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Building a New Partnership between Africa and the EU. Business as usual or a transforming agenda?

Public Conference at the EADI Directors’ Meeting in Vienna

The negotiations on a new agreement between the EU and the ACP-Countries (African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States) will start during the Austrian Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the second half of 2018. Considering the economic and geopolitical strategies of China in Africa on the one hand and the international consensus of implementing the Sustainable Development agenda on the other hand demands new political commitments and new strategies in the European relationship with Africa. This conference highlighted the importance of the African European relationship and offered space for discussions, information and facts about economic and political strategies from different perspectives.

Keynotes by
Yenkong Ngangjoh Hodu
, Professor in Law, University of Manchester
Adams Bodomo, Professor for African Studies, University of Vienna

Sylvia Meier-Kajbic
, Federal Ministry Republic of Austria, Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs
Paul Renier, Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development, European Commission
Henning Melber, President, European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes EADI
Iina Soiri, Director, Nordic Africa Institute

Werner Raza, Director of the Austrian Foundation for Development Research (ÖFSE) and host of the conference opened the evening pointing towards major changes facing the world and the Africa-EU relations today: the crisis of multilateralism, the erosion of the efficiency of the World Trade Organization, the erosion of the US hegemony and the renaissance of power-based geopolitics.

At the same time, the human rights-based approach of European foreign policy is increasingly at odds with the neo-mercantilist approach of its economic policy, ensuring market access and commodities for its industries. While there is a political consensus that the EU-Africa partnership should be reducing migration, there is a main controversy within the EU insofar as the far right wing combines cooperation with curbing migration while the liberal approach doesn’t.

The first keynote speaker Yenkong Ngangjoh Hodu presented an African perspective on the intercontinental relations through the lens of his broad expertise in trade and investment law, as well as in Africa-EU and Africa-China relations. He opened by stating that, regardless of the changing international landscape in which Africa´s response leans more towards the East and particularly China, it remains important for the EU to transparently implement European values in its relationships.

He continued explaining that the centre of gravity in the African external relations has shifted rapidly, given that China now accounts for two thirds of Africa's export. As for its import, the emerging economies of the South have become major suppliers to Africa. In 2018 India has almost passed the United States as third supplier of the continent. This increase in South-South cooperation is squeezing out the EU from the African market, which is also the case in the field of investment. At the same time, Africa is showing a higher growth prospect than any other country, continuous improvement in governance and growing middle classes as future consumers.

"Why is the EU as traditional partner in Africa losing the plot", Hodu asked, although Europeans present themselves as philanthropists? He continued saying that the Africa-EU relations are no win-win-partnership like that between Africa and BRICS countries. EU-Africa relations were long driven by aid mentality, portraying Africa as poverty-stricken continent, which is pushing African countries to look for alternative partners.

During the Lomé Convention that had guided the African-EU relation from 1979 to 2000, by 2000 the share of the EU market in Africa had roughly fallen to a half. The signing of the Cotonou agreement was a substantial shift in EU trade, development cooperation and political dialogue, representing European rather than African interests. Many African countries, he said, find that its in-built asymmetric relationship needs to be overhauled.

"Africa has been a graveyard of promises"

In September 2018 the European Commission has announced a new EU Africa alliance to boost private investment in Africa, contribute to sustainable development and provide 10 million jobs to keep people from migrating. Hodu acknowledged that "this is indeed a very ambitious plan which will undoubtedly change EU-Africa relations to a equal win-win partnership". He continued saying that the agreement, however, has to be judged by action, not by words, and the action "will be anything than a win-win relationship. We are yet to see whether this announcement by Mr. Juncker will have an impact. Africa has been a graveyard of promises"

How should a future EU-Africa relationship look like? he asked, pointing towards an emerging consensus in Africa on that a ground-breaking model of cooperation should be guided by the principles of peace, democracy and people-centred development. Such consensus should be continent-oriented as opposed to group-oriented, and built around trade, regional integration, peace and security.

As an example for the contestation in the relationship between both continents, he pointed towards the massive financial EU support for European farmers, which happens on the expense of African agriculture. The Adoption of the Agenda 2063 by the African Union in 2015, however, expresses a new Pan-Africanism which aims at a clear and transparent clarification of interests of both Africa and the EU. As examples for African interests he mentioned the importance of regional integration for development - especially in view of facilitating businesses from both sides to enter investment partnerships -, the support of regional value chains to advance the export of African manufactured goods, the elimination of trade barriers and the prevention of individual countries from signing bilateral trade agreements.

Adams Bodomo in his shorter keynote agreed on much what his previous speaker had said, particularly sharing his critique of the Cotonou Agreement and scepticism towards the new EU-Africa alliance. Critically reflecting on the African role, he raised the question of African agency, asking what African countries are actually doing to have a rule in the discussion about overhauling the Cotonou agreement. "Is Africa´s reaction simply being reactive?" he asked. And how do we concretely ensure that the guiding principles of trade and regional integration are being met?

As for the question about a European response to the increasing role of China in Africa, Bodomo suggested that the EU should move away from its current conditionalities and separate politics from investment instead. It should expedite trade and investment rather than development aid. While China has the advantage of having no colonial history with Africa and of applying a "five-no approach" (no interference in the development paths of individual countries; no interference in their internal affairs; no imposition of China's will; no attachment of political strings regarding assistance; and no seeking of selfish political gains in investment and financing cooperation), Europe has an advantage it has not taken care of so far: the role of the African Diaspora. Europeans of African descent could take the lead in Africa-EU relations, Bodomo suggested.

He concluded saying that Africa has been impoverished by the way investment has been managed and expressed the hope that Europe will renew itself in its relation to Africa, instead of continuing its business-as-usual approach which will keep up the old aid mentality.

The panel discussion following this introduction from an African perspective was more controversial, starting with Sylvia Meier-Kajbic who confirmed that the EU wants a partnership on an equal basis. She noted, however, that the European side is still waiting for the African definition of who is actually negotiating in which role. While the envisioned agreement will be one between the EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP countries), there is still an open discussion on the role of the African Union.

As for the European focus, she highlighted the intention to have a stronger combination of economic and development policy in addition to an increase of jobs, investment, infrastructure and education. She raised the issue of sustainability by asking which jobs exactly we want to create: "not only creating jobs, but sustainable jobs, not only economic growth, but sustainable growth". With regard to the improvement of value chains in Africa, she assured that this is a substantial point in the discussion, as Europe needs products suitable for its markets.

Paul Renier in responding to Hodu´s assessment of the decreasing role of Europe in Africa took a rather defensive stance: he highlighted that the EU member states are still Africa's biggest investment partner. With regard to China he said, "I hope that you will look beyond the "five no’s" and the 60 billion of Chinese loans: the EU provides the same in grants, in addition to loans in billions, but we don’t seem to be getting credit on it."

Renier pointed at the New EU Africa Alliance as being indeed something new, just as requested by the African speakers, adding that a more transactional relationship of equals comes with responsibilities from both sides. "In the alliance", he said, "we have replied to a number of things: The cry from Africa for investments, and we fully agree and are serious about it. Maybe there is a reason for scepticism, but let’s see through this scepticism."

Iina Soiri provided her analysis mainly from the perspective of a scientific advisor to the Nordic countries, especially in the light of the upcoming Finnish presidency in the second half of 2019 when these agreements will be in their final steps. She mentioned that, at a recent conference in Ghana on Africa-EU relations, Nordic representatives from civil society and academia were deeply surprised by the degree of resentment towards the EU in Africa, out of a long-standing historical frustration. "There is a feeling that the perspectives of the African societies are not sufficiently heard and that the Eurocentric approach is dominant and that more of the African knowledge could be used". For this reason, her institute tries to bring home to Nordic policymakers to listen to Africans with more sensitive ears. "It takes a long time to get away from this resentment and this process might be a chance to get it right"

With regards to values, Soiri said that both sides need to look into the mirror, since democratic values and minority rights are also not met in all European Countries, just as the African integration project might not have been driven only by democratic leaders. Moreover, there is disappointment in Nordic countries because the global values are not even supported by other EU member states.

Henning Melber started saying that the criticism brought forward by Hodu and Bodomo was quite modest and much less provocative than other African voices: "We still face the long shadows of colonialism on the continent, and this is how the majority looks at Europe today. There is a competitive advantage of China by lack of such history". Everybody talking on an equal partnership, Melber raised the question on how an equal footing could actually look like with the history of slave trade and structural asymmetries continuing until now: "How create an equal footing if you have on one side many highly paid experts and on the other hand just a handful of experts who also sit in Brussels and Geneva? This is part of the dilemma. I don't see a quick fix solution to get out of it".

He doubted, however, that China is a better alternative for Africa. "Of course, the Chinese have the same double standards as Europe. They are as much interested in African raw materials as others. From the view of authoritarian regimes, they are of course the alternatives and get the red carpet, as they don’t interfere. "As for the EU, Melber added that Africans are well aware that the EU has only cared about human rights where it suited them. At the same time, ordinary African people resent the Chinese presence to an extent that goes far beyond the resentment of Europe, because the Chinese compete with the local markets to an extent Europeans don’t. He concluded saying: "Do not say: let's look into the future and forget about the past: there are generations of Africans whose human dignity was denied. This is where EADI might play a role: self critically reflect whose development for whom? It starts with us!"