In the spring of 2020, the European Commission published its new EU-Africa Strategy. The document pointed out the necessity of cooperation between the EU and the African Union through five partnership pillars.
The COVID-19 pandemic has placed the strategy in need of urgent reform. As a result of the pandemic, the African continent is facing a crisis that is barely manageable, making European support in the short-, medium- and long-term indispensable.
Against this background, it is difficult to understand why the EU-Africa summit, where the partnerships envisaged with the African Union should be discussed, has been repeatedly postponed. It would have been an important opportunity to discuss the urgent health and trade issues.
“The EU needs to broaden economic ties that are currently mainly focused on trade”
However, the cooperative tone of the EU-Africa Strategy, which is continued in the COVID-19 recovery plan with regard to global vaccine production opportunities, is not reflected in practice.
In the debate on the temporary suspension of intellectual property rights – the so-called ‘TRIPS Waiver’ - for the production of vaccines and other products needed to contain the pandemic, the EU is standing on the side of major pharmaceutical companies, just like many other industrialised countries.
This is not a strong symbol of partnership, given the fact that the initiative for the waiver came from South Africa and has strong support from the African Union and the ‘Least-Developed Countries’ Group in the WTO. Instead, the EU is focussing on the delivery of vaccine doses through the COVAX initiative.
The problem is that - according to the BBC - only two out of 100 Africans have received vaccination doses so far. This is at least partly due to the decreasing quantity of donated vaccine doses.
Alternative routes, in the form of increasing all possible production capacities, must therefore be pursued urgently. It is only by working towards global herd immunity that we can defeat the pandemic in the long run.
In order to achieve a politically desirable enhanced partnership between the EU and the African continent, a lot remains to be done. The EU needs to broaden economic ties that are currently mainly focused on trade.
A number of short- and long-term measures are needed to support the establishment and development of independent production capacities. In the short term, export restrictions on COVID-19 related medical devices have to be removed, as was also requested by the WTO Director-General. Many key exporters, including EU Member States are currently blocking movement of these vital products.
Looking ahead, the G20 need to expand relief for highly indebted African countries. The initiative must involve private creditors. Debt reductions might, in the long run, open up the policy space in LDCs for the improvement of fragile health systems.
Furthermore, the EU needs to supply capacity-building measures as well as investments in public infrastructures, such as energy and water supply and road construction.
Finally, public-private investment initiatives with a local focus need to promote intra-regional trade as well as the diversification of supply chains.