The Lisbon summit: Changing the EU–Africa relationship

The up-coming EU-Africa Heads of States Summit slated for 7–8 December 2007 should provide a unique opportunity to engage in a frank and sincere dialogue on different issues affecting EU-Africa relations. It is now seven years since a similar summit was held in Cairo, Egypt, and yet there has not been substantial paradigm shift since Cairo. Although the development challenges in Africa remain substantially unaltered, since the Cairo summit the global agenda has been hijacked by issues such as security, migration, climate change and, to some extent, trade. EU has enlarged from its 15 Member States to 27. On the African side, the Organisation of African Unity has mutated to African Union. While an enlarged EU has generated multiplicity of policies towards Africa, emerging powers such as China, Brazil and India have increasingly cemented their presence in the continent.

Historically, the EU-Africa relationship has been guided by three separate frameworks: the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership with North Africa, the Trade and Development Cooperation Agreement with South Africa and the Cotonou Partnership Agreement with Sub-Saharan Africa. The coverage of the Cotonou Partnership Agreement ranges from issues such as governance, political dialogue, to trade and regional integration. The main objective of the trade provisions of the CPA has been to enter into a WTO compatible development friendly Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) by the end of 2007. Yet, these negotiations are about to reach their deadline of 31 December, but both the EU and Africa are far from agreeing on the development dimension and on how EPAs should facilitate the sub-regional integration processes in Africa. Development and prior regional integration within the continent are the cornerstones of EPAs. With the Commission divisive negotiating tactics the original four African negotiating clusters have fallen apart.

The EC recently signed an interim goods agreement with 5 out of the 16 countries belonging to the Eastern and Southern African group. In short, even if EPAs is concluded with individual countries as the Commission is pursuing, there is currently lack of evidence to suggest that EPAs will bring development benefits to the African countries. Rather, it will have disastrous consequences to the already poor regional integration scheme in the continent. With pressure put on meeting the deadline rather than achieving a meaningful development-friendly trading scheme, the process of regional integration becomes frantic and even chaotic.

Consequently, although not exclusively, the success of Lisbon will be tested against the following benchmarks:
• Leaders of both sides must be ready to revisit the EPAs debates so that any trade deal is development-friendly and truly supportive to the regional integration processes in Africa.
• There must be strong development package to support capacity building, and EPAs negotiations need to be separated from aid.
• There should be no signing of EPAs without full regional backing.
• EPAs must contain a longer transitional period and an effective financial scheme for post-EPAs adjustment for local producers in the ACP countries.

Most importantly, if the EU-Africa rapprochement is to be clearly defined by a new positive vision, leaders of both sides need to come out clearly with their individual demands. Such an approach will provide a strong basis for future EU-Africa partnership; instead of continuing with old style where Africa has always been wrongly portrayed as the demandeur while the EU as the giver. Yet, the EU has significant interests in the continent that are not always clearly stated.
To the top