Almost five years after their last summit, the heads of state and government of the African and European Unions will reconvene on February 17 and 18 to collectively address a number of global challenges. Which subjects will they tackle, what results can be expected – and how is the Robert Bosch Stiftung involved in this significant event?
For over 20 years, governments from the African Union and the European Union have been holding regular discussions in order to establish a strategic partnership. Their aim is to work together on major issues such as peace, security, human rights, and trade for the mutual benefit of all sides, but lately, the talks at the highest political level have stalled.
Almost five years have passed since the last summit, held in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, in 2017. This is partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but that is not the only reason. The long interval is also because the two sides could not always agree on which topics they should focus on and how they should be framed.
At a summit planned for 2020, the heads of state of both continents wanted to enact a new partnership as well as negotiate a follow-up regulation to the Cotonou Agreement, which governs the EU’s economic relations with more than 70 former colonies in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific region.
The fact that the sixth EU-AU Summit is now due to take place in Brussels on February 17 and 18 is thanks in no small part to the involvement of France, which currently holds the EU Council Presidency and is set to co-chair the forthcoming summit with Senegal. French President Emmanuel Macron has set his sights on revitalizing the “somewhat weary” relationship between the two continents.
In March 2020, six months before the originally scheduled summit, the European Commission proposed five central partnerships for African-European cooperation in a communication entitled “Towards a Comprehensive Strategy with Africa”. They were: green transition and energy access; digital transformation; sustainable growth and jobs; peace, security, and good governance; and migration and mobility.
The subsequent outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic not only saw the summit being postponed, it also meant the mutual expectations and priorities had to be rearranged.
At the top of the agenda at this year’s gathering, certainly from the African point of view, is the production and distribution of COVID vaccines. The EU, for its part, is especially keen to reach an agreement with the African states around joint measures on climate protection. It hope to substantiate the African “Green Deal” proposed by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen last spring.
“Ideally, the EU-AU summit can build a foundation to think and talk about migration differently. Migration and mobility should be thought of as a key part and opportunity for cooperation on other key areas on the agenda, such as climate change, digital cooperation, or stability.”
While big issues like the consequences of the global pandemic are high on the agenda, other topics, such as cooperation on migration, remain much further down the list. Jessica Bither, Senior Expert Migration at the Robert Bosch Stiftung: “Ideally, the EU-AU summit can build a foundation to think and talk about migration differently. Migration and mobility should be thought of as a key part and opportunity for cooperation on other key areas on the agenda, such as climate change, digital cooperation, or stability.” It is essential here not to think and act from a purely European perspective, and yet the EU is urging African countries to secure their borders better in order to prevent illegal migrants from reaching Europe.
As such, Europe is providing money and equipment to Africa, but the objective must be to jointly and constructively develop approaches to a more humane migration. This should also take into account the fact that people are not only migrating to Europe; migration within Africa is at least as significant, often related as it is to the effects of climate change. At the end of 2018 there were close to 6.8 million refugees and 17.8 million internally displaced persons living on the African continent. In comparison, there were 2.6 million registered refugees in Europe, according to UNHCR.
The chances are that the summit will end with further measures being agreed for accelerating COVID-19 vaccination on the African continent. November 2021 saw the EU deliver 100 million vaccine doses, but this is nowhere near enough to tackle the pandemic successfully. Further investment is required, as are local production facilities.
There is also likely to be a tangible outcome on environmental protection, with expectations of an investment package being agreed for the Green Deal. All other topics are unlikely to see any major progress. Although the EU and AU are intending to develop and announce a shared vision for 2030, no one is expecting this to be anything other than vague.
The foundation works with African partners to support climate-resilient development and, through model projects, shows what more humane migration can look like. An important goal is to bring African perspectives more strongly into regional and global discourses and to develop solutions together with various actors - from scientists to mayors to civil society organizations. With some of these forward-looking projects and initiatives, the Foundation will be present throughout the EU-AU Summit.
One example is the Africa-Europe Mayors’ Dialogue, a project that since 2020 has seen mayors from European and African cities joining forces to implement innovative and pragmatic approaches to migration in their cities and advocating for a more equitable partnership. A number of them will pass on their experiences at the summit to governments of both continents. They outlined four key demands: public and private financing for a green and equitable economic recovery, equitable vaccine distribution, safe and legal pathways for migration, and the inclusion of mayors at all future summits.
Another initiative supported by the Foundation that will feature at the summit is the Knowledge Platform for Migration Governance in Africa, a network of African migration experts who have compiled a position paper with key ideas in advance of the summit.
”Africa and Europe need to find common solutions to global challenges, from pandemics and climate change to migration; new forms of cross-border cooperation are needed – and fast”
”We hope that the EU-AU Summit will promote more civil society-centered partnerships across the two continents, to improve the governance of migration and human mobility from different perspectives in the foreseeable future.”
”There is the need for an AU-EU triple-win strategy that seeks to develop the African continent, while supplying Europe with skilled labour and equipping the African youth with technical and vocational skills.”
”Relations between the EU and the AU must be based on respect and honesty. The EU must accept migration as a normality. Migration has always been an essential part of European history. The same is true for Africa. Let us act accordingly by focusing on the human and universal right to mobility.”
”A partnership of equals cannot be achieved by states alone. We need the voices and actions of African and European innovators who can make a difference on the ground: mayors and local leaders, businesses, creatives and activists. This requires a step change in Africa Europe relations, beyond traditional diplomacy and development aid. Above all, we need to see Europe invest in Africa as its strategic neighbour if we are to achieve a green and just recovery for all.”