Indefinitely Postponed

EU-Africa meetings cancelled: EU falls behind in competition for influence on the African continent.

BRUSSELS (Own report) - In the competition for influence on the African continent, Berlin and the EU are falling further behind China and other emerging countries. The meeting of the EU's foreign ministers with those of the African Union (AU), scheduled for today in Brussels, as well as an EU-AU summit planned for October - set to adopt a new "partnership agenda" - were both postponed. Covid-19 pandemic restrictions pertaining to face-to-face meetings is the official reason given for these postponements. According to observers, however, the AU - rather unprecedentedly - is insisting on no longer being reduced by the EU to solely the role of raw materials suppliers and sales markets. Within the EU, on the other hand, there is disagreement over how far the EU should go to ward off African migrants - a debate hardly likely to arouse sympathy within the AU. African states are showing more self-confidence since China, as well as other countries, such as India, have significantly strengthened their position in Africa, breaking the Western monopoly on influence.

Free Trade and Nice Words

Already at the beginning of this year, the EU had announced its intentions to elevate its relations with the African Union (AU) "to the next level," with a new "partnership agenda."[1] In 2005, the EU had adopted a strategy paper on its policy toward Africa and, in 2007, together with the AU the "Joint Africa-EU Strategy," which - besides nice sounding words such as "development" and "human rights" - had included measures particularly concerning military and economic policy.[2] Under the heading "Peace and Security," it was noted that "Europe" would support AU member states in setting up comprehensive military structures aimed at controlling future conflicts on the African continent with the support of local armed forces. On the economic level, the EU focused on the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA), free trade agreements, aimed at enhancing access to Africa's markets for goods from the EU and the EU's industry's even cheaper access to African raw materials. Up to now, only five EPAs have been launched in Africa: one with the Southern African Development Community (SADC), one with several countries in Eastern and Southern Africa and one each with Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana.[3]

Raw Materials Supplier and Sales Market

At the same time, not only is the African countries' criticism of the EU's Africa policy persisting, it has even become louder. Several AU members complain, for example, that the EPAs have resulted in their own industrialization efforts being undercut by the competitive pressure of European companies. In fact, the EPAs are even undermining Africa's agrarian economy, which, since trade barriers were dismantled, are having difficulties competing against Europe's subventioned agribusinesses in some areas. A notorious example is how Ghana's endemic chicken meat production has collapsed, while EU companies have enormously increased their exports to that country - from a good 40,000 tons of poultry meat in 2010, to more than 135,000 tons in 2017.[4] As can be seen in the current continuous escalation of the war in the Sahel, military cooperation has also been unsuccessful. African diplomats complain that EU conditions tied to its investment vehicles are too restrictive and that EU-Africa trade deals are skewed in favor of Europe and do not allow African countries to develop domestic industries.[5]

Emerging Rivals

The African nations' growing resistance to the EU's plunder has become possible through the shrinkage of their dependence on western powers. Over the past few years, China, but other non-transatlantic countries as well, have significantly intensified their relations with African nations. For example the People's Republic of China's trade volume with Africa has skyrocketed from around US $10 billion in 2000 to US $209 billion last year, becoming nearly four times the US trade volume with the continent (2019: US $57 billion). The EU can still claim to be the most important trading partner for the African continent, if only considering its composite trade volume, which has been stagnating since 2012 in the range of €280 billion (2019: €281.2 billion). Eurostat tabulates German trade with Africa at around €45 billion (2019) - less than India's, which skyrocketed from US $14.2 billion in fiscal year 2007/2008 to US $62.6 billion in the fiscal year 2017/2018.[6] Turkey's trade with Africa is also rapidly growing. In 2005, the negligible €3.5 billion trade volume had already reached US $26 billion by last year - nearly half of that of Germany's commodity exchange with the African countries - with a rapidly increasing trend.[7]

Vaccines for Africa

China, in particular, is accompanying its growing economic influence with all sorts of offers of cooperation, quite a few of them pertaining currently to funding measures in the context of weathering the storm of the Covid-19 crisis. China, for example, had supported the African countries early on in their fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. Experts described already back in May, that the manner in which this support is extended stands out from the EU for two reasons. On the one hand, the People's Republic's support to African countries is primarily in-kind rather than in cash, while, the EU’s assistance to Africa is largely financial and focuses on fund reallocation of funds already earmarked for Africa, with which African countries can try to salvage a few items of protective gear on the cut-throat competitive world market. On the other hand, China’s support to Africa is appealing because it is based on the People's Republic's demonstrated experience in containing the virus in its own territory, a claim the EU cannot make.[8] An additional element is Beijing's assurance that as soon as it disposes of a Covid-19 vaccine, the African countries will have priority access to it. Neither the EU nor the USA has offered any indication that they will make a future vaccine available for free to the crisis-ridden African countries.[9]

No Substitute Date in Sight

To prevent falling further behind on the continent, the EU had originally planned to announce agreement on the previously mentioned new "Partnership Agenda" at a major EU-AU Summit in October. A paper, entitled "Towards a comprehensive strategy with Africa" introduced in Brussels on March 9, was to serve as the basis. The preposition "with" in the paper's title was intentional, to suggest the old European colonial powers' transformation from their traditional paternalistic exploitive policies to symbolize a professed partnership relationship with their former colonies. A meeting of the EU and AU foreign ministers was scheduled for today, Monday, also to prepare the summit. This meeting, like the summit itself, has been cancelled, the official reason being the Covid-19 pandemic prohibiting a face-to-face summit in Brussels. In fact, no agreement has been reached due to EU wishes that run counter to demands raised by AU countries, including that the EU should promote investments in their infrastructure, manufacturing and the diversification of exports from solely raw materials and food stuffs, to a certain degree of industrial export items. Whereas, AU states are demanding additional support in the struggle against the pandemic, the EU member states are divided - apparently, they are unwilling to agree to the AU's demands - and not least of all how much aggression is required to ward off migrants.[10] No substitute date has been set.


[1] EU paves the way for a stronger, more ambitious partnership with Africa. 09.03.2020.

[2] The EU and Africa: towards a strategic partnership. Brussels, 19 December 2005. A Joint Africa-EU Strategy. 15.07.2007. The Africa-EU Strategic Partnership. A Joint Africa-EU Strategy. Lisbon, 9 December 2007.

[3] Frederik Stender, Axel Berger, Clara Brandi, Jakob Schwab: The Trade Effects of the Economic Partnership Agreements between the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States: Early Empirical Insights from Panel Data. German Development Institute Discussion Paper 7/2020.

[4] See also How to Create Refugees.

[5] Benjamin Fox: EU unveils 'partnership plans' for new Africa strategy. 09.03.2020.

[6] Christian Kurzydlowski: What Can India Offer Africa? 27.06.2020.

[7] "We will increase our trade volume with African countries to $50 billion". 26.01.2020.

[8] Lidet Tadesse: Testing the relationship: China's 'Corona diplomacy' in Africa. 11.05.2020.

[9] Eric Olander: China: Africa to have priority access to COVID-19 vaccine. 08.09.2020.

[10] Benjamin Fox: Pandemic has derailed EU-Africa strategy, concedes Borrell. 22.09.2020.