16 Sep 2013

Still relevant? The future of EU governance support in Africa

By Clare Castillejo (FRIDE) and Svea Koch (DIE).

EU-Africa relations are shifting and creating new dilemmas for Europe’s engagement on governance. As African countries grow and strengthen their political and economic relationships with emerging powers, the EU’s ability to promote governance reform in Africa – particularly through political conditionalities – will inevitably decline. Paradoxically, however, the Arab revolutions and crisis in the Sahel have prompted a renewed EU interest in promoting “deep democracy” in its neighbourhood and beyond. Moreover, in the context of austerity there is greater demand from European citizens that aid to Africa is carefully spent, including through the use of conditionalities. These trends require Europe to profoundly rethink its approach to Africa’s governance challenges.   

Such a rethink must begin with an honest appraisal of the EU’s current approach to governance. The use of ‘positive conditionality’ to incentivise political reforms - both through the Governance Incentive Tranche and the European Neighbourhood Policy - has clearly fallen short of expectations. Meanwhile, the EU’s application of ‘negative conditionality’, through aid cuts or foreign policy sanctions has proven inconsistent, with strategically important North African states largely spared these measures. Coordination on governance has also proved a challenge, with member states frequently prioritising their individual policies and national interests over common European approaches. The fragmented response to the governance crises in North Africa and the Sahel illustrate only too well such coordination failures. 

So, given these lessons and the changing context, where next for the EU’s engagement on governance in Africa? As aid becomes increasingly marginal to the EU-Africa relationship, it appears that coherence and leverage across different policy fields will become Brussels’ central source of influence. In the future, the EU’s governance agenda must be systematically incorporated into its development, foreign, trade and security policies. Policy coherence - traditionally a concern of the development community – must therefore to be taken seriously in all external policy areas. The EEAS will need to play a central role in addressing and managing the inevitable trade-offs between the EU’s normative agenda and its economic, foreign policy or security goals in Africa. 

Seeking a comprehensive and reciprocal partnership with Africa on governance issues also implies that the EU and Africa develop a shared vision of the EU’s role in supporting African governance. So far, too little attention has been paid to African perceptions of the EU’s governance agenda or its renewed interest in political conditionalities. The EU-Africa relationship, however, is less asymmetrical than in the past and in order to be a credible partner the EU will need to better tailor its policies to fit African contexts and meet African demands. This includes finding effective ways to support African regional bodies, governments or civil society actors that promote democracy, as well as identifying appropriate responses in African countries that are closing down democratic space. 

Discussion on these issues will obviously take place against the background of the changing global context. Africa’s global economic and strategic importance is growing; its range of partners, investors and donors is expanding; and it is rethinking its relationship to both traditional and emerging powers. To remain relevant the EU must examine how it can balance its own interests in remaining an important political, trade and development partner for Africa with its commitments to promote democratic values. To remain effective, it must ensure that its policies have legitimacy in the eyes of African stakeholders and are relevant to rapidly changing African contexts.  

'Governance and political conditionality in Africa' will be discussed at the upcoming European Think Tanks' conference: Looking Beyond 2013 Are EU-Africa Relations Still Fit for Purpose?


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