Friday, November 30, 2007

Creating a true and equal partnership between Europe and Africa?

One week before the EU-Africa Summit takes place in Lisbon, experts invited by the Friedrich-Ebert Foundation and WEED met on 29 November 2007 in Berlin to discuss the challenges ahead of a true EU-African Partnership.

During the summit, the European Union and the African Union plan to sign a new Strategic Partnership Agreement and a Plan of Action for its implementation. The aim is to concentrate segmented European Africa policies under one coherent framework. Designed by representatives from both continents, it focuses on new and old challenges such as peace and security, sustainable development and democratic governance.

Participants in the Berlin conference discussed whether institutions on both continents are prepared to take the EU-Africa relations to a new higher level and they questioned if the new cooperation is going to be a true partnership between equals.

In his introductory statement, Sven Grimm from the German Development Institute summed up 50 years of African-European relations. In his view the new EU-Africa strategy was prepared to respond to the political changes in Africa and Europe such as the upcoming of the African Union or the EU enlargement. It can also be seen as a reaction to the appearance of China as an important actor on the African continent. Grimm noted a change of focus which puts development aid behind trade and a stronger reflection of African views within the document.

Siegmar Schmidt (University Koblenz-Landau)
pointed out that the document reflects a smallest common denominator between the different actors and is more a diplomatic paper than a real strategy with clear aims and concrete plans of action.

The first panel dealt with the current EU Africa relations including issues like governance, security, energy and economic development. Speakers from research and civil society like Stefan Mair (SWP), Siegmar Schmidt (University Koblenz-Landau), George Ehusani (Catholic Bishops Conference Nigeria) talked about progress, problems and policy recommendations.

Father George Ehusani identified the low level of knowledge Africans have about EU-Africa relations and criticized the preparation process which lead to the new EU-Africa strategy:

An important role to empower African civil society was attributed to the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM). However, participants said that the ‘naming and shaming’ culture within the mechanism does not go along with the African culture of ‘consultation and advice’ and might therefore be the wrong strategy.

Sven Grimm underlined the positive trend of the APRM. In his opinion the non-participation of some African states shows that the mechanism is treated seriously:

Prof. Siegmar Schmidt pointed out that the EU-Africa Partnership is largely based on a strong and effective African Union. He fears that the EU might overestimate its new partner which will need intensive capacity building to deliver towards the expectations. Hear his comments (in German):

In the second panel, participants discussed the new strategy which is going to be signed at the EU-Africa Summit, focusing on how to implement the strategy to become political reality. Keynote speakers were Aldo Ajello (Former EU Special Representative for the Great Lakes Region), Herta Däubler-Gmelin (Head of Human Rights Committee of the German Bundestag), John Mahama (Member of the Parliament of Ghana) and Matthias Mülmenstädt (German Federal Office).

Discussions also covered the ongoing EPA negotiations between the EU and African regions.

Klaus Schilder from WEED remarked that not enough time was spent by both sides to find a common policy and that the EU enforced its position without further analysis of its old trade policies towards Africa. Matthias Mülmenstädt from the German Foreign Service predicted that the talks will lead to a minimal solution which can be carried to the WTO in 2008.

John Mahama from the Ghanaian Parliament criticized the low involvement of parliamentarians during the EPA talks as well as during the preparation of the EU-Africa Strategy:

Regarding the development of democracy and human rights in Africa Mrs. Herta Däubler-Gmelin, head of the parliamentary committee for human rights of the German Bundestag, stressed the common basis of EU and the African Union. Questioned on the new role of China and its low appreciation for human rights in its cooperation policy, she mentioned that even the Chinese increasingly start to look after human rights in Africa since the kidnapping of Chinese workers in Nigeria and strong opposition by some African leaders against new colonization attempts by China.

Towards the end of the conference, all participants agreed that the new EU-Africa Strategy is going to be an improvement for relations between Europe and Africa.

Story by Martin Behrens

Have a look on the recently published summary report of the conference.