EU-AU Summit: A much-delayed occasion to revive cooperation between the two continents

The long-delayed 6th summit between the African Union (AU) and the European Union concluded with a statement on a joint vision for "a renewed Partnership for solidarity, security, peace and sustainable and sustained economic development and prosperity for our citizens and for our future generations”. Here is IEEP's take on the main issues addressed.

From vaccines to food security and touching on trade, the summit represented a good opportunity for African and European leaders to look at how to achieve a balanced partnership for sustainable development between the two continents. 

Vaccine capacities and TRIPS waiver

The Joint Statement recognises that “the immediate challenge is to ensure a fair and equitable access to vaccines” with the EU confirming their commitment to provide at least 450 million vaccine doses to African countries by mid-2022 and mobilise 425 million euros to support the vaccination programme in the continent. This is a positive comprehensive approach built on Africa’s own initiatives and institutions, which could become an example for other initiatives such as the African continental free trade area.

However, the main disagreement remained on the EU’s refusal to support the primary African demand on vaccinations: a temporarily waiver on WTO intellectual property law to enable the production of generic vaccine doses on the continent (also known as the TRIPS waiver). The EU merely reiterated their commitment to “engage constructively towards an agreement on a comprehensive WTO response to the pandemic, which includes (…) intellectual property-related aspects” and confirmed their support for vaccine manufacturing in Africa through “investment in production capacities” (of existing, patented vaccines) or “voluntary technology transfers”. The issue remains therefore extremely contentious.

Economic response to the pandemic and IMF Special Drawing Rights

Strong financial support is required for African economies to recover from the pandemic; this includes supporting African countries in their debt repayments as it represents on average four times the amount they spend on public services.

The EU and AU discussed the reassignment of parts of the recently allocated International Monetary Funds (IMF) Special Drawing Rights (SDR) - a supplementary foreign exchange reserve - in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The IMF issued 170 billion USD in SDRs to European countries against only 21 billion to low-income countries, most of which are in Africa. The joint Statement thus reiterates the commitment made by G20 countries in October 2021 to reallocate 100 billion US dollars in SDRs to vulnerable countries whose economies have been hard hit by the COVID-19 crisis, adding that “a major part should benefit Africa”. The statement welcomes the global pledge of USD 55 billion already made in that regard, including 13 billion from EU Member States, but some countries (including France) are advocating for additional reallocation.

This (far from achieved) pledge of 100 billion USD seems nonetheless to fall short as, by the IMF own calculations, 285 billion US dollars are needed to respond to the health crisis on the African continent.

EU-Africa investments

The European Commission promised that 150 billion euros would be made available for investments in Africa as part of its recently launched Global Gateway programme. This was deemed a key milestone of the summit as it followed the EU internal agreement on its multi-annual budget for the 2021-2027 period. However, the priorities outlined reflects almost exclusively European priorities in the context of global competition with the belt and road initiative from China. A balanced partnership can thereby be questioned. Furthermore, the EU committed to mobilising these funds in public and private investments over seven years, but it remains still unclear how this money will be put together and notably, what the ratio between grants, loans, and private capital would be. This is a key issue to be adressed as soon as possible.

Food system and food security

Although the issue is mentioned early in the joint statement , concerns for food system instability and environmental degradation and the connection to trade and agricultural policy did not make it to the centre stage of the meeting. This is disappointing as many civil society actors (including IEEP and TMG) took up the topics in the lead up to the summit as it remains a crucial matter for EU-Africa relations.

The March 2020 Communication from the EC on the priorities for the technical cooperation between the EU and African states claims to prioritise food security by supporting sustainable and resilient agriculture in Africa. The communication furthermore identifies digital transformation as a key enabler of such an objective and proposes intensive cooperation between the two partners in this area. These commitments were reaffirmed at the last EU-AU foreign affairs Ministerial Meeting in October 2021.

It is therefore disappointing to see these issues skipped from the final joint statement of the summit. Digital services in the agricultural sector can bring changes for farmers and consumers alike, and work towards resilience and food security providing that the integration and awareness of unequal access to digital services across the continent are taken into account when designing steps towards digitalisation in Africa. We hope that efforts in these sectors will continue in the future.

Trade and Regional value chains

The EU and AU pledged to support African regional and continental economic integration, notably the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). It remains to be seen, however, the extent to which the EU will depart from their regional approach when it comes to trade agreements with Africa. The EU long championed the negotiations of Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) to replace the historically heavy Cotonou agreement with more modern, “WTO Compatible”, free trade agreements with African regions.

These open questions were not abated by the EU announcement during the summit to advance negotiations with Kenya on an interim Economic Partnership Agreement (iEPA). However, it also reflects the will of some African countries to move ahead with strengthening their trade relations with the EU and thereby bypass the current blockades at the regional level. Indeed, after nearly two decades of negotiations, only 9 trade agreements between the EU and 17 African countries are in application (see table below) while another 21 countries have concluded regional EPA negotiations but are awaiting implementation.

 

Countries Agreement Status

Cameroon (Central Africa)

Interim EPA Provisionally applied since 2014
Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius,
Seychelles, Zimbabwe 

Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA)

Provisionally applied since 2012

Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho,
Mozambique, Namibia

Southern African Development
Community (SADC) EPA
Provisionally applied since 2016

Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana

Individual Steppingstone EPAs Provisionally applied since 2016

Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia

Individual Association Agreements In force since 2000s

South Africa

EPA Provisionally applied since 2016

Source: DG Trade

This also highlights the challenges ahead to steer trade relations between the two continents beyond commodities. A renewed EU-AU partnership should aim to expand African regional value chains, notably through the AfCFTA, to further support economic diversification.

Conclusions

The EU-AU Summit can be considered a diplomatic success, especially considering the announcement of the 150 billion euros Global Gateway Africa – Europe Investment Package. Nevertheless, the meetings failed to fundamentally shift the relationship between the two continents beyond financial commitments on cooperation for development aligned to EU priorities. Eventually, the encounter between European and African leaders added little in terms of substance to what was envisaged by the EU while a proper partnership must include African visions in the discussion, building on its wealth of experience and opportunities.

Photo by Wynand Uys on Unsplash