Put together the European Commission, European Parliament, African Embassies, the Overseas Development Institute and the European Council on Refugees and Exiles and you will get a very animated debate – like the one European Think Tanks Group organised in Brussels on the 31st of October.
Our idea stemmed from the desire to discuss, together with African and European policy makers, the ETTG Agenda for Europe in the World, a non-pretentious Agenda for the EU’s foreign and development policy in the coming years. The Agenda is the result of the collective work of leading European think tanks that decided to group their efforts in collective action so as to have more impact.
The discussion was structured around two main axes: Europe and Africa in the global world and in the multilateral system and possible new strategic approaches to strengthen the Europe-Africa Partnership.
The panel gathered representatives of the European Commission (the DEVCO Director for Africa Sandra Kramer), the European Parliament (MEP Charles Goerens), Research Institute/an ETTG member (ODI Director Marta Foresti), an African Ambassador (HE Grum Abay) and civil society (Director of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, Catherine Wollard).
We started by asking one simple – but not straightforward – question: will the new geopolitical Commission make a difference? And will it be able to make the EU a credible global actor?
The panellists elaborated different positions rotating around the new EU leadership and its big ambition of building a comprehensive strategy with Africa on the basis of a partnership of equals. However, it was noted that both Europe and Africa still need to take many hurdles to realise the grand ambitions. In the course of the discussion several contradictions were highlighted: for instance the actions proposed in the mission letters – sent by Ursula Von der Leyen to the Commissioners designated – do not solve the longstanding problems of fragmentation between the Post Cotonou agreement (the “nostalgia” of the past) and the need to elaborate a stronger continent-to-continent partnership; the incoherence and double standards in dealing with governance issues; the perception that the EU pushes its own agendas (e.g. migration) while not being prepared to make concessions on issues that matter to Africa (e.g. mobility). In relation to Africa, the EU is confronted with a partner that is also not speaking with a single voice when it comes to dialogue with the EU.
From the discussion it emerged that the EU could and should do more to sharpen its attractiveness and real value added vis-à-vis Africa.
From a European perspective, the discussion also verted on what needs to change to make the EU a stronger and more credible global player and to reduce the gap between aspirations and actions.
It was interesting to note that all the panellists agreed that the UN Agenda 2030 should shape the EU Agenda and, when it comes to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Europe can be considered a “developing continent” given, for instance, the persistence of inequality.
Amongst the recommendations emerged from the discussion it should be kept in mind that both Europe and Africa are advised to engage in promoting a different narrative about Africa: by highlighting the bright side of the continent. EU member states should work more closely together rather than promoting individual agendas and therefore move beyond fragmentation. When looking at Africa it appears that a lot is happening on the ground – in terms of innovation and new dynamics (particularly at the level of the younger generations) however, there are also worrying trends in terms of the role of the central government in several African countries.
The issue of the EU visibility in Africa was also tackled and a possible solution identified was the need to work more closely with African think tanks (especially now – ahead of the EU-AU Summit 2020) in order to include EU issues in their coverage. These kinds of actions could give a boost to a partnership aimed at becoming truly strategic and egalitarian.
The ETTG event gathered over 80 participants and was followed by a similar debate in Rome (where we also discussed the future of EU development finance architecture). We are aiming at presenting the ETTG Agenda for Europe in world in various EU Capitals, stay tuned!
Author: Vera Mazzara, ETTG Coordinator