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NIAS Europe Monitor
Europe and Africa: An elusive search for an equal partnership

  Joeana Cera Matthews 

The EU-AU summit in February 2022 saw an effort to transcend the bilateral relationship to a partnership of equals from the colonial era donor-recipient trend.

On 17 February, Brussels hosted the sixth edition of the European Union- African Union (EU-AU) summit. The two-day conference had been delayed by 16 months due to the pandemic. It was attended by the heads of 27 EU member states and 55 AU states. They gathered to deliberate and chalk up solutions for the current crises and other matters of common concern in and around Africa. The conference also attempted to forge a partnership of equals evolving from the colonial era donor-recipient equation. 

A brief background: Who wants what?
Ahead of the conference, the AU’s Conflict Prevention and Early Warning Division Head Fred Ngoga Gateretse stated: “What you want from Africa, you should also expect Africa to want from you.” The summit’s agenda involved combining the Global Gateway Strategy with the EUR 1 trillion-worth European Green Deal. Along this line, the conference concluded by allocating EUR 150 billion Global Gateway Investment Package for Africa; it includes EU investment in three sectors - infrastructure, digitalization and telecommunications, and health. 

The conference agenda was focused on “A Joint Vision for 2030.” Issues discussed included migration, security situation, continuing conflicts, climate change, and the pandemic crisis. The request to waive the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) on the COVID-19 vaccines’ technology was another major discussion that concluded with a commitment from the EU to continue negotiating on “intellectual property-related aspects”.

The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen was strategic in presenting the EU as the best option for the AU and the African continent. She stated that “investing in infrastructure and the people” was the best and most sensible of investments as an allotment of EUR 150 billion for the next seven years was provided to the continent. 

In retrospect: What did the summit achieve?
First, climate action. Investing in the infrastructural development of the continent, the primary goal of the EU in this sector is to create a path that would enable the smooth transition to renewable energy. Given Africa’s potential for solar, wind, and hydropower energy creation, the EU’s help would be required to develop the African Free Trade Area - inevitably connecting energy, electricity, and transport. Von der Leyen added that the “Global gateway is here to invest in the talent of Africa,” ensuring that a digital transition is the need of the hour given the issue of accessibility to telecommunication services the continent’s youth face. Additionally, the bloc is considering extending this infrastructural development to transport corridors of roads, waterways, and airways.

Second, health beyond the pandemic. The infrastructural development of the health sector was a leap in preparing for events in advance. Looking beyond the pandemic, long-term measures are being opted for short-term ones, such as the provision of COVID-19 vaccines and its associated technology. Building on “the capacity of Africa,” von der Leyen expressed that the continent had a long way to go but was infinitely backed by the EU in this effort. However, Germany and the European Commission denied the request for sharing technologies after waiving the existing intellectual property rights. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa expressed his disappointment: “... governments that are really serious about ensuring that the world has access to vaccines should ensure that we approve the TRIPS [Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights] waiver as we've put forward.” Meanwhile, the mRNA technology used to build the COVID-19 vaccines is currently being used to develop vaccines against diseases that have plagued Africa, such as malaria and tuberculosis. 

Third, the EU's attempt to be Africa’s ‘chosen one’. The latest summit occurred post the realization that Europe and the EU are no longer the lone players in the field that is Africa. Multiple countries have been investing in the continent which they once monopolized. Although the US investments were welcomed, the EU is wary of the increasing Chinese investments. The summit witnessed a sincere effort by the EU to woo Africa for choosing the bloc as their “trusted partner”. Von der Leyen did not shy away from stating exactly this. Citing history she stated: “The European Union is the first trading partner and the first investor in Africa. And therefore, it is no coincidence that the first regional plan under our big investment strategy, Global Gateway, is the Africa-Europe plan.” Apart from China that met the African leaders via the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) framework, the EU is concerned about competition from Russia, Japan, Turkey, etc. 

The search for equal partnership: Will the AU and EU be equal partners?
Von der Leyen concluded her speech by quoting the African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. Let us embark on that journey together.” However, there lie several hurdles before one achieves this. The reality of the pandemic showcased the double standards in place. The “vaccine apartheid” ensured limited inoculation rates; while new variants rose worldwide, European countries prohibited travel only from Africa adversely affecting its economy. Free trade has destroyed the livelihoods of 54 per cent of Africa’s agriculture-relying workforce with imports. European imports are heavily subsidized compared to the local produce, implying no ground for competition. The European goods influx has caused the closure of farms and companies leading to widespread unemployment. The increased unemployment implies a search for jobs and leads to the next issue of migration. Although 80 per cent of movement occurs within the continent, the rest risk their lives travelling via land and sea to reach the EU. The EU’s efforts to limit this has only led to disappointment and multiple human rights violations.

Instead of fighting the effects, the EU should address the root causes. The Sahel region alone has witnessed four coups in 2021 indicating poor leadership, poverty and insecurity. Africa continues to be dependent on EU funds; the goal of an equal partnership will be realized only when this dependency is removed.

About the author
Joeana Cera Matthews is a postgraduate scholar from the Department of International Relations at the University of Mysore. She is currently a Visiting Research Scholar at the National Institute of Advanced Studies. 
 

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