The sixth European Union - African Union (EU-AU) summit in Brussels finished on Friday with a statement on a joint vision on cooperation for 2030 while omitting controversial political issues such as security cooperation, military coups in Africa and the on-going civil war in Ethiopia.
The summit was co-chaired by Charles Michel, President of the European Council and Macky Sall, President of the Republic of Senegal and Chairperson of the African Union.
The previous summit was held on November 2017 in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the sixth summit, scheduled for November 2020, has been postponed until now.
At a press briefing on Wednesday, a senior EU official who was involved in the planning of the summit, underlined the strategic importance of the meeting, especially in view of the common challenges facing both Unions with regard to the Corona virus crisis and the access to vaccines, the prevention of illegal migration and the need to stimulate economic development in Africa.
The summit was held in a different format than the previous ones with seven roundtables, together with a selected group of external experts, and chaired by four co-chairs, two from each Union.
The following topics were debated in the roundtables: growth financing, health systems and vaccine production, agriculture and sustainable development, education, culture and vocational training, migration and mobility, private sector support and economic integration, peace, security and governance, climate change and energy transition, digital and transport (connectivity and infrastructure).
These issues are also reflected in the joint statement. The two Unions agreed that the aim of their Joint Vision is to “consolidate a renewed Partnership for solidarity, security, peace and sustainable and sustained economic development and prosperity for our citizens and for our future generations, bringing together our people, regions and organisations.”
The renewed Partnership will be founded on geography, acknowledgment of history, human ties, respect for sovereignty, mutual respect and accountability, shared values, equality between partners and reciprocal commitments.
On vaccines, the EU reaffirmed its commitment to provide at least 450 million of vaccine doses to Africa by mid-2022. EU will also mobilise €425 million to ramp up the pace of vaccination and support the efficient distribution of doses and the training of medical teams and the capacity of analysis and sequencing.
While EU promises to support “full-fledged African health sovereignty, in order for the continent to respond to future public health emergencies,” it is still reluctant to fully waive patent rights to vaccines. Possibly EU will support compulsory licensing of patents instead. Intellectual property related aspects will need to be discussed with WTO on its comprehensive response to the pandemic.
The joint statement talks about “a common agenda for manufacturing vaccines, medicines, diagnostics, therapeutics and health products in Africa, including investment in production capacities, voluntary technology transfers as well as strengthening of the regulatory framework to enable equitable access to vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics.”
As of January 26, only 11 percent of Africa’s more than one billion people had been fully vaccinated, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. As previously reported, just 8% of the EU’s vaccine exports in 2022 have been to Africa and 55 million vaccines might have to be discarded by the EU member states because they have exceeded their expiry dates.
The statement is dominated by economic issues and the EU announcement about an AfricaEurope Investment Package of at least €150 billion that will support a common ambition for 2030 and the AU Agenda 2063, composed of an Investment, a Health and an Education Package.
“Now is the time to turn our shared vision into reality. It is the time to become operational,” said Commission President von der Leyen in her concluding speech at the summit. “On Europe’s side, Global Gateway responds to this. Never before has Europe had a global investment strategy, and never before have we put on the table such a sizeable and ambitious package with Africa.”
“We will work together as of tomorrow to develop strategic projects with transformative impact. I have proposed that we prioritise our action in the following: in infrastructure, with a focus on energy, digital and transport interconnection.”
According to the Commission President, these investments will go a long way to contribute to the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement.
EU also supports a Framework for Debt Treatments in the form of Special Drawing Rights, an international type of monetary reserve currency created by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The aim is to achieve the total global ambition of at least USD 100 billion liquidity support to countries most in need, of which a major part should benefit Africa. The money pledged so far by EU member states falls short of the expectations of the AU members and will not solve their need for debt relief and reconstruction to recover from COVID-19.
A minor positive point in the statement is the issue of restitution of art objects and archaeological artifacts that were stolen from Africa by European colonial powers. Some EU member states have already committed to return some of them to Africa. The statement encourages “mutual undertaking for the restitution of cultural assets and promote access to and protection of cultural heritage”.
“We all know that only what gets measured, gets done,” von der Leyen said. She promised to put in motion a monitoring mechanism, “so that we can all follow up on the implementation of the Global Gateway African investment package and other commitments we have taken at the Summit.”
Security cooperation in Africa
The African Union met also in beginning of February in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia, despite the on-going civil war in the country. Neither EU nor AU have managed until now to mediate a ceasefire and political solution to the conflict.
The AU consists of 55 member states but only about 40 of them participated in the Brussels summit or sent their heads of state to the summit. During the years, some of its member states have suspended from participating int the AU because of military coups. Only since mid-2021, four member states were suspended (Mali, Guinea, Sudan, and Burkina Faso).
In particular Sahel, the region south of Sahara, which consists to former French colonies, faces political, economic and environmental challenges. UN and EU with France in the lead have sent troops to fight terrorist groups and increase the capacity of local security forces.
On Thursday, just before the start of the summit, President Macron announced that the French and European troops will withdraw from Mali. The joint statement included a section on "A renewed and enhanced cooperation for peace and security" without mentioning this.
Referring to growing common security challenges, the two Unions committed to “combat instability, radicalisation, violent extremism and terrorism, tackling the root causes of conflicts, and addressing the entire conflict cycle through the integrated approach”. Their security cooperation will be underpinned by actions to achieve durable peace in Africa and promote compliance with human rights.
“This is typical ‘summit diplomacy language’, which often is about making grand statements, maintaining relationships and reinforcing narratives,” Dr Nina Wilén, Director of the Africa Programme at the Egmont Institute for International Relations in Brussels and a Swedish expert on conflict resolution, told The Brussels Times.
It says very little about what actually will happen in practice. “It’s for example not at all surprising that there is no reference to the current diplomatic tensions between France and Mali in this section, given that the aim of the summit is to reinforce collaboration more generally and not focus on specific cases.”
France has been the most visible European actor in Mali and in the Sahel at large, she added, through first the Serval operation followed by Barkhane and now Takuba.
“This is again not surprising, given the fact that France has been the only EU member state willing and able to intervene and maintain its presence during such a long time, a presence which has been both financially very costly, but also in terms of sacrifices, given that over 50 French soldiers have lost their lives during these operations.”
The fact that only a few European states have been willing to contribute a limited number of troops during shorter time periods to the French-led Taskforce Takuba is further evidence of this.
“In practice it seems likely that the EU is shifting to put pragmatism over principle, and cautiously move away from its more normative role as a democracy promoter to more pragmatic partnerships, enabled for example through the new EU mechanism: European Peace Facility. This way, the EU doesn’t have to go through more cumbersome mechanisms, but can engage more flexibly through bilateral accords with individual African states.”
The Brussels Times