NewsNorth AfricaEU-Africa Summit: All roads lead to Brussels


Posted on Wednesday, 02 April 2014 12:47

EU-Africa Summit: All roads lead to Brussels

Europe remains a goal for thousands of migrants ready to risk their lives to leave Africa. Photo©Juan Medina/ReutersThe topics of trade, aid and security are all on the table at the EU-Africa summit on 2-3 April. African negotiators worry about tariff protection, migration issues and financing peace-keeping missions.


European policy-makersmay have woken up to how fast Africa is changing, but they are far from devising a coherent strategy for the continent.

That, at least, is the impression that emerged from the preparations for the grand European Union (EU)-Africa summit in Brussels on 2-3 April.

You cannot live on the old perceptions of proximity, trade, aid and donor dependence. The relationship needs to be changed

Certainly, power relations between the two continents have changed dramatically since the first EU-Africa summit in 2000 in Cairo.

Africa's economies have gone through almost a decade and a half of growth averaging more than 5%.

Europe's economies, on the other hand, have been in recession for the past six years, with some governments teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.

That has made Europe more self- absorbed, paying little attention to the geographical and historical logic of its relations with Africa.

Others have, in part, taken over the European role. China became Africa's single largest trading partner in 2009, and bilateral commerce was more than $200bn in 2013.

Africa's growing economic importance and geopolitical options are changing its relations with Europe.

The burghers of Brussels can no longer expect their policy diktats on human rights and corruption to be taken seriously, not least because of Europe's own ambiguities on such matters.

The recent fuss over guest lists and sanctions muted this.

Whether Brussels would invite Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe had dominated previous summits in Lisbon in 2007 and Tripoli in 2010.

This time the African Union (AU) elected Mugabe as its deputy chairman and made it clear it would boycott the summit if he did not attend.

Game, set and match to the nonagenarian of Harare: he will be in Brussels, lapping it up.

There will be some other Euro-agonising over the International Criminal Court (ICC), which is based just up the road from the summit, in The Hague.

That will be too close for comfort for Sudan's ICC-indicted President Omar al-Bashir, who will not attend the summit.

But Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta, who is confident that the ICC case against him is about to fall apart, is a probable on the Brussels delegate list.

who's in, who's out

Democracy Brussels-style puzzles out- siders.

Kenyatta will be courted, but so will Egypt's General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, should he choose to turn up.

The Al-Sisi coup last year was all about saving democracy, say the Eurocrats.

The AU differs in opinion and has suspended Egypt's membership, at least until this year's elections, which are likely to produce an Al-Sisi victory.

After that, Egypt's AU membership presumably will be unfrozen.

That is rather like the case of Mauritania's President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who launched a coup, then legitimised himself through elections and is now chairman of the AU, and naturally a valued partner of the EU.

Another awkwardness will be the presence of President Yoweri Museveni, who is under fire for signing Uganda's anti-gay laws.

Whatever Brussels thinks about that, Museveni – with troops in Somalia, South Sudan and intermittently in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – is critical for regional security.

That is why Brussels made a special effort to secure his attendance.

More widely, Europe will have to deal with a more assertive Africa.

On issues such as climate change and the post- 2015 policy agenda for the Millennium Development Goals, the AU is setting out a distinct and more joined-up agenda.

Its Agenda 2063, a blueprint for economic development over 50 years, makes the region's long-term priorities clear.

The AU is trying to become more financially self-sufficient and less reliant on aid donors, especially Western ones with conditionalities.

"Partners should understand where Africa is going," says Olusegun Akinsanya, regional director of the Institute for Security Studies in Addis Ababa.

"You cannot live on the old perceptions of proximity, trade, aid and donor dependence. The relationship needs to be changed."

The summit has been shaped to recognise this, according to Nicholas Westcott, managing director for Africa at the European External Action Service in Brussels.

"Its theme is investing in people, prosperity and peace," he says.

Westcott, a former British high commissioner to Accra, emphasises the diplomatic and business networking that will precede nitty-gritty discussions on peacekeeping and United Nations operations.

Like France's Africa summit in December 2013, there is a clear attempt to separate matters such as climate change and commercial opportunities in Africa from the old agenda of conflict and migration.

Surprisingly, trade relations could see a new start in Brussels.

After 12 years of tortuous negotiations, the EU and the Economic Community of West African States reached a provisional deal on an Economic Partnership Agreement in Yamoussoukro at the end of February at a meeting attended by Senegal's President Macky Sall and the EU's trade commissioner Karel De Gucht.

The deal still includes differential tariffs for CFA currency zone countries and their Anglophone counterparts, but there is some commercial logic to them.

That is why Nigerian businessman Aliko Dangote, who ran into difficulties opening a cement plant in Senegal, gave his weighty backing to the negotiations in the last phase.

trade liberalisation

Experts such as Fatou Cissé, a researcher at the Consortium pour la Recherche Economique et Sociale in Senegal, warn of damage to the region's economies from rapid trade liberalisation with the EU.

The deal rules out generous tariff protection for Africa's infant industries but leaves EU farm subsidies in place.

The Brussels summit will offer other African regions a chance to push through their trade negotiations with the EU before the deadline of 1 October.

African and European businesses want to know about the European Commission trade department's plans for conflict minerals.

The voluntary rules approach announced by the EU's De Gucht on 4 March suggest that Brussels will not adopt policies such as the Dodd-Frank law of the United States, which enables companies that are implicated in the buying of conflict minerals to be prosecuted.

Instead, errant companies would be 'encouraged' to stop buying from warlords.

That will be welcomed by Congolese officials who say the US laws have hurt the mining industry.

Euro-politics will loom large over the summit, especially on migration policy.

This year is the end of the current European Commission's mandate.

And separately in May, there will be elections for the European Parliament, where far- right parties are expected to do well by exploiting fears on migration and jobs.

The death of more than 360 Eritreans and Somalians in October 2013, when their boat capsized off the coast of Lampedusa, brought migration into sharp focus for both Europe and Africa.

"Migration has to be handled in a way that will minimise these tragedies," says Jean-Baptiste Natama, chief of staff to the chairperson of the AU.

"The mobility between our two regions is an issue that we have to discuss, especially in line with the respect for human rights."

The summit will issue a joint declaration on migration and mobility.

A draft, seen by The Africa Report, highlights "the importance of better organising legal migration, fostering well-managed mobility as well as encouraging policies to facilitate intra- and inter-regional labour mobility."

It will also issue an action plan for the period of 2014 to 2017 focusing on five key areas including legal and 'irregular' migration and human trafficking.

As well as looking at ways of preventing illegal migration – strengthening border management and return and readmission procedures – it will also consider how to reduce the cost of remittances and strengthen policy frameworks for diaspora engagement.

migration and development

Gary Quince, EU special representative to the AU, says that discussions will not just focus on illegal migration but will emphasise the contribution of migration to development.

Natama says that the AU is keen that the summit examines ways to reduce the need for people to leave their home countries in search of better living conditions.

"We need to really make sure that our partnership delivers economic growth and delivers employment, safety and security for people.

So instead of focusing on migration, we should focus on initiatives in line with human security and human development [and] create conditions that will cut down illegal migration," Natama insists.

Finally, the EU role in providing and financing peacekeepers in Africa's flash-points – Mali, Central African Republic, Somalia, DRC and South Sudan – will consume the latter part of the summit.

Policy discussions will focus on ways to protect civilians and stop instability undermining economic growth.

Akinsanya says the summit should consider how to deal with wider threats like drug smuggling, human trafficking and maritime security.

Natama agrees that these issues should be incorporated into the partnership.

"Beyond the conflict situation we have some other challenges like the fundamentalist groups [...] the issue of terrorism but also the issue of security in the Gulf of Guinea and in the Indian Ocean, which is really affecting economic activities and people's safety," he says. ●

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