AU-EU Summit: 22 hours for a new Beginning

Civil society interest in the upcoming 5th AU-EU summit in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, is limited. What is needed to transform a just another 22 hours long meeting of more than 80 heads of state into a real opportunity?

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Write a message to the heads of state about the major challenges and interests in the AU-EU relations, was the modest challenge we in BfdW launched to our African Partners, civil society organisations in most African countries, up to the 5th AU-EU summit, taking place in Abidjan from Wednesday 29th November 13:30 (opening ceremony) to Thursday 30rd November 11:00 (press conference). The preparation of the summit has been extremely closed: the rough agenda was published a few days ahead of the summit only, no interaction with or participation of civil society is planned.  The title of the Summit, that for the first time takes place between the Africa Union (AU) and the EU as opposed to between EU and Africa, is Investing in Youth for a Sustainable Future. There are 4 thematic sessions, each of a duration between 75 and 120 minutes, focused on the themes of Enhancing economic opportunities for youth; Mobility and migration; Peace and security; and Cooperation on governance. The 6th EU‐Africa Business Forum (EABF) is preceding the summit on the 27th November and is aimed at increasing (private) investments with development impact in Africa.  

Our challenge and invitation to hundreds of partners to raise their voices and express their concerns and ideas to the African and European leaders was only reluctantly received.  The relevance of the topic is not the reason, although one could argue that it is Eurocentric, roughly along the scheme: create economic opportunities for the growing African youth so that they don’t migrate to Europe or engage in radical and terrorist movements. The investments should, predominantly, be private.  No doubt African – and European for that sake – civil society can develop critical analysis and recommendations arounds those topics.  The reason for the low response rate to our invitation should be searched in the conceived relevance of the institutions at play and the possibilities to influence their work and policies.

The European Union was never popular in Europe and interest and knowledge about the work and policies of the EU is, compared to national politics, is low. A historical low of 42.61% of the registered voters voted during the latest EU parliament elections in 2014. EU is, in the broad population, considered bureaucratic and non-transparent. Brexit illustrated this and the Union’s inability to find joint responses to the flow of illegal migrations reinforces the questioning of EU as an institution that sustainably guides Europe through the global challenges of our time.

The African Union is not doing much better as a voice of the African continent: Largely unknown in the wide population, under-resourced from its member states and little transparent and accountable to the African populations. The commendable agenda 2063, the Africa we Want, formulating a strategic framework for the socio-economic transformation for the coming 50 years, is equally unknown in the broad population and also not being owned and used by the African government as an overall policy framework for regional integration and economic transformation.

The collaborations between the continents have many forms: The main legal framework for Africa’s interaction with Europe is the Cotonou Agreement. Beyond this there are the African Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and finally the country level interactions between the EU and certain countries. These various constellations make the creation of an African narrative towards the EU extremely difficult.

For the first time this year, the summit between the continents takes place between the two regional institutions and partnership rhetoric is blooming: AU-EU are now political partners at equal terms, it says. We are friends and neighbours with common interest. Certainly Europe has a renewed strategic interests in securing a privileged access to Africa’s markets and primary resources, as China expands as global economy and investor.

Still, there seems to be difficulties with getting away with the old and post-colonial cooperation based on asymmetric relations, a system that creates access and control over resources to those in power in both Europe and Africa. During a high level conference towards a renewed partnership with Africa, hosted by the European Parliament last week, Günther H. Oettinger, Commissioner responsible for Budget & Human Resources, listed the figures of development aid transferred to Africa as well as the outcomes of diverse development project. We in fact already have a Marshal Plan with Africa, Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said, referring to the yearly c. 20 billion €/year official development assistance from EU and member states to African countries. The reverse stream of funds was not mentioned. The ghost of conditionalities is still spooking as good governance, democracy and not least readiness to deal with migration are exchanged bilaterally for development funding, sometimes with adverse effects.  

Initiatives of EU-ACP or AU-EU dialogues and cooperation should broaden the spaces for open consultation, participation, and ensure youth drive within the local interventions that requires youth integration planning, programming, implementing and evaluation of all programmes. To be specific, development, peace and security, migration, climate change, leadership and governance, human rights system should require both multi-level and holistic perspectives and partnerships to participate and benefit the emerging youth of the African continent; says Abdi Edao, the director of the Wako Gutu Foundation in Ethiopia and a partner of Bread for the World in his contribution.  Other contributions also focus on engagement and involvement of civil society and youth and an alternative summit from the 26-28th November, co-funded by Bread for the World, also serves to increase civil society knowledge of and engagement with the agenda and formulate priorities and concerns to the delegates of the official summit.

But much more than formulating a list of demands related to migration clauses, limitations of private investment and investment in education for youth, all of which are important and legitimate, we see the challenge of the AU-EU summit in showing a new level of dialogue and partnership, able to formulate political alternatives that address the current complicated and potentially devastating effects of the current development model. This rethinking requires courage, honesty, humbleness and willingness and it requires dialogue with all layers of society. Only in this way, the two institutions can go forward and become institutions that are part or the solution in creating a more just, fair and sustainable world.

Should the more than 80 heads of states attending the meeting over the span of just 22 hours make a step in this direction, the summit could be a new beginning of a common rethinking of old institutions to meet new challenges.