“We want to reach a new level in our partnership with Africa.” This message has been repeated numerous times since the beginning of the legislature. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen underlined the importance of good relations with our neighbours in order to cooperate on development, security and trade.
Given the delays caused by the pandemic, it is interesting to observe how the different Council Presidencies framed the summit and the relations with the African continent, revealing the diversity of bilateral relations between European and African countries.
“I believe it gives us the opportunity to bring the ‘hot topics’ to the table, the ones that lie in a dusty corner of our relations, yet influence them constantly”
How can it be that an EU Member State can have only a single embassy on the African continent for over 50 countries, but have bilateral relations with several sub-Saharan African countries? We need to find a new balance and new diplomatic impetus towards our African partners, especially considering how other global powers such as China or Russia are forming close relations in Africa.
The summit will finally take place under the French Presidency (rather than the German or Slovenian). Of course, many critics have denounced France’s difficult colonial history and postcolonial ties with African countries, its security interventions and national politics affecting African diasporas. However, I believe this opportunity can bring the ‘hot topics’ to the table, the ones that lie in a dusty corner of our relations yet influence them constantly. I firmly believe we need cooperation in realms that are less technical, yet have the power to transform our relationship. However, how do we get there and is it even necessary?
Without having a clear idea of how the agenda of the high-level summit will look and whether we MEPs can intervene, the general assumption is that ‘technical’ issues will be discussed; fields of cooperation that already exist, enhanced by the current sanitary crisis and other (European) challenges.
During the ministerial meeting in Kigali at the end of 2021, a declaration to guide the EU-AU summit was published. Here, it is evident that the classical development topics are on display: the green and digital transformation, security, governance and peace as well as migration and mobility.
In my function as Vice-Chair for the Committee on Development as well as the Delegation with the Pan-African Parliament, I have always advocated for more nuanced and interdisciplinary approaches in these areas. For example, implementing a human-centred security approach that factors in nutrition, health and social protection in the Sahel. Another example is reframing migration and understanding that our EU policies affect or at times instigate migration flows.
Given the unresolved remnants of colonial history in current relations and the resulting structural dependencies and conditions, a ‘partnership on an equal footing’ should be the aim. It would suggest measures and monitoring of how close we are getting to this goal.
The way to achieve this is to build structures that take into account the existing asymmetry of power relations. These structures, at the EU-AU level, should enable effective broad participation by civil societies, diasporas, trade unions and parliaments. In this light, every initiative, including other Africa-related initiatives and the Post-Cotonou Agreement, should be measured against this goal.
For me, the most promising action for more coherence in our relations is to examine them more closely. An introduction of memory culture, such as restitution, holistic consideration of history and decolonising our interactions, could bring us together in new ways and help remodel the relationships between the two continents. Restitution is about acknowledging history, reimaging meaning and using culture to uplift and understand each other.
“Restitution is about acknowledging history, reimaging meaning and using culture to uplift and understand each other”
According to a transcript of the 2021 meeting in Kigali, the ministers there also “recognised the importance of cultural assets to Africa’s identity and economy. Ministers shall pursue international cooperation and continuous dialogue to promote access to cultural heritage and encourage mutual undertaking for the restitution of cultural assets”.
On the topic of artwork and works of cultural hertiage, with the French Presidency, the German government is motivated to push for more research on provenance and raising awareness within the European Parliament. For instance, with a report, including restitution voted in the Culture and Education Committee, but most of all with well-organised African stakeholders and built around restitution. I am convinced that this has the power to transform our dynamics.
During the pre-summit of the European Parliament on EU-AU relations (a week ahead of the summit), MEPs and stakeholders emphasised the improvements in gender equality in Europe and Africa as well as the establishment of strong institutions to strengthen governance, pillars of peace and security.
Speakers stressed the potential of youth and their participation in political life as well as the recognition of civil society. For me, this again shows that we need an inclusive partnership if we want it to last, and that we must strengthen the partnership between the European and African parliaments. That way, we can establish a genuine dialogue that takes into account the solutions that our partners propose and thus improve the quality of life of all our citizens.