Designing the Partnership with Africa
May 6, 2020
Key Element for a Partnership

A real EU-Africa Partnership requires a game changer

During final meeting on 12-13 June 2019 in Brussels, the tripartite, independent High Level Group on Innovation in Trade Policy, with support of AECIT (in particular prof. Davide Castellani and undersigned), followed up on the announcement of yet another new start in the EU-Africa relations by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker during his annual address to the European Parliament in September 2018. The meeting highlighted that an overall game changer in the relationship with Africa is needed in order to make a real difference.

An equal Partnership with Africa should be one of the grand missions which the EU likes to set itself. It  implies that a coherent strategy is developed with a focus on cooperation with the AU and on the realization of the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA), the most promising own Africa initiative in years. The mission should include following components:

  • The realization of the SDGs, welfare systems and human rights for citizens;
  • A comprehensive economic cooperation on an equitable basis;
  • Support for the development of comprehensive inter-African infrastructure ;
  • Support of investments of EU companies in Africa;
  • Support for modernization of African public administration systems;
  • The significant reduction of non-tariff barriers (particularly in the agri-food sector);
  • Support for capacity building, education, and vocational and skills training;

As a start, there is an urgent need to reduce, harmonize and update a plethora of strategies, policies, action plans and road maps concerning Africa in the European External Action Service (EEAS) and the Commission, and to give them a coherent framework and clear priorities. It will be unavoidable also to amend existing agreements and to bring coherence and priorities into the EU-African relationship. ON the African side, there is an equally urgent need to strengthen the capacities of the AU Commission and to build synergies between the AfCTA and the existing regional market arrangements.

Actions on EU-side should include:

  • Making better use of the cognitive contributions that individuals with deep Africa experience can offer;
  • Shifting the focus from aid to investment and large capacity building in the public and private sector;
  • Offering expertise to the AU instead of seeking to impose the EU-model;
  • Ending Member States waste and agricultural surplus dumping in Africa;

The effectiveness of the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) is disputed. While some argue that they reflect the regional and cultural diversity of the African continent, the reality is that only one EPA has been ratified in Africa to date (the SADC).

It is therefore important that the Post-Cotonou negotiations result in an agreement that lifts Africa on track to realize the SDGs. Streamlining actions should include:

  • Taking the Continental Free Trade Area must as the cornerstone of the future EU-Africa relationship;
  • Pooling all EU funds for Africa into a coherent portfolio for investments;
  • Creating a special research fund with the purpose of mitigating the effects of climate change;
  • Stimulating intra African trade and the asymmetric liberalization of the African market.

A partnership cannot be based on a donor-recipient mentality. It must be based on a deeply shared understanding of mutual long-term interests and on clear priorities in the short and medium term. Following actions should therefore be a starting point:

  • Developing a new narrative and stimulating academic and civil society exchange.   
  • Supporting AU-owned efforts to improve public governance and administration and give priority attention to what the AU considers the most important matters;
  • Broadening the currently limited cooperation between EU and AU to efforts for an all-encompassing modernization drive;
  • Contributing to the CFTA and Africa’s integration in global trade by establishing semi-autonomous specialist trade councils.
  • Conducting independent impact assessments coupled with a foresight studies, involving both African and European experts.
  • Establish an advisory body comprising EU and national experts and independent experts including African ones to focus on investment and trade as the tool for realizing the SDGs.

Investments will come and trade links will grow if the right framework conditions are put in place. Therefore, close cooperation with the private sector needs to be fostered, because the cognitive gap between the public and private sector is an obstacle per se. Actions should include:

  • To help Africa develop innovation ecosystems to integrate the research-invention-innovation market chain;
  • To support the development of an African Research Area which allows for links with the European Research Area;
  • To facilitate research co-operations with companies.
  • Create independent seed and incubator capital funds with a European guarantee and African public and private money, but managed by private experts
  • Set up platforms gathering EU and African experts, businesses and governments to improve the capabilities of African food producers to meet high food security standards;
  • Ease access to loans for food and agriculture business in Africa;
  • Link European investment guarantees, incubator and scale-up capital mechanisms to systematic tax reforms.

Stefan Schepers

Director of African-European Centre for Investment and Trade