The European Union’s (EU) relations with the African continent are facing a distinct set of challenges. Contrary to the expectations of both African and European governments, the pending negotiations between the partners are now being put to the test like never before. The global spread of Covid-19 has led to economic crises throughout the world – and the African continent is no exception. International organisations, the EU, and African institutions alike consider the economic and health crisis to be more serious than the 2008/2009 global financial crisis. This new economic crisis also impacts Europe’s relations with Africa. The EU-African Union Summit, originally scheduled for October 2020 but now postponed until 2021, will be overshadowed by the global coronavirus crisis.
There is a significant risk that Africa-Europe relations will not attract as much interest as other global developments, with the USA, Europe and China too busy dealing with their own challenges. The crisis has shown that the prevailing asymmetry is no longer acceptable as we move into the future. Now is the time for both sides to work together on finalising the much-needed reform packages and to recalibrate Europe’s cooperation with Africa. To pave the way for these reforms, the EU Commission’s plans for negotiations on future cooperation must be overhauled, particularly in relation to trade and economic relations, value chain integration, and the focus on job creation and poverty alleviation. Last but not least, cooperation on the issue of sustainability must be adjusted, especially against the backdrop of the climate catastrophe, which, besides hindering growth and causing job losses, poses a threat to agriculture and food supply on the African continent.
The concepts presented by the EU in March 2020 do not adequately address the challenges on the African continent and are not in Europe’s strategic interest. Instead, what in fact needs to happen is for the EU to anticipate the developments on the African continent and recognise just how urgent it is to change course. Whether or not the German (and Portuguese) EU Council Presidency along with the other Member States and the EU Commission will be able to give this discussion the requisite impetus will only become clear in the coming months leading up to the EU-Africa Summit. Download full paper below.