The case for a mutually beneficial partnership on equal footing
Belgium (Brussels Morning Newspaper) The long-awaited sixth summit of the European Union (EU) and the African Union (AU) comes at a crucial time. Both continents face unprecedented challenges posed by a once-in-a-century health crisis, a pandemic-induced economic recession, aggravated climate change, growth on the one side and an ageing population on the other, as well as unstable security situations, state fragility and a growing geopolitical competition.
However, despite mounting challenges, a wide range of shared opportunities is emerging. Together, the EU and the AU must seize the moment to build back better after COVID-19 and to establish a mutually beneficial partnership on an equal footing, capable of truly delivering on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
In this regard, the Summit will be decisive, if it goes beyond ringing declarations of intent and secures concrete commitments from both sides to form a closer and more effective partnership, based on strategic priorities, structured and effective cooperation, and clear long-term goals. It will provide an opportunity to start a real political dialogue with African partners based on mutual respect.
The challenges facing Africa are many amidst the ongoing global pandemic. The working-age population is expected to grow by 450 million people over a 20-year period. Demographic changes will have significant implications for employment, climate change, migration, as well as for peace and security. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has had negative effects on education and food security in Africa, as well as making evident the continent’s near-total dependence on vaccine imports and the need to strengthen its capabilities for manufacturing local vaccines. Peace and security are challenged by the spread of Islamist terrorism and violence as well as by the threats to democracy and good governance evidenced in the multiple coups that have taken place across West Africa in the span of just 18 months. In addition, there is increasing geopolitical competition coming from China and Russia. These challenges seriously jeopardise SDG achievement and the creation of prosperity in Africa, while they also constitute a major loss of opportunity for Europe.
To address these challenges, in a political programme adopted ahead of the Summit, the EPP Group has identified ten priority actions designed to reap mutual benefits for both Africa and Europe. To ensure a win-win partnership for all concerned, we call on AU-EU leaders at the Summit to make concrete commitments to boost trade, investment and job creation, facilitate lasting peace and security, and tackle the root causes of migration.
Africa offers significant investment opportunities for European businesses that can support the creation of millions of jobs, something that is absolutely necessary if we are to keep up with the rapidly growing population on the continent. We must empower African youth to participate in the unlocking of economic opportunities. They need quality education and vocational training that provides the necessary knowledge and skills for the modern labour market. In this regard, the Africa Europe Investment Package with the “Global Gateway Initiative” is promising, but we also need to support implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area, which will bring us closer to the long-term vision of a continent-to-continent free trade agreement. Given its experience in developing the Single Market, we think the EU is well suited to strongly support Africa in this endeavour.
It is of fundamental importance to both continents that lasting peace and security is achieved and maintained in Africa. This is not only essential to facilitate long-term sustainable development on the continent, trade, investment, and large-scale job creation, ensuring food security and access to education, but also for Europe’s security and to prevent irregular migration. The EU is currently engaged in 11 military operations and civilian missions in Africa, but additional actions are necessary to further develop the African Peace and Security Architecture. We consider European and international assistance to be vital in enabling countries in Africa to assume responsibility for their own security.
Underlying trends in political instability such as conflict, climate change and a lack of economic opportunities act as a push factor for further economic migration to the EU. To avoid these issues that cause Africans to leave their homes in the first place, we consider it imperative that the EU and Africa tackle the root causes of migration jointly. This requires actions to eradicate poverty, promote economic growth and enhance democracy and respect for the Rule of Law as well as to inculcate a common understanding of legal migration pathways. The EU must also formulate a viable migration policy with regard to EU development cooperation while making aid conditional on cooperation with the EU when it comes to issues such as migration and combatting migrant trafficking structures. It must also conclude return and readmission agreements between the EU and African states
Ultimately, we need to ensure that the EU and Africa will deliver on these strategic priorities and achieve tangible results. At the Summit, Europe and Africa must therefore fully commit to a partnership of true equals, wherein both sides increasingly move beyond the donor-recipient relationship. Cooperation must be based on the guiding principles of reciprocity, mutual benefit, shared responsibility and solidarity. This is the only way to enable the EU and the AU to build back better following the pandemic and to achieve results that will benefit both continents and their respective populations.