by Dirk Messner, Niels Keijzer, Svea Koch and Julia Leininger.
The very first sentence of the Joint Africa EU Strategy (JAES) that was adopted by Africa and Europe in 2007 observes that “Africa and Europe are bound together by history, culture, geography, a common future, as well as by a community of values”. Such a high degree of convergence and confirmed shared vision, as headlined by the JAES, would make it not more than logical to join forces globally. This seems even more opportune given that since the adoption of the JAES a new African country (South Sudan) and a new EU member state (Croatia) adds to a total of 82 nation states– uniting over 40% of the United Nations' membership.
The upcoming Africa-EU Summit in April 2014 should thus not only be used to discuss the future of EU-Africa relations from an inter-regional perspective, but include a focus on how to act jointly in global governance fora and negotiations. The eventual adoption of a post-2015 framework for global development, for which the next stage in negotiations was launched at the UN General Assembly last week, will mark a decisive turning point for both the EU and Africa by agreeing on new sets of objectives for addressing global and national development challenges.
The JAES does recognise the importance of coordinating positions in international fora dealing with issues key for African and European development. This recognition however stands in stark contrast to a rather poor track record of coordination between Africa and Europe during recent important international negotiations. This poor track record stems from the fact that both, each for their own reasons, find it difficult to operate as a ‘block’ in international fora, let alone to operate and act together.
A key example, and for Europe a rather defining moment, were the negotiations during the 15th Conference of Parties (COP) in Copenhagen in 2009. On 16 December that year, the late Ethiopian President Meles Zenawi in his capacity as leader of the African Delegation presented a compromise position reached with Europe in the presence of the Swedish President as chair of the rotating EU Presidency and the President of the European Commission (EC). This compromise position called for a lower amount of climate finance to Africa than what was initially called for, and was welcomed by European leaders as leading to a joint position on climate finance. Sudan’s chief negotiator Lumumba Di-Aping, as the chair of the G77 group, was fast to accuse Zenawi of capitulating to the EU and argued that no African nation would accept this as Africa’s position. This effectively meant the end of the African Common Position negotiation strategy.
Roughly two years later, the EU’s position on climate change again won the support of the chair of the African group of negotiators close to the conclusion of the 17th COP in Durban. This time around the emphasis was less on finance, but on the recognition that both Europe and Africa wanted to call for a legally binding agreement covering all nations of the world. Although the outcome of the Durban agreement has received a lukewarm reception, it does stand as a successful case where Africa and Europe cooperated together. A key difference with Copenhagen was that in this case both groups of countries, who together cannot unilaterally drive global decision-making, invested more in coalition building with other nations and thus together helped assemble a critical mass to put pressure on the remaining reluctant G20 members that eventually conceded to what was agreed.
The post-2015 framework for global development is too important to fail, both for Europe and Africa and it is crucial that both sides draw the right lessons from past experiences in order to use their joint weight in the negotiating process. The Op-Ed by the EC President and AU Commission chairperson published this April in several African and European media reflects this priority: it recognises that the continents had to reinforce global cooperation, while stating a priority for such an engagement towards the adoption of the ‘post MDG development agenda’. Process-wise, the EU member states have adopted their joint position in June this year, while on the African side High-Level Panel member and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is presently chairing the AU’s High-Level Committee on the post-2015 agenda. Moreover, in its vision for "Africa 2063" the African Union re-emphasizes the relevance of speaking with one African voice in global fora. Content wise, the Op-Ed highlighted a shared challenge in promoting inclusive and sustainable growth, which may lead endeavours to formulate a joint position.
The process ahead is however highly complicated given the Inter-governmental Working Group negotiating Sustainable Development Goals, the short timeline available for negotiating the post-2015 framework following last week’s UNGA meeting, among other key factors. While discussions will definitely focus on the extent to which both continents positions are compatible, and will probably point out that in essential areas this is not the case, the Durban experience shows that Africa and Europe stand to benefit most from a ‘joint venture’ approach guided by an overall concern that surpasses the difference in interests and perspectives. The EU’s position recognises this by saying it prioritises a continuing dialogue and ‘outreach’ with third countries, while the African position prioritises identifying African priorities for the new agenda. The challenge therefore is for Africa and Europe to seriously invest in a joint endeavour based on headlines, in the spirit of the dialogue and partnership all have committed to.
Photo by Erik Cleveson Kristensen.
This blog post was written by the German Institute for Development (DIE).
The Post 2015 framework will be discussed at the upcoming European Think Tanks' conference: Looking Beyond 2013 Are EU-Africa Relations Still Fit for Purpose?