Usually, the European Union (EU)–African Union (AU) summits are a recurring political exercise intended to review their strategic partnership, debate outstanding issues, and reaffirm close cooperation between the two regions. However, the upcoming Summit on February 17-18 is an exceptional meeting due to the ongoing pandemic crisis, the evolution of the demographics and economic status of Africa, and a shifting balance among the global powers. The Summit will also be a key benchmark of success for France’s presidency of the EU, because, as President Emmanuel Macron has indicated, he views this meeting as a milestone for 2022 and beyond.
There is a sense that EU-Africa cooperation is a priority for the French Presidency of the economic block. France has been positioning itself for a long time as a leader on EU diplomatic relations and as an engaged partner of middle- and low-income countries. The EU-AU summit will offer both sides an opportunity to re-engage on several strategic issues, including economic and financial cooperation, security, migration, climate, education, and health.
“It is time for the EU to stand on equal footing with the African continent and acknowledge that we can learn from each other and build a healthier world by working together”
While implementing extensive strategic initiatives takes significant time and planning, several imminent needs of communities within the African region must be addressed immediately. There are enormous disparities in vaccine access worldwide. For example, some EU Member States are now recommending a fourth vaccine dose for the most vulnerable groups, while in Africa only 16% of people have received at least one dose. Unfortunately, access to a reliable supply of vaccines remains elusive due to logistical challenges and vaccine hoarding by wealthy nations.
Equal access to vaccines is inextricably linked to the principles that the EU endorses and promotes, such as respect for human rights, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and social responsibility. Unless these ideals are backed up by action, the “me first” mindset will prolong the pandemic everywhere, with dire consequences for the people of both regions.
The EU-AU Summit is an occasion to dispense with outdated terminology of “donors” and “recipients”, and of “charity for the downtrodden”. Crises of the modern age, be they climate change or pandemics, show us how nation-centric approaches to international development are hopelessly inadequate for tackling global challenges – as neither viruses nor greenhouse gases recognise international borders. We need genuine cooperation and partnership for the sake of common interest in the habitability of our world, not the traditional give and take of foreign aid with an eye toward some political gain or advantage.
It is time for the EU to stand on equal footing with the African continent and acknowledge that we can learn from each other and build a healthier world by working together. This means the EU must agree to waive patent protections on COVID-19 vaccines and commit to transferring relevant technologies and know-how so that African nations can expand access to vaccines and build internal capacity for any future outbreaks.
“A “Global license” for COVID-19 vaccines, which French President Emmanuel Macron supports, has much potential to show solidarity and start rebuilding crisis-resilient health systems globally”
A “Global license” for COVID-19 vaccines, which French President Emmanuel Macron supports, has much potential to show solidarity and start rebuilding crisis-resilient health systems globally. Unfortunately, scepticism and nationalism from several EU Member States hamper the incorporation of a “global license” in the joint EU-AU declaration. While the actual draft of the declaration omits any reference to concrete tools for know-how sharing, product licensing, or waiving intellectual property, leaders should immediately consider these crucial aspects. The COVID-19 pandemic clearly shows that voluntary technology transfers do not work, and only binding, enforceable commitments will deliver concrete and timely results.
In December, President Macron expressed the intent to build a future for African youth. The EU-AU Summit will be critical towards this end by creating an occasion to deliver on promises of real change. We urge European and African leaders to confront these complicated topics of inclusiveness, transparency, and trust and challenge them to engage with each other to bring the necessary capacities to the African region to strengthen economic and social systems jointly.
This article reflects the views of the author and not the views of The Parliament Magazine or of the Dods Group