ETTG-UNDP Agenda Setting Event on Africa-EU relations

ETTG-UNDP Agenda Setting Event on Africa-EU relations Addis Ababa, 9-10 March 2020

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On 9-10 March, ETTG and UNDP Africa organised an Agenda setting workshop in Addis Ababa, aimed at discussing issues that would need further analysis and reflections in the run up to the African Union- European Union (AU-EU) Summit, slated for October  2020 in Brussels. This event coincided with the launch of the EU Communication towards a Comprehensive Strategy with Africa. More importantly, it was held a few days before the global outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic crisis, which has led to unprecedented disruptions and whose global socio-economic and political implications will be significant. Inevitably COVID-19 will also have a major impact on the Africa-Europe partnership, although it is too early to anticipate all possible implications. 

The workshop in Addis benefitted from the presence of a group of some 30 participants, with balanced representation from both Africa and Europe. The second part of the event on 10th March was dedicated to the dialogue with institutional actors from the AU, EU member states, and the EU Delegation to the AU.

Participants focused their interventions on areas of possible convergence and divergence between Europe and Africa in 4 key domains of the partnership:

  1. Sustainable Economic Transformation, Trade and Inclusive Growth
  2. Climate Change, Environment, Energy, and Natural Resources Management
  3. Migration and Mobility
  4. Governance, Peace, and Security

In the opening session participants analysed the relations between Africa and the EU at the start of a new decade. The ambition of any future partnership should be to break with the unidirectional donor-recipient relationship of the past by ensuring a more collaborative approach to decision-making. For the time being, there is still a similar type of process as with previous strategies:  the EU first puts its vision on the partnership with Africa on the table which then becomes a “joint” strategy. There was a strong desire to break with this recurrent pattern with reactive instead of proactive African inputs in these joint strategy processes. It was suggested that the EU institutions should be more subtle and refrain from taking an overly dominant role in the agenda setting while the African institutions could be more proactive in formulating their vision on the partnership with Europe. The formulation of an African strategy with Europe would be particularly helpful in clarifying African expectations and agendas vis-a-vis the EU. 

1. Sustainable Economic Transformation, Trade and Inclusive Growth

Africa and Europe share strong common interests in stepping up investments in Africa in infrastructure, energy, agriculture and industry, creating decent jobs and promoting continent to continent mutually beneficial trade. But both continents might pursue different routes to realise these ambitions. Besides, there are significant variations in bilateral relationships and agreements between countries and among stakeholders, on both sides, on how best to achieve mutually beneficial investments. Finding common grounds on how to achieve these objectives is the real challenge. 

The following agenda items for further analysis and debate were identified: 

  • The economic transformation agenda is now strongly dominated by a narrative on foreign direct investments in extractive industries, infrastructure and services. A future partnership should put more emphasis on strengthening a sustainable and people centred domestic economic model with local value chains and the promotion of small and medium enterprises that are able to generate qualitative jobs and inclusive growth, particularly in the agricultural sector. 
  • Knowledge and technology transfer from Europe to Africa and investments in human capital and skilled workers are essential to ensure that “Africa produces what it consumes”.
  • More attention should be given in the partnership to stepping up efforts aimed at tackling illicit financial flows and retaining capital within Africa. 
  • In the area of trade, more efforts need to be made to build coherence between the intra-African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and the external trade agreements between the EU and African countries and regions, such as the EPAs and the EU FTAs with North Africa. This raises several questions: 
    • Is there a direct trade policy impact of the AfCFTA on the trade agreements with the EU? 
    • Are there any indirect effects such as potential synergies between the trade implementation efforts of the EPAs, RECs integration processes and the AfCFTA? 
    • How could efforts towards enhancing productive capacity and value chains development in the AfCFTA and EPAs reinforce one another? 
    • How to avoid that limited trade capacity being stretched between efforts towards the implementation of the AfCFTA and the EPAs?
    • What possible tensions or opportunities could arise in the longer term if the AfCFTA became the basis for a continent-to-continent FTA between the AU and the EU, encompassing or superseding the existing EPAs and other FTAs between the EU and North African countries?
  • Further analysis and reflection is needed to identify specific instruments and measures that can be used to strengthen Africa-EU trade relations while being coherent with and supportive of Africa’s continental intra-trade, economic integration, and sustainable development objectives.


2. Climate Change, Environment, Energy and Natural Resource Management

The climate and environment agenda poses major challenges for both Africa and Europe. Both continents have mutual interests in tackling climate change., Yet, the pathways and timing for transition to low carbon economies are quite different between Europe and Africa. The ambitious EU “Green Deal” might be perceived by Africa as something “imposed” by the EU that could put up further non-tariff barriers and other types of rules and conditionalities for Africa.

The following agenda items for further analysis and debate were identified: 

  • Obtaining a better understanding of how Africa could deal concurrently, with the huge challenges of promoting sustained economic growth and pro-poor development for a rapidly expanding population, while also ensuring a smooth transition to low carbon economies and green industrialization. 
  • In order to better cope with these inherent complexities, Africa could design its own “Green Deal” strategy that sets out a clear vision on the direction the continent would like to take on this comprehensive and ambitious climate agenda. 
  • The EU and its member states should show a stronger engagement in financial terms in supporting Africa’s challenges relating to climate change. This will be particularly difficult at a moment that EU budgets (MFF), development and climate funding could severely be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic 
  • More efforts should be made to involve and or to coordinate better with China in dealing with the climate change challenges in Africa.  EU-AU-China dialogue, possibly also at the level of heads of states should be considered 


  1. Migration and Mobility

Migration and mobility are amongst the most sensitive issues in the Africa-EU Partnership. African and EU interests and agendas often diverge. The EU tends to put an emphasis on the securitisation of migration, strengthening border controls, and on the return and readmission of (economic/irregular) migrants. African agendas tend to prioritise legal pathways, labour mobility into the EU, such as through visa liberalisation. It is difficult to reconcile these agendas.  The spirit of partnership and mutual or reciprocal approaches is not always respected with sometimes unilateral conditionalities imposed by the EU on Africa. 

The following agenda items for further analysis and debate were identified: 

  • Find immediate solutions to the current deadlock on migration that currently leaves African refugees in more vulnerable conditions, stranded or dead in attempting to get into Europe while a number of those who get to Europe often live in squalid conditions with minimal access to legal and social integration. 
  • Adopt a more positive narrative by highlighting the developmental aspects and win-wins of migration both for Europe (ageing population) and for Africa including circular migration, remittances, greater freedom of movement back and forth for skilled labour, Erasmus + etc.
  • It would equally be important for both African and European countries to include more development and political considerations in addressing the challenges of implementing return and reintegration measures: 
    • How could such measures contribute to promoting development? 
    • How to deal with the potential threats that this could pose to nascent democracies? 
    • How can both parties find practical solutions to avoid jeopardising political stability of fragile countries?
  • Investing in skills partnerships will be needed in order to meet domestic labour needs in countries of origin and destination countries. This could potentially be important for workers in the healthcare sector, which in the light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, has revealed the shortage of workers in the healthcare sector in certain European countries and in Africa the need for robust, equipped, and staffed healthcare facilities.
  • The facilitation of intra-African migration and mobility could be given more attention and here the EU could potentially share its knowledge about cross-border free movement of people.


  1. Governance, Peace, and Security

The more political agendas between the AU and the EU have always been quite sensitive issues in the partnership. There is quite a strong common agenda and good cooperation between the EU and the AU on peace and security, although the AU still largely depends on voluntary contributions from the EU to finance African peace operations. 

On the “values” and governance agendas there seems to be a “normative fatigue” amongst African leaders including major frustrations over unilateral conditionalities, inconsistencies and double standards, particularly in a context where the EU itself is confronted with governance issues in some of its member states.

The following agenda items for further analysis and debate were identified: 

On peace and security

  • Put (pan) African efforts to address peace and security issues on the continent central through the adaptation of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA). African leaders have taken on the responsibility to deal with peace and security on the continent and the structures that have been shaped within a relatively short time span should be given more support in Africa and by the EU
  • Develop ways to better align EU support to African initiatives, avoiding unilateral European approaches on the African continent sometimes with major consequences in certain African countries. Example of the Sahel was cited as a region that has continued to experienced several international, regional and national security-led interventions that are not necessarily properly coordinated.
  • Avoid engaging with institutions and frameworks which have not been part of this African institutional growth process (e.g. ACP Group and post-Cotonou negotiations). Addressing the next generation of peace and security challenges on the continent will first and foremost require a deepening of the AU-EU partnership while involving more intensively the RECs, non-state actors, the UN, and others.

On governance

  • Do not skip governance from the Africa-EU agenda. It is more relevant than ever as it transcends all sectors and thematic areas of work in the partnership. But the challenge will be to deal with this in a different way by: 
    • ensuring reciprocity and avoiding unilateral conditionalities; 
    • making investments to better understand and come to grips with local political economy contexts;
    • aligning governance support strategies with endogenous processes;
  • Find ways of engaging with central governments on governance on the basis of political incentives beyond aid, including important domestic concerns such as trade and mobility 
  • Facilitate interaction and support mechanisms to a mix of possible “change-makers” in local governments, private sector, civil society in both continents
  • Focus on concrete and specific governance related issues instead of developing costly comprehensive master plans with a limited rate of return

Provide support to African governance initiatives that in the longer-term will be more effective in strengthening domestic accountability instead of donor accountability.


Author: Vera Mazzara, ETTG Coordinator

Photo credits: UNDP Africa

The views are those of the author and not necessarily those of ETTG.




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