Will the new EU-Africa Strategy substantially improve relations with African countries?

The new strategy is vague and doesn’t consider many of the problems that EU has partly fuelled through its flawed policies, argues German S&D MEP Joachim Schuster.
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By Joachim Schuster

Joachim Schuster (DE, S&D) is the INTA Committee opinion rapporteur on the new EU-Africa Strategy report

04 Mar 2021

In March 2020, the European Commission published its draft comprehensive strategy with Africa. Building on the announcement by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen of the intention to form a more geopolitical Commission, relations with the African continent will focus on five key partnerships.

These are the Green Transformation and Energy, the Digital Transformation, Sustainable Growth and Jobs, Peace and Good Governance and Migration and Mobility.

With its first draft for a new strategy with Africa, the Commission has shown it attaches great importance to relations with the African continent. However, the strategy remains vague and does not consider many of the problems that the EU itself has partly fuelled through its flawed policies.

It is debatable whether the partnerships envisaged in the EU-Africa Strategy will substantially improve relations with African countries and support sustainable development.

The proposals remain in line with the current logic of relations with the African continent, which have proven ineffective in supporting and promoting autonomous development processes and have failed to address the consequences of climate change in Africa. Despite the wide range of humanitarian aid, European interests dominate economic cooperation.

“It is debatable whether the partnerships envisaged in the EU-Africa Strategy will substantially improve relations with African countries and support sustainable development”

This approach damages agricultural structures in African countries, exploits raw materials under questionable conditions and does not help with diversifying regional economies. Ultimately, the Commission’s approach perpetuates the existing relationship of dependency.

An adequate partnership between the EU and Africa must go well beyond the Commission’s proposal and correct decades of prior mistakes. Additionally, since mid-March 2020, the need for a significant revision of the strategy has become apparent.

The health and economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic have affected many African countries to such an extent that a new partnership must place crisis management at the heart of any cooperative efforts.

Immediate support measures, such as the provision of tests and laboratory equipment, and the facilitation of exports of medical devices and personal protective equipment, need to be implemented quickly.

Furthermore, there is an urgent need to support procurement of sufficient quantities of vaccine as well as their administration. Also, the Coronavirus crisis has put a renewed focus on the issue of indebtedness in many African countries.

A welcome step in this context is the G20 debt moratorium. However, this needs to be broadened to include sustainable approaches to debt reduction, including full debt relief for individual states.

Above all, there is need for a more fundamental reform. An equal partnership must focus on the objective of initiating, supporting, or accelerating autonomous development processes in African countries. In doing so, these must be strictly linked to coping with the effects of climate change.

This requires a long-term European investment plan for Africa. A reformed EU-Africa strategy should focus on ensuring a comprehensive energy supply based on renewable energy sources. Without the availability of energy, economic and social development processes are not possible.

The construction and development of traditional infrastructure (transport, water, wastewater, education, etc.) as well as a digital infrastructure are also key areas for sustainable cooperation.

Food security, meanwhile, is also a key task. Strengthening the existing productive capacity of small-scale agriculture through support programmes and restructuring measures as well as the linkage with measures to tackle climate change, such as afforestation programmes, are vitally important.

It is equally important to review EU agricultural imports and exports, with a view to their compatibility with the objective of African food security. There is also a need to improve the financing conditions for African countries, including through concerted action against illicit financial flows, capital flight and tax avoidance.

“An adequate partnership between the EU and Africa must go well beyond the Commission’s proposal and correct decades of prior mistakes”

All this must be combined with targeted support for diversification in the African economy. These initiatives must not be used to consolidate authoritarian, corrupt, or dictatorial governments. It is, therefore, essential to link economic cooperation to respect for human, as well as fundamental, social, and democratic rights.

Civil societies must be involved in every step. In addition, the empowerment of women and girls on the African continent, as well as the careful consideration of the interests of children and young people, must become an integral part of the EU-Africa Strategy.

In addition, we must utilise the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with African Regions. The implementation of a new policy approach towards the African continent does not even require fundamentally new trade agreements.

The EPAs concluded with several African regions and countries provide a useful framework which has unfortunately not been properly implemented. However, the future implementation efforts by the EU should focus on the economic and social development of African countries, rather than the enforcement of a free trade doctrine.

In other words, the short-term interests of the EU should be put aside for the sake of addressing common challenges together.