Saturday

24th Oct 2020

Opinion

Europe needs to make mind up on relations with Africa

  • President Ursula Von der Leyen has prioritised the development of a 'comprehensive strategy for Africa' (Photo: Ninara)

As a new European Commission now takes over, there are some nuanced messages concerning the relations with Africa emerging from the statements of president Ursula Von der Leyen. She prioritises the development of a "comprehensive strategy for Africa".

The idea is not new.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

In October 2005 the European Commission published such a strategy. Its stated objective was to "give the EU a comprehensive, integrated and long-term framework for its relations with the African continent."

The strategy was a response to notable economic transformations taking place in the continent, the emergence of the African Union and other geopolitical shifts that created new demands and focus.

More than a decade later, it is obvious to admit that the relationship between the two continents is getting more complex than ever. Yet it continues to rely on multiple, fragmented, at times contradictory, cooperation tools and initiatives. There is strong resistance to truly move towards a comprehensive cooperation framework.

Why? Were the last 15 years a missed opportunity?

The erosion of European influence on the economic developments shaping the continent is certainly an indication that something is not going well.

Africa has been accumulating a trade deficit with the EU since 2015. The structure of trade between the two regions barely changed over the last decades.

Primary goods remain a key component of EU's imports from Africa thus making Africa's trade relations with the EU relatively vulnerable.

Since 2000, the EU has been pushing for the conclusion of trade agreements that remain controversial in many quarters. The focus on the number of trade agreements as a barometer for a shift towards stronger economic ties between the two continents has shown the limits of such an approach.

It fails to support industrialisation and infrastructure development. Structural transformation of African economies is key. It requires proactive support notably through the backing of the recently-launched African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

The question many asked is whether the EU is ready to engage in the new paradigm Africa seeks; or continue to promote its economic agreements in a atomised and old-fashioned market access vs official development assistance (ODA) equation.

The EU is reassuring its African partners that it remains committed to investment promotion.

The European External Investment Plan, launched in 2017, is an example of such drive.

'Leveraging' isn't working

The fund of €4.5bn is supposed to leverage an estimated €44bn in investments through guarantees and blended financing. This ambitious plan is yet to deliver results.

There is little doubt Europe will need to use its limited resources smartly to benefit both Africa and European investors. Targets must be realistic.

Evidence from initiatives where blending was used suggests that for every $1 invested from ODA funding, private finance mobilised small additional amounts: about $0.37 for low-income countries, $1.06 for lower middle-income countries and $0.65 for upper middle-income countries.

This performance indicates the European Investment Plan leveraging targets are far-fetched.

Investments will have to respond to the most pressing issue for African countries: employment. In this respect the quality of the investment matters more than the number of projects it creates.

In 2018, for instance, although emerging market investors, largely from China, have accounted for 34 percent of the FDI projects in Africa, they were responsible for more than half of the jobs created.

If curbing migration is the EU motivation for investment there are certainly some detectable inconsistencies.

The EU Trust Fund for Africa has allocated part of its €4.5bn pot to initiatives aimed at stopping the migratory flows to Europe.

Areas of common concern such as human trafficking have been high on the priority list of both sides, even though most of the action is clearly focusing on short-term concerns.

Africans resent the disguised conditionality EU is introducing in their engagements with some African countries. They were expecting the EU to recognise the multidimensional nature of migration and help address its root causes.

Africa's contribution in tackling migratory pressures should not be underestimated.

The continent hosts 26 percent of the world's refugee population. Many of these refugees come from regions such as the Horn. This sensitive region has been experiencing a palpable EU disengagement, as shown by the EU declining financial support to the African peace keeping operations in the region.

From a pragmatic perspective migrants' remittances are guaranteeing a predictable resources flow to the originating countries, largely surpassing development aid.

For example in 2018, remittances from the diaspora attained 11.6 percent of Egypt's GDP, 12 percent and 14.7 percent of the GDP of Liberia and Lesotho respectively. Attempts to put cooperation on migration in one neatly isolated corner will not work.

The new commission is right in saying that the EU needs renewed ambition and a comprehensive strategy for Africa. But to do that, it will need to be clearer and convincing.

It can start by bringing together an array of disjointed initiatives and dialogues not anchored in a single structured instrument. The coming months will be critical.

If the 2020 opportunity is missed, we can rest assured that in 15 years, we will still be hearing the call for a comprehensive strategy to govern the EU relations with Africa.

Author bio

Carlos Lopes is an associate fellow of Chatham House, professor of the Mandela School of Public Governance, University of Cape Town and African Union high representative for partnerships with Europe.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Feature

Promises and doubts: Africa's free-trade adventure

The EU is hoping that a continent-wide free trade agreement in Africa will help lift millions out of poverty and help solve issues of security and migration. But its message of values and equal partnership do not resonate with everyone.

EU Africa chief: UN goals will not be met by aid alone

The EU's ambassador to the African Union warns the UN Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 cannot be met due to low aid contributions by EU member states - poor countries instead need to attract their own financial flows through trade.

Interview

EU Africa envoy: Europe needs to look beyond migration

Europe's obsession with migration from Africa means it risks losing out the continent's potential when it comes to trade, says the EU's ambassador to the African Union, Ranier Sabatucci. "Africa is a growing continent, it is the future," he says.

Agenda

Africa visit and EU parliament missions This WEEK

The European Commission will visit the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, for a joint meeting with the African Union, ahead of the EU-Africa strategy being unveiled. MEPs will carry out missions in the Czech Republic, Turkey and the US.

Stakeholder

Our summit can re-boot Africa's relations with Europe

Our keynote speaker is the president of Ghana Nana Akufo-Addo, His policies have included the introduction of free secondary education across Ghana, which he rightly calls "necessary investment" in the nation's future workforce.

News in Brief

  1. UK scientists fear Brexit blow to joint EU research
  2. Greek migrant camp lockdown extended
  3. Lukashenko and 14 others in EU crosshairs
  4. EU imposes sanctions over 2015 Bundestag cyberattack
  5. Italy reignites Mont Blanc border dispute with France
  6. Commission to press Croatia on migrant 'abuse' at border
  7. Belarus opposition awarded 2020 Sakharov Prize
  8. Belgium's foreign minister in intensive care for Covid-19

Europe has forgotten the 'farm' in 'Farm to Fork'

US secretary of agriculture Sonny Perdue argues that the EU is taking an approach "more based on 'political science' than demonstrated agricultural science" in its new Farm to Fork strategy.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersUN Secretary General to meet with Nordic Council on COVID-19
  3. UNESDAWell-designed Deposit Return Schemes can help reach Single-Use Plastics Directive targets
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council meets Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaja
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to invest DKK 250 million in green digitalised business sector
  6. UNESDAReducing packaging waste – a huge opportunity for circularity

Latest News

  1. South Caucasus death toll much worse than feared
  2. Polish court effectively bans legal abortions
  3. MEPs urge EU to be ready to dump disputed energy treaty
  4. EU commission on defensive over 'revolving doors'
  5. Why German presidency is wrong on rule of law
  6. Nato and EU silent on Turkey, despite Armenia's appeal
  7. EU tells UK to decide on Brexit as deal 'within reach'
  8. EU farming deal attacked by Green groups

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us