The relationship between the European Union and Africa is at a turning point. With the growing recognition of the importance of entrepreneurship and innovation in driving economic growth and social change, start-ups have become a key area of focus for both regions. As the start-up ecosystem continues to evolve and mature, the EU and Africa are faced with new opportunities and challenges to deepen their cooperation and promote entrepreneurship and innovation.
The EU has a long history of supporting start-ups in Africa, and has taken a number of steps to deepen its engagement in the start-up ecosystem. One of the key initiatives is the EU’s support for the African Development Bank’s (AfDB) African Entrepreneurship Platform, which provides a range of support and resources to help start-ups grow and succeed.
Another important initiative is the EU’s support for the creation of a digital single market in Africa, which will provide start-ups with access to new markets and customers, and help to reduce the barriers to entry for businesses operating in the region. This will be achieved through a combination of infrastructure investments, regulatory reform, and capacity building, and will help to create a supportive environment for start-ups and entrepreneurs.
The EU has also been investing in research and innovation, through initiatives, some previous examples such as Horizon 2020 and the European Research Council, to support the development of cutting-edge technologies and new business models in Africa. This helped to drive economic growth and create new job opportunities in the region, while also providing new opportunities for collaboration between the EU and Africa.
Due to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, the European Union has been forced to direct its diplomatic, military, and humanitarian resources towards its eastern border. However, it’s crucial that Europe does not overlook the challenges and opportunities in the southern region, including pressing humanitarian needs, ongoing instability, and foreign interventions. The Mediterranean and African continents present a prime opportunity for the EU to achieve its strategic goals amidst increasing global political tensions.
The decline in EU-Africa relations cannot solely be attributed to the conflict in Ukraine. Despite the promising launch of the Joint Africa-EU Strategy in 2007, which aimed to foster dialogue and cooperation between the two continents, the relationship has suffered in recent years due to unequal partnership dynamics and lingering effects of colonialism.
The Libyan crisis of 2011 marked a significant turning point in EU-Africa relations. Initially, the African Union (AU) attempted to find a diplomatic solution, but it was ultimately dismissed in favor of military action by the US, UK, and France, later supported by NATO and the UN. The relationship between the EU and Africa further worsened in 2015-2016 due to the refugee crisis and reached a new low during the COVID-19 pandemic when many Africans felt that Europe had not done enough to help. This was due to Europe’s slow vaccine donations and the controversy surrounding a patent waiver proposal made by South Africa and India.
A recent set of obstacles
The absence created by Europe has quickly been filled by other players with contrasting or conflicting interests: Russia and its mercenary group, Wagner, in Mali and the Central African Republic, Gulf states and Turkey in the Horn of Africa, and China through its backing of large infrastructure projects from Egypt to Nigeria.
The conflict in Ukraine has created a new set of obstacles for EU-Africa relations and has cast doubt on the capacity of European leaders to revive the partnership. The war and Russia’s blockade of wheat exports from Ukraine, a crucial source of food for some African countries, caused food insecurity in Africa to worsen. Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, misled African leaders by blaming the food crisis on the Western sanctions imposed on Moscow, rather than the war and blockade.
Additionally, the EU’s response to the conflict in Ukraine has led to the activation of the European Peace Facility (EPF), which was formed by combining the African Peace Facility (APF) and other resources. With a budget of €5.62 billion for the period of 2021-2027, €3.1 billion has already been allocated to Ukraine, raising concerns among African partners that the EU’s dedication to peace and security in Africa may be greatly reduced.
The EU has seen an influx of over 7.8 million refugees from Ukraine in 2022, with a large number receiving temporary protection, while only 140,000 sea arrivals from Africa and the Middle East have created a new debate among EU member states about their responsibilities for rescue, reception, and resettlement. This has led to accusations of inconsistency in the way the EU treats refugees and migrants from Ukraine and those from Africa and the Middle East.
To achieve its goal of strategic autonomy, the EU must acknowledge the significance of Africa as a legitimate partner. With the growing geopolitical competition, Europe has come to understand the importance of Africa as a source of energy and raw materials. However, it is now time for the EU to adopt a more proactive approach to African policy issues and concerns and to strengthen the resilience of African societies and institutions. The recent division among African countries regarding the conflict in Ukraine highlights the urgency for the EU to act. Additionally, Africa represents more than just a potential alternative to Europe’s strategic competitors and unreliable partners. It is also an opening to the wider world of the Global South. By strengthening its connection with the African continent, the EU can regain its standing in other developing and emerging nations, ranging from Latin America to Asia.
In an effort to renew the relationship between Europe and Africa, a summit between the African Union and the European Union was held in Brussels in February. This was after several delays since the last summit in Abidjan in 2017, which were due in part to Covid-19 restrictions. At the end of November, the EU and AU commissions met again in Brussels to assess the progress made. Despite the EU’s efforts, including the implementation of emergency measures, a more comprehensive approach is necessary to regain trust and to collaborate in important sectors.
One of the areas of focus is food security, where the EU pledged to provide an additional €570 million for Africa, a total of €4.5 billion in grant funding by 2024. A joint task force has been set up to address access to and affordability of fertilizers. However, to fully address the challenge, a number of factors such as climate change, intra-regional trade barriers, inadequate infrastructure, and import dependency need to be considered. Long-term coordination with international organizations such as UN agencies and the G20 is also crucial.
The EU confirmed its €600 million support for peace support operations led by the AU and African nations for 2022-24. To establish an effective partnership in stability and democratic governance, from Libya to the Sahel region, the EU must recognize the agency of African states, increase investment in civilian organizations, and work with grassroots change-makers, like local communities and women’s groups. Reforming the UN’s peacekeeping and peacebuilding system, including funding methods, through a joint effort could also lead to a more productive peace and security partnership.
Explicit Dialogue Exchange
A new approach is needed to revitalize the relationship between the European Union (EU) and Africa. This must take into account the current international context and aim to achieve a fair balance of benefits and responsibilities. The Team Europe Initiative on Climate Adaptation and Resilience in Africa, adopted at the COP27 in Egypt, is a promising step towards this goal. The initiative will allocate over €1 billion to mitigate climate risks and improve policy and governance. However, for this to be effective, the EU must engage in open and honest dialogue with Africa regarding their priorities, particularly regarding the impact of the European Green Deal and the “dash for gas” on African communities.
With regards to people movement, the EU’s current focus remains on reducing arrivals in Europe and increasing repatriations to countries of origin in Africa. However, it’s important to shift this perspective and view people flows as a structural phenomenon with potential benefits for both Europe and Africa. To achieve this, the EU must enhance cooperation with the African Union and the United Nations, and address the root causes of irregular migration and forced displacement. The EU-Africa relationship requires a new, long-term strategy that recognizes the changing international context. The relationship must be based on mutual respect, shared benefits and responsibilities, and a vision for the future.
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