actors to a partnership involving more private actors and civil societies could also allow a profound rethinking of the functioning of relations between the two continents. It is in this sense that Hervé Berville, then a French deputy in charge of combating global inequalities and rapporteur of the Foreign Affairs Committee, called for “de-etatizing the relationship with Africa” by implementing a “results agenda,” based on “innovation and evaluation,” and fully trusting civil societies.

© Jean CLARYS, 2024. Todos os dereitos reservados

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