Africa has pursued an integrationist agenda since 1900, Europe since 1950. Both have established partnerships on several global issues, pursued in bilateral and multilateral frameworks. Good premises to adopt a new comprehensive joint strategic approach for a renewed Euro-African partnership of the 21st century.
If there is consensus, and there is, that Africa is the cradle of humanity out of where the modern human species, homo sapiens – us - settled the globe  , all Europeans are from Africa, directly or indirectly. It took a while before the homo sapiens came to Europe, about 45.000 years ago as Cro Magnon by then had already quite creative behaviour  . Following the agricultural revolution migration and invasion became a common trait. Conquerors, emperors and empires, formed mostly along linguistic lines, came and went, driven by the lust for power and riches, the sense for exploration and discovery. It was the desire of expansion and adventure that drove Portuguese sailors in the 15/16th to brave the West and then the East Coast of Africa and even venture inside the continent.
Others set up trading posts at the coast and islands but would not explore the interior of the unknown continent and left it to the native population to nourish trading posts and to missionaries and few explorers like Barth, de Brazza, Peters and Livingstone to discover the largeness of the continent. When Livingstone died, much of Africa was still mysterious. No one had penetrated the dangerous latitude of zero. Apart from coastal fringe and Algeria and South Africa, Europe did not intervene. And all of a sudden a frenzy set in, the scramble for Africa, an “undignified rush of European leaders to build empires”, the brutal invasion of the continent  . Within 30 years, Europa had imposed its will on Africa at the point of a gun. From 1958 onwards European countries left in an equal rush which often left former colonies unprepared. Dependencies persisted.
At the same time, thousand kilometre north in Paris, a new Europe emerged from the ashes of a devastating war, a continent deeply torn and divided, which paradoxically provided a fertile ground for an integrationist approach, first chartered by Winston Churchill’s Europe rise and the Council of Europe of 1949  . Finally, The European Urknall, Schuman’s declaration. “The contribution which an organised and living Europe can bring to civilization, Schuman said in 1950, is indispensable to the maintenance of peaceful relations. A united Europe was not achieved and we had war”. The European Communities called for building “institutions to orient a common destiny  ”, for “ever-closer union among the peoples of Europe” and the “pooling of their resources to preserve and strengthen peace and liberty  .”
While European integration gathered steam, enough to set up a broader Economic Community in 1957, African leaders like Nkrumah, Kenyatta, Azikiwe, Boganda, Senghor or Houphouët-Boigny pursued a pan-African agenda on the heels of six Pan African Conferences held between 1900 and 1945. The Conferences were organised by the African Association, founded in 1897, as a reaction against colonialism and slavery. Its most famous edition, the Conference in Manchester in 1945, led by African political leaders, demanded an end to colonialism in Africa and urged citizens to use strikes and boycotts to end the continent’s social, economic, and political exploitation by colonial powers  . The Conference set the ground for self-rule and independence of former colonies, successfully pushed by Pan-Africanists and finally the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity in Addis Ababa in 1963, the predecessor organisation of the African Union, founded exactly 36 years later and equally headquartered in the Ethiopian capital.
Leaders of both continents pursued integrationist agendas – Africa earlier than Europe, too busy to fight each other in wars -, aiming at the unification of countries and people. But while EU integration is based on the community method and the pooling of sovereignty, integration in Africa follows an inter-governmental approach and close coordination through common institutions. Both continents have their own frameworks such as the EU’s Global Strategy or the AU’s Agenda 2063 (a blueprint for Africa’s transformation into an integrated, prosperous and peaceful continent). The new Europe and the new Africa assumed shape and ushered in a new Europe-Africa cooperation. First in a bilateral, then, from 2000 onwards, in multi-lateral framework.
Euro-African cooperation, pursued in a bilateral framework
In 1958, 18 African countries - “États africains et malgache associés” (EAMA) –, all francophone except Somalia – were associated to the European Economic Community. Within the EAMA framework, the European Commission started to recruit engineers to set up technical offices in the EAMA countries, embryos of today’s Delegations, and start cooperation under the first EDF indicative programmes. A typical programme would include building or restoring infrastructure and developing agricultural areas.
In 1963 and 1969, the Six EEC Member States and the Eighteen Associated States signed the two Yaoundé Conventions. The European Development Fund became the flagship instrument in cooperation with Africa. The texts stressed the wish for equality of relations : in Yaounde I and II preambles say the EU Member States and the African Association States wish to « manifeste leur volonté mutuelle de coopération sur la base d’une complète égalité et de relations amicales dans le respect des principes de la charte des Nations-Unies ». While Yaoundé focused foremost on technical issues such as cooperation regarding customs, agriculture, finance as well as industrialisation, certain cooperation programmes slowly started to include governance issues. The four Lome Agreements 1975, 1979, 1984 and 1989 and the Cotonou Partnership Agreement 2000 marked a new stage in the EEC’s cooperation with Africa. Cooperation was now set within an enlarged framework, not only with African countries, but also with Caribbean and Pacific countries, under the new ACP label, a - growing - grouping founded in 1975 by the Georgetown Agreement. Lome I was concluded with 43 ACP countries, Cotonou already with 79 out of which 48 are African states. It will be the Cotonou’s successor agreement that will reintroduce a specific cooperation with African countries through the Africa protocol of the future agreement. For the EU as a global actor it was important to maintain a global agreement with the ACP group, but specifically regionalise cooperation through specific instruments.
The Lomé Agreements provided access to EU markets, created an industrial cooperation framework and compensation schemes such as STABEX and SYSMIN  and establish the EEC/EU-ACP Council as well as a the permanent Secretariat in Brussels. The revision of Lome IV in 1995 made the respect for human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law essential elements of the Convention. ACP countries that do not respect essential elements risk suspension of cooperation.
Euro-African cooperation, pursued in a multilateral framework
While ACP cooperation always had a pan-African dimension through the periodic EU’s Pan-African Programme, a new multilateral cooperation started in December 2000 when the first EU-Africa summit in Cairo set up the Africa-EU partnership. Recalling that “over the centuries, ties have existed between Africa and Europe, which have led to many areas of co-operation,” the summit wanted to “give a new strategic dimension to the global partnership between Africa and Europe for the Twenty First Century, in a spirit of equality, respect, alliance and co-operation between our regions”. Five subsequent summit meetings pursued and de- and refined the partnership. The summit were called EU-Africa summits and when Morroco joined the AU in 2017 EU-AU summits.
In 2007 at the second EU-Africa summit in Lisbon, the partnership was complemented by the Joint EU-Africa strategy, and the multiannual roadmaps, which define priorities. The current priorities dates from the 2017 summit in Abidjan (investing in people/education, science ; migration and mobility ; building resilience, mobilising investment), the last summit.
The next EU-AU summit should have taken place in October 2020 and it should have taken the partnership to a new level, but had to be postponed due to Covid-19 restrictions, as both sides prefer a physical meeting. A new date still needs to be decided. While the agenda still needs to be set, it can be assumed that health, in particular Covid-19 and responses such as the global COVAX initiative, Digital Transformation and Green Deal will figure prominently on the agenda.
In view of the 2020 Summit, the European Commission issued a joint communication called “towards a comprehensive strategy with Africa”, following President von der Leyen’s demand to her Commissioners to consider a comprehensive strategy with Africa. Ursula von der Leyen’s first external visit, few days in her new position, on 7 October 2019, was to Addis Ababa, to the African Union and Ethiopia. In March 2020, the Commission proposed to work together on five key global trends in view of partnerships with the African Union in the area of : Green Transition ; Digital Transformation ; Sustainable Growth and Jobs ; Peace, Security and Governance ; Migration and Mobility. Three months later, the Council welcomed the Commission’s proposals as an excellent basis for a new and stronger political partnership “responsive both to European and African aspirations.” The Council put forward nine priorities for this new partnership and proposed a comprehensive joint strategic approach.
Negotiations on the EU-Africa strategy will have to focus on matching the EU’s ideas for the partnership with Africa’s priorities – as defined by AU Summits and recorded in the AU 2063 programme. Africa’s priorities of poverty eradication, transport infrastructure  , health, debt issues, brain drain, transport infrastructure, blue economy, remittances and diaspora as well as illicit financial flows are not fully matched in Council conclusions and some of them are mentioned only vaguely in the EU’s joint communication. During the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis in Antananarivo, the EU has advocated the suspension of debt service for certain countries, and reiterated its call for coordinated international debt relief efforts.
A natural partnership despite differences
EU’s relations with Africa are intense at all level and with all countries, also outside the frameworks mentioned above. The European Union is supporting Africa’s regional orders, the regional economic commissions, and has developed regional strategies for the Horn of Africa and East Africa, the Sahel, the Gulf of Guinea. Besides the EU/AU summit meetings, regular meetings between the AU and EU Commissions as well as ministerial meetings and political dialogue meetings regularly take place, often at the level of Presidents or Ministers with individual African countries. The EU and its Member States are Africa’s largest economic partner in terms of trade and investments as well as development - in terms of ODA -and humanitarian partner, creating huge engagement opportunities at a daily level. With a trade volume of EUR 300 billion, EU countries account for 31 % of exports and 29 % of imports  of the continent  , and in 2017 EU-investment stocks amounted to EUR 222 billion, five to six times higher than those from China and the US.
Imbalances exist. EU’s average income per head stands above 40.000 USD, compared to about 2.000 USD for Africa. The AU has to deal with a population of 1,2 billion and 55 countries with different governance systems based on the winner takes it all syndrome and led by self-confident leaders. The EU’s 27, despite daily wrangling and jostling, with a smaller population of 430 million and a supranational governance mode seem more aligned.
2020 was an exceptional year for both sides. But, while Africa is expected to feature a negative growth rate of “only” 3,3%  - the first negative figure in 25 years - with significantly lower infection (4 mill) and death rates (106.000), the EU economy shrinked by 6,4% (eurostat data) and is struggling hard to get the pandemics under control – with 23,2 Mill infections and 560.440 deaths and considerable setbacks. Younger age median, stronger resilience but mostly very strict measures taken at an earlier moment than other regions led Africa to be more successful in dealing with the pandemics (albeit with much lower testing). Nevertheless huge knock-on disruption in Africa led to output loss of USD 115 billion and pushed 40 million into extreme poverty, eradicating five years of development gains.
The future is Africa, in partnership with Europe
The wall of a house close to the Council’s Lexus building in Rue de la Loi makes in huge blue letters a political statement : the future is Europe. It is clearly visible from the EEAS’s Africa Directorate Each time I look at it I think that it should read the future is Africa if we can just get the partnership right. Despite all of its challenges and those that predict a rising imbalance between Europe and Africa such as Jakkie Cilliers  . He predicts a broad improvement in human well-being (health, life span) with reduced poverty and inequality, but an increasing income gap between Africa and the rest of the world from 66% in 2020 to 75% in 2040. Demographics, he says and is joined by many, remain at the core of Africa’s underperformance in agriculture and manufacturing. But his account is also a story of vibrant development, gleaming new airports, bustling cities and youthful vigour.
An all-African free trade zone (AfCFTA) has entered into force on 1 January 2020. A recent paper by Chaillout on African futures 2030  paints a promising picture, around the positive fall-out of the AfCFTA, of a journey towards free trade and prosperity, by unlocking positive trends for economic integration, in particular in agriculture, environment, digitalisation, conflict, urbanisation and governance. Africa will become by 2030 the world’s breadbasket, cities like Johannesburg, Addis and Casablanca economic hubs, e-commerce will create 20 million jobs a year and the trans-African highway will connect Africa.
Africa has been producing the world’s highest growth rates since years, is fastest growing in digitalisation, endowed with unparalleled biodiversity, unused land and huge natural resources of all kinds (petrol, gold, uranium, iron, copper, gas, phosphate, cobalt, zinc, timber), has 28% of voting rights at the United Nations General Assembly and the youngest population in the world. These dynamics made Africa a promising and much sought-after partner. Compare this to Europe, the old continent, with the world’s oldest population and low growth rates, and you can see the case for continental cooperation and pooling of assets and strengths.
The partnership has always had a cultural dimension and included close cooperation in the area of youth exchange, science, sport and higher education through specific programmes. Further support for these areas, in particular Africa’s bustling creative industry will be important to open up hearts and minds, underpinning the political partnership and contributing responses to foreign policy challenges. Strengthening artistic education and the respect for other cultures is an essential part of the response to terrorism. The EU is supporting international cultural cooperation, including African cultural heritage and numerous projects that involve young people from the two countries in artistic co-productions. For HR/VP Josep Borrell the EU must place culture at the heart of our dialogue with Africa, widely welcoming the AU’s theme for 2021 : Arts, Culture and Heritage : Levers for Building the Africa We Want.  .
Over the last two decades China, the US, Russia, Turkey and others have upped their game and increased their stakes in Africa. For Europe increased competition and increased stakes mean a further incentive to progress on its strategy with Africa, its priorities and its promise of an upgrade of the partnership, including on the post Cotonou agreement. Europe, Africa’s oldest and closest partner has strategic interest to reinforce its relation with Africa and African countries on multilateralism, peace, security and stability, sustainable growth and sustainable development.
The AU/EU cooperation as well as the 2018 new alliance between Africa and Europe for sustainable growth and jobs  and the 2020 communication towards a strategy with Africa is about pooling assets between natural partners, united in history, geography and culture. This is what Monnet/Schuman had in mind for Europe in the 1950 declaration. Schuman called Africa’s development Europe’s major task. In 2021, the common task for the new Europe and the new Africa is to assist each other in building a strong and mutual beneficial partnership of equals where both continents help each other to grow understanding and capacities for taking on joint global challenges. Such as poverty, debt, health security, digitalisation, climate change, migration and as well as other issues and implementing its blueprints and plans. In a rapidly changing global landscape, Europe and Africa have much to gain from increased economic and political ties.