The European Commission’s president, Ursula von der Leyen, is leaving nothing to chance. A few days before the meeting between officials from the European Commission and the African Union she flew to Dakar, to personally clarify final details with the Senegalese President and current AU chairperson, Macky Sall.
“Our two unions share the same vision of a common area of stability and prosperity. This summit must ascertain concrete ways and means to achieve it,” von der Leyen said after meeting Sall. Signaling Brussels’ good will, she added that the EU would mobilize €150 billion ($170 billion) over the next few years to help develop African infrastructure.
The EU needs the meeting to be successful, because relations with the African Union have been frayed for a long time. The summit planned for 2020 fell through — officially because of the pandemic. Observers saw other reasons for the cancellation. “It was also a political signal,” Nils Keijzer of the German Development Institute, told DW.
Colonialist models and a new kind of apartheid
The signal came from Africa specifically, because the list of grievances from Europe’s neighbors has grown long in recent years.
Economist Carlos Lopes from the University of Cape Town explained the consequences. “We are still living a colonial model, where Africans are only exporters of commodities that are not transformed. There is a lot of frustration that pushes Africa to look for new partnerships that contribute to the industrialization of the continent,” he told DW. China, Russia and Turkey, have accordingly expanded their influence in Africa.
“Of course we have differences,” the website POLITICO quoted AU Commission chief Moussa Faki as saying after a meeting with von der Leyen in 2020. They ranged from international criminal justice to the issue of sexual orientation, the death penalty or AU’s role in African crises, Faki said at the time. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the situation. Many African leaders bitterly resent the lack of vaccines for even getting a started on inoculating their population in sufficient numbers, while Europe is already boosting its people. South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, called it “vaccine apartheid.”
The EU is countering these negative views through a charm offensive and a lot of paperwork. “African countries and the AU would prefer the current agendas to be implemented and completed. The EU has put more focus on developing new ideas and strategies. That has sometimes caused some tension in the relationship,” said analyst Keijzer.
AU wants to have more of a say
Africa is not very excited about Brussels’ many new plans. “The European Union has the right to develop and publish its own strategies. What we regret is that there is little consultation before the announcements, and that the implementation of these announcements often falls far short of expectations,” said Lopes.
These issues are unlikely to play an official role at the summit. “Since the 2007 debates, the EU has tried to keep controversial issues like the Economic Partnership Agreements away from the summits. They want to focus on new strategies and initiatives”, said Keijzer.
Nevertheless, the summit could help solve at least some of the problems, like the issue of vaccines. “Africa’s interests include the agreement on vaccine production, better access to vaccines and a common structure for the partnership [between the EU and the AU]. And so far I think it looks promising: we are going to have those outcomes,” said Carlos Lopes.
For their part, the EU are keen in adopting a common vision with Africa for 2030. It is unlikely that this would take the partnership to a new level: “It will take more than one summit to achieve that,” Lopes said.
This article was translated from German
Edited by: Keith Walker
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