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The European Union in Africa: Incoherent policies, asymmetrical partnership, declining relevance?

The European Union in Africa: Incoherent policies, asymmetrical partnership, declining relevance?

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The European Union in Africa: Incoherent policies, asymmetrical partnership, declining relevance?

527 pages
7 hours
Nov 1, 2015


The European Union in Africa: Incoherent policies, asymmetrical partnership, declining relevance? provides a comprehensive analysis of EU-Africa relations since the beginning of the twenty-first century and includes contributions from leading experts in the field of EU external relations. It seeks to explain how the relationship evolved through discussion of a number of different policies and agreements, ranging from established areas such as aid, agriculture, trade and security, to new areas such as migration, climate change, energy and social policies.

This book successfully challenges a number of widely-held assumptions on the role of the EU in Africa, and at the same time sheds light on the role and identity of the EU in the international arena. It will be of great interest to students and scholars in the field of EU external relations as well as practitioners of international development.
Nov 1, 2015

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The European Union in Africa - Manchester University Press


Part I



EU–Africa relations in the twenty-first century: evolution and explanations

Maurizio Carbone

With the adoption of the Joint Africa–EU Strategy (JAES) (Council of the European Union, 2007) at the second summit between the European Union (EU) and Africa held in Lisbon in December 2007, it was announced that a new era in relations between the two parties was about to start. Some clashes, nevertheless, had occurred before the summit, when a heated debate took place over the participation of Zimbabwe’s President, Robert Mugabe: several EU member states were opposed to it, while all African countries defended their right to decide who should (and who should not) attend the meeting. More generally, the two partners seemed to have diverging agendas: for Europeans, the priorities were security and migration; for Africans, they were aid and trade. Tensions further escalated when the discussion touched upon the new free trade agreements introduced by the Cotonou Agreement (European Union, 2000), the so-called Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs): several African leaders stated that they were no longer willing to accept any imposition by the EU. This resentment was further alimented by the rise of interest in Africa of ‘emerging’ powers, most notably China but also the other BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India), which offered new partnership alternatives to several African countries.

Against this background, this volume seeks to explain how the relationship between the EU and Africa has evolved in the first decade of the twenty-first century. For this, it treats the EU as both a ‘bilateral donor’, focusing in particular on the new partnership agreement between the EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of countries, and a ‘collective actor’, paying special attention to the JAES and a number of EU policies that affect African development beyond aid. More specifically, this introductory chapter sets the context for the remainder of the book. The first section sketches the evolution of EU–Africa relations, between the adoption of the Cotonou Agreement in June 2000 and the third Africa–EU Summit held in Tripoli in November 2010. The second section presents some contending explanations, drawing on studies of EU external relations as well as offering a perspective of Africa. The third section introduces the structure of the volume, giving an overview of the various chapters including the conclusion which summarises the key findings and more generally discusses tensions and contradictions in the EU’s policies towards Africa.

An evolving relationship: from Cairo to Tripoli via Cotonou

The evolution of EU–Africa relations should be set against two tracks. The first track concerns the programme managed by the European Commission. In this case, the most important change is certainly the adoption of the Cotonou Agreement, which marked a fundamental departure from the principles of the long-standing Lomé Convention.¹ The second track concerns the attempt to create a continent-wide policy towards Africa, under the slogan ‘one Europe, one Africa’, which started with the first Africa–EU Summit held in Cairo in April 2000.

The EU–ACP Partnership Agreements

When it was adopted in the early 1970s, the Lomé Convention was greeted as one of the most progressive agreements for North–South cooperation in that it established a contractual right to aid and gave ACP countries non-reciprocal trade preferences. But the disappointing performance of almost all ACP countries, the gradual inclusion of economic and political conditionalities by the EU, and the changing international context led to a profound re-thinking of the EU–ACP cooperation framework. The adoption of the Cotonou Agreement became part of a process of ‘normalisation’ between the EU and its former colonies. In fact, it was established that: aid allocation would be made conditional not only on recipient needs but also on their performance; new free trade agreements would replace the previous preferential trade regime after an interim period (2000–07); political dialogue, meant to include issues that previously fell outside the fields of cooperation (that is, peace and security, arms trade, migration, drugs and corruption) would be reinforced (Babarinde and Faber, 2005; Flint, 2009).

Less than two years after it came into force in April 2003 (because of the protracted process of ratification), the Cotonou Agreement was revised in February 2005. Its overall structure was not altered, but the few changes reflected the EU’s preferences. Security became a more important priority, and the new provisions in this area – such as combating terrorism, countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), preventing mercenary activities and committing to the International Criminal Court (ICC) – were strongly criticised by African countries (Hadfield, 2007). The second revision, concluded in March 2010, introduced some changes with the view to strengthening cooperation in regional integration and climate change, and acknowledging the role of ACP national parliaments as actors of cooperation (Carbone, 2013). Interestingly, as soon as the second revision was concluded, the relevance of the EU–ACP framework started to be challenged by various parties, and not only in Europe. The issue, however, was not only whether the EU wanted to renew the Cotonou Agreement when it expires in 2020, but also whether the ACP continued to see the EU as its privileged partner. Some observers still pointed out how a number of common interests or shared values called for the revamping of the relationship between the two parties in a less asymmetrical fashion.

At the same time, besides these formal negotiation episodes, EU–ACP relations have been affected, if not compromised, by three issues. Firstly, the European Commission’s excessive emphasis on trade liberalisation over development in the negotiations of the EPAs was strongly criticised by African countries (as well as by some EU member states and the NGO (non-governmental organisation) community). Since no EPA had been signed with any of the African regions by December 2007, the negotiations continued after the agreed deadline. Eventually, several countries initialled (that is, they committed to signing) an interim EPA, but at the end of 2010 none of them agreed to fully ratify it (Ngangjoh-Hodu and Matambalya, 2010). Secondly, the risk of a securitisation of EU development policy became more evident in April 2004 when the funds for the newly created African Peace Facility (APF) were taken from the 9th European Development Fund (EDF), which until then had mainly been used for social and economic development. These concerns were partially mitigated by the fact that the APF was used for missions carried out by the African Union (AU) – in Sudan, the Comoros, Somalia and the Central African Republic – and to support capacity-building programmes of the AU Commission and other sub-regional organisations (Sicurelli, 2010). Thirdly, the implementation of the incentive-based approach to democratic governance, which was introduced by the 10th EDF and was meant to reward those countries which took concrete governance commitments, was disappointing. The EU assumed that all ACP countries would engage in reforms in order to get additional funds, but not only did most African countries perceive it as simply making resources conditional on good governance, but the actual disbursement patterns showed that most countries received the same amount of incentives (Molenaers and Nijs, 2009; Carbone, 2010).

The Joint Africa–EU Strategy

The real novelty in EU–Africa relations since the turn of the century has been the EU’s attempt to pursue a common (for member states and European institutions) and continent-wide (beyond North and sub-Saharan) approach to Africa. This process started with the first Africa–EU Summit held in Cairo in April 2000, but despite the adoption of a declaration and a plan of action it was clear that European representatives placed more emphasis on political aspects, most notably human rights, democracy and conflict prevention, while African representatives concentrated on economic issues, most notably aid, debt relief and trade opportunities. The second meeting planned for Lisbon in April 2003 was postponed owing to a disagreement over the participation of President Robert Mugabe and other Zimbabwean leaders. Because of the earlier imposition of a travel ban, several EU member states sought to prevent Mugabe from entering the EU area. African leaders saw this as an inappropriate interference, arguing that it was not possible to hold a meeting without all African states being represented (Olsen, 2004).

Meanwhile, several events called for a consolidation of EU–Africa relations. At the international level, global inequality and poverty eradication became a priority for the international community, as witnessed by the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the launch of the Doha Development Agenda (DDA). At the African level, the adoption of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) provided a platform for foreign donors and investors to work together in support of African development, while the setting up of the African Union further reassured the international community that African leaders wanted to take ownership of their future. At the EU level, the new commitments to boost the volume of aid (including doubling that for Africa), enhance the quality of aid and promote better policy coherence for development, were complemented by the adoption of the European Security Strategy (European Council, 2003) and the European Consensus on Development (European Union, 2006). With all these initiatives, the EU clearly sought to enhance development effectiveness, but at the same time it was attempting to strengthen its profile in the international arena (Carbone, 2007).

Against this background, the EU adopted a strategy for Africa in December 2005 (Council of the European Union, 2005). This document represented the convergence of two views. On the one hand, the European Commission (2005), in a paper produced by Directorate General for Development (DG Development), focused on foreign aid and policy coherence for development as key tools to achieve the MDGs. On the other hand, the Council, in a paper produced by the High Representative for the CFSP, Javier Solana (in 2005), saw the promotion of peace and security in Africa as central to the CFSP.² The EU’s Strategy for Africa received mixed evaluations. True, it represented a remarkable novelty in that it set a framework for a more consistent EU policy towards Africa. Yet, it did not make a qualitative leap because it simply reiterated existing commitments on aid and trade and was adopted with little consultation of relevant stakeholders. Because of this, at the EU–AU Ministerial meeting in Bamako in December 2005 it was agreed to transform the EU’s Strategy for Africa into a partnership between Africa and the EU (European Commission, 2007).

This time the drafting process was more participatory, but the second EU–Africa Summit in December 2007 was once again preceded by a division over the presence of President Mugabe: some EU leaders, including the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, were against his participation, and when it was decided to allow Mugabe to be involved, these leaders decided to pull out. The new Joint Africa–EU Strategy is a much longer and comprehensive document than its predecessor (Council of the European Union, 2007). The starting point was the idea of a ‘new strategic partnership’, in which the two parties would cooperate not only because of a ‘Euro-African consensus on values, common interests and common strategic objectives’, but also because ‘each one expects to benefit from the other’ (Olivier, 2011: 59). The targets were both Africa’s development and the global governance architecture; in particular, the two parties strived to promote peace and security, democratic governance, human rights and people-centered development in Africa, and to address issues of common interest in the international arena through effective multilateralism and a more representative system of global governance. To meet these objectives, a detailed action plan for 2008–10 was adopted, which included eight ‘Africa–EU Partnerships’: peace and security; democratic governance and human rights; trade and regional integration; MDGs; energy; climate change; migration, mobility and employment; science, information society and space. In sum, it seemed that there was hardly any field in which EU and Africa were not meant to cooperate (Schmidt, 2008).

The third Africa–EU Summit held in Tripoli in November 2010, which attracted limited interest by political leaders and the media, recorded a number of disappointments. While a number of observers pointed to the fact that the EU was losing ground vis-à-vis the BRIC group, particularly China (Wissenbach, 2009; Bach, 2010), the emergence of these new actors did not seem to affect the EU’s overall strategy toward the African continent. In fact, the EU did not make new commitments to increase foreign aid. Moreover, the voices of African leaders complaining that trade barriers and agriculture subsidies ‘shamefully’ protected European markets from African products, hindering their ability to trade as equals, remained unheeded (Carbone, 2011). The initial implementation of the First JAES Action Plan produced only cumbersome institutional frameworks meant to consolidate dialogue between the two parties, with a large number of meetings and technical activities often seen as the only indication of success. The issue of peace and security was singled out as one of the few areas in which there was some progress: the EU has been among the key sponsors of Africa-led peace-keeping missions and other mechanisms promoting the AU’s role as a mediator in political and security crises.

Contending explanations

Until the end of the 1990s, relations between the EU and Africa were conceived mainly in development terms and within the prism of EU–ACP relations. Some scholars argued that the Lomé Convention represented a prime example of successful cooperation between developed and developing states, the latest step in a historical process from colonialism to mutual cooperation and equality. By contrast, more critical observers maintained that the Lomé system perpetuated inequalities between the two parties; in fact, it guaranteed Europe raw materials and a vast market for its manufacturing goods and investment, while African countries faced several obstacles when they tried to exports their products.³ While the Lomé period has been the object of contentious debate, the post-Lomé period and the EU’s attempts to pursue a ‘continent-to-continent’ approach have attracted limited academic attention.

EU internal factors

This volume seeks to shed light on three different debates within EU studies. The first debate relates to the EU policy-making process (and more generally EU integration theories), particularly the balance between the role of the member states and that of EU supranational institutions. On the one hand, some scholars argue that the EU’s Africa policy is the result of the convergence of the preferences of key member states, most notably France and the United Kingdom. This is mostly evident in the case of security policy (Chafer and Cumming, 2011), partially in the case of development policy (Olsen, 2008b) and less so in trade policy (Elgström and Pilegaard, 2008). On the other hand, a group of scholars maintains that the EU’s Africa policy reflects the bureaucratic interests of the European Commission, and this has ensured continuity more than change (Babarinde and Faber, 2005). In the field of trade, the Commission has used informational and procedural advantages to increase its autonomy vis-à-vis the EU member states in the EPA negotiations (Elgström and Frennhoff Larsén, 2010). In the field of security, it has ‘used’ Africa to steal competences away from the Council: by framing security in Africa as a development issue not only did it push the Council to take some decisions in security policy (Krause, 2003), but it even replaced it in the management of resources (Sicurelli, 2008).⁴

The second debate is interested in the relations between the EU and Africa as a subset of the EU’s external action. In the late 1990s, not only was it clear that the traditional tools used for development had become inadequate, but the EU saw its involvement in conflict prevention and management in Africa as vital in becoming a more significant player in international politics (Olsen, 2008a; Bagayoko and Gibert, 2009; Sicurelli, 2010). This, however, did not necessarily mean that the profile of Africa in the EU’s external relations was augmented; for Bayart, in fact, ‘EU Member States use Africa policy as a way of creating a united Europe on the cheap, precisely because the stakes in their relations with Africa are so very low’ (Bayart, 2004: 454). Similarly, for Hadfield (2007), the injection of securitised principles has transformed EU development policy from a mainstay of EU external relations into a low-profile aspect of EU external relations. By contrast, others argue that the rise of international terrorism has not significantly altered the EU’s approach to Africa and most of the initiatives taken in the early 2000s on security policy have actually contributed to raising the profile of the developing world in the EU’s overall external affairs (Olsen, 2008b; Carbone, 2011).

The third debate concerns the kind of power the EU is, or wants to be, in the international arena. On one side, there are those who claim that the EU is a realist power. They argue that the EU has pursued its interests, attempting to guarantee itself access to the continent’s emerging markets and preserve its interests in international security (Farrell, 2005; Faust and Messner, 2005; Storey, 2006). On the other side, there are those who have investigated the role of the EU as a normative power. They suggest that the EU has sought to promote a wide range of norms, notably liberalisation and democratisation (Elgström, 2000), sustainable development (Flint, 2009), regional integration (Farrell, 2009; Söderbaum and Stålgren, 2010) and the empowerment of African countries, particularly in the fields of environmental politics and human rights (Scheipers and Sicurelli, 2008). In the middle, there are those who maintain that it is actually not possible to clearly separate interests from norms (Langan, 2011), or that the EU has used its relations with Africa as an indirect instrument of structural power by imposing development and general trade liberalisation rather than its specific interests (Holden, 2009).

EU external factors and Africa’s perspective

While the existing literature on EU–Africa relations has focused on the EU, increasingly more attention has been paid to Africa’s perspectives – which also reflects a general trend in the field of international relations (Smith, 2009). For many years, the prevailing view seemed to be that ‘to a very large extent, Africa’s position in the global system depend[ed] on the outside world’s, mainly the OECD states’ assessment of its importance to the affluent and strong countries’ (Engel and Olsen, 2004: 15–16). If few Africanists in the 1990s claimed that ‘the discourse on Africa’s marginality is a nonsense’ (Bayart, 2004: 267), following the establishment of NEPAD and the AU, a consensus started to emerge that Africa was taking a more prominent role in world politics (Taylor and Williams, 2004; Taylor, 2011).

While acknowledging, and even supporting, these processes, the EU has not always acted accordingly. In spite of the rhetorical emphasis on partnership, the relations between the EU and Africa in the new century seem to have reinforced the patterns of asymmetrical relations of the previous century. A first group of scholars, who draw on international political economy, have shown that, while the Lomé Convention (at least initially) attempted to incorporate some of the South’s claims for special treatment in the international system, the Cotonou Agreement has completely re-designed the EU–ACP relationship by instilling neo-liberalism principles and even re-designing the development strategies of various African states. The EU, by blending ideas of consent (for example, dialogue, partnership, ownership) and coercion (for example, trade liberalisation and aid conditionality), has managed to impose its material (and even normative) interests on weaker partners. The African ‘partners’, because of their dependence on European markets, had no other choice but to accept (Brown, 2002; Hurt, 2003; Nunn and Price, 2004). A second group of scholars has reached similar conclusions by focusing on the processes that led to the Cotonou Agreement and the JAES. Of course, there are some structural problems but at times the EU has willingly made decisions that have negatively affected Africa’s performance in the negotiations. In the EU–ACP framework, the ACP has a small secretariat in Brussels, supported (largely) by the EU itself. In the case of the JAES, the AU Commission, the privileged interlocutor of the European Commission, was at an embryonic stage when the JAES was negotiated and initially implemented (Sicurelli, 2011). But more significantly, the EU has contributed to undermining the idea of group solidarity that bridged the differences between the ACP constituent parts, by proposing sub-regional trade agreements (that is, EPAs) and by adopting three separate regional strategies for Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (Slocum-Bradley, 2007).

Another strand of the existing literature has examined the role of the EU in comparative perspectives. In the past, the EU’s approach was compared to that of the US, in the fields of foreign aid, trade and security policies (Olsen, 2008b), as well as in relation to more normative issues such as human rights and climate change (Scheipers and Sicurelli, 2008). The conclusion was that the EU generally tended to favour a multilateral approach and (often rhetorically) emphasised the idea of partnership, while the US adopted a more unilateralist approach, with limited consideration for local ownership. Increasingly, a number of scholars have concentrated on the rise of China, at times comparing its approach to that of the EU. In this case, the view that has emerged is that China has promoted South–South dynamics, on the basis of the principles of non-interference in political affairs and mutual benefits. By contrast, the EU has propagated North–South dynamics and supported a comprehensive model for economic, social and political development, with particular emphasis on democratic governance and human rights (Wissenbach, 2009; Carbone, 2011; Men and Barton, 2011). Similar conclusions come from the literature on the external perceptions of the EU. In particular, the EU is clearly perceived by African policy-makers as being driven by its commercial interests, and increasingly so to face competition from China and other BRIC countries (Elgstrom, 2007). More generally, it seems that the colonial legacy still affects the relationship between the two parties, in that it contributes to building expectations of compensation (through aid) and recording disappointments when those expectations are not met, particularly as a result of the EU’s tough stance on aid conditionality and economic protectionism (Sicurelli, 2011).

Outline of the book

Following this introductory chapter, this volume is divided into two parts: one on ‘actors and contexts’, and the other on ‘policies and partnerships’. The overall aim is to challenge three widely held assumptions about the role of the EU in Africa, encapsulated in the subtitle of the book (hence the choice of a question mark): incoherent policies, asymmetrical partnership, declining relevance. More specifically, are the EU’s policies towards Africa coherent? Is the EU–Africa relationship asymmetrical in spite of the emphasis on partnership and ownership? Is the EU’s relevance in, and for, Africa in the decline (vis-à-vis new and more established powers)? Each of the chapters tackles at least one of these three questions, though the various contributors do not necessarily reach similar conclusions.

With the risk of oversimplifying, the three questions can be answered as follows. Firstly, the EU has made more progress than could be expected in making its policies towards Africa more coherent. Tensions between EU member states and supranational institutions still persist in a number of areas, which ultimately challenge the EU’s international legitimacy and its self-proclaimed identity as a champion of the interests of the developing world. Secondly, the EU–Africa relationship is less asymmetrical than it is generally believed. However, this is not necessarily because of the EU’s rhetorical commitments to partnership and ownership, but mainly because Africa has become a more assertive actor and has used any opportunity to widen its policy space in negotiations with external actors. Thirdly, despite the fact that the EU has increasingly faced competition from a number of ‘emerging powers’, it is still a major player in Africa – and it is still perceived by its counterparts as such. This position of privilege is due to its comprehensive approach, which goes beyond the pursuit of only material interests and engagement with a selected number of strategic countries. To be sure, comprehensive approach does not equate with coherent approach, as argued in the answer to the first question, nor does it mean that the EU has managed to take full control of its paternalistic reflexes. It simply means that the EU has cooperated with Africa in a large number of fields, or at least more than any other established and emerging power. Of course, not all of the contributors share these conclusions, but this interplay of coherence, partnership and relevance should be kept in mind when readers look at the two parts that comprise this book.

Actors and contexts

The first part of the volume seeks to unravel some the forces that have shaped the evolution of EU–Africa relations since the beginning of the new century. The first three chapters focus on the EU. Fredrik Söderbaum (chapter 2) concentrates on some of the ‘internal’ challenges the EU faces to implement a coherent approach towards Africa. In particular, he shows a significant variation across policies, which is due to the resistance of the member states to pull sovereignty in some areas, but also to the disunity of the European Commission which has prevented it from exercising leadership. These problems have an impact, of course, on the EU’s internal and international legitimacy: genuine actorness, in fact, cannot be built around symbolic presence and declarations emphasising partnership which are detached from sound policy and real performance. Gorm Rye Olsen (chapter 3) questions the uniqueness of the EU as an actor in Africa while discussing the two key ‘external’ threats to its long-standing privileged position on the continent. The EU may have been more altruistic and responsive to Africa’s needs than any other actor, however China has slowly emerged as a potential alternative because of its emphasis on ‘mutual interest’ and its attempts to project itself as a ‘responsible global power’. The US approach by contrast has been largely driven by the pursuit of material interests and Africa has not been not involved in most of its initiatives. A significant difference between the EU and China, however, lies in the fact that the EU tends to emphasise a continent-to-continent approach together with the promotion of regional integration, while China prefers to engage with a few strategic countries. Richard Whitman and Toni Haastrup (chapter 4) argue that sub-Saharan Africa has proved a crucial component in the evolution of an embryonic strategic culture for the EU. By analysing strategic declarations and the various civilian and military operations deployed by the EU in Africa, they find that three different frames have informed the EU’s behaviour in Africa: the development–security nexus, the human security imperative and a preference for local enforcement.

The other two chapters in this first part of the volume concentrate on the African side of the EU–Africa relationship. In chapter 5, Ian Taylor discusses the interplay of internal challenges and external opportunities in Africa’s posture in world politics. Contrary to the prevailing view of the continent’s marginality and irrelevance, he claims that Africa has been inextricably entwined in world politics; in this sense, the establishment of the AU with all its limitations, and before that NEPAD, has only strengthened African agency. Because of this assertiveness, Africa has been able to successfully engage with the new external actors – China and India of course, but also Russia, Iran, Mexico, Turkey – and international corporations searching for economic opportunities, particularly in the area of oil. The novelty in the contemporary rush for resources vis-à-vis the colonial scramble, thus, is African agency. In chapter 6, Mary Farrell shows how, amidst a flurry of activity at the sub-regional and continental levels, African countries have taken a number of steps in the direction of closer cooperation with their neighbours, and have launched several initiatives to support regional cooperation and integration. The EU, on its part, has attempted to promote regional integration, but its approach has met with the resistance of African countries and regions, as witnessed by the refusal to sign the highly controversial EPAs and the increased competition in the infrastructure sector coming from China. Similarly, at a more continental level, despite the rhetoric, the two ‘partners’ have increasingly offered different perspectives on several issues, particularly in the areas of security, migration and environmental policies.

Policies and partnerships

The second part of this volume examines a number of policy areas, ranging from more established areas of cooperation – most notably aid, trade, agriculture and fisheries – to new areas of concern – such as migration, energy, climate change and social policies. The first two chapters look at some interesting dynamics in the area of development cooperation. Maurizio Carbone (chapter 7) finds that in its ambitious agenda on aid effectiveness, the EU has (not necessarily willingly) emphasised donor coordination and division of labour over recipient ownership. More specifically, in the supranational aid programme, the EU has significantly improved its development record by increasingly targeting the poorest countries and delivering aid more efficiently. Yet, it has often imposed its agenda, at times in the guise of governance and increased security, and has failed to engage with recipient governments, parliaments and non-state actors. The EU’s ‘federator’ role has been resisted not only by the EU member states, but also by African countries, who have feared the imposition of stricter conditionalities. Along similar lines, Gordon Crawford (chapter 8) finds a chasm between the rhetoric of policy statements and the reality of implementation in the EU’s attempt to promote democracy and human rights in Africa. The EU’s self-proclamation of normative power, therefore, is not substantiated in practise; not only have limited resources been allocated, but the EU has been silent in countries where it has strategic and commercial interests. The ironic conclusion is that, if there is any new partnership at all in EU–Africa relations, it is in the rhetorical commitment to values and the lack of pressure to undertake political reforms in the direction of democratisation.

The subsequent two chapters discuss economic relations. In chapter 9, Christopher Stevens argues that in the negotiations of the EPAs, the European Commission has embarked on a losing strategy, which not only has attracted strong criticism from EU member states, civil society organisations and African countries, but has also resulted in a failure to shape policy outcomes – in fact, none of the African regions has signed a full EPA by the agreed deadline, which highlights the limitations of the EU’s ‘hard power’ even in negotiations with a group of weaker developing countries. Moreover, the EU has jeopardised its efforts to promote regional integration and has backpedalled on other objectives such as enforceable environmental, social and labour provisions. In chapter 10, Alan Matthews maintains that there have been some improvements in the coherence of EU agriculture and fisheries policies with African development. In his view, the number of reforms conducted in the 1990s and 2000s in both policies have brought some benefits to Africa, particularly to African farmers in terms of market access, and to coastal communities with the adoption of the fisheries partnership agreements. At the same time, he shows that a number of incoherencies still persist, such as the EU’s resort to export subsidies, the increased number of non-tariff barriers, the strict rules of origin, the disappearance of the commodity protocols and the potential negative impact that preference erosion in both agriculture and fisheries policies may have on food security.

The two chapters that follow focus on two issues that have found increasing space in the global policy agenda: energy and climate change. Amelia Hadfield (chapter 11) examines the emergence and evolution of an energy-development policy nexus in EU–Africa relations. She shows how two broad policy dynamics in Africa, that at first sight appear to have little in common with each other, have established an early set of synergies. New producers in sub-Saharan Africa may contribute to easing the EU’s traditional fossil fuel reliance on Russian and Gulf exporters, but these same countries are also far older recipients of EU development aid, having for decades been blighted with underpowered state capacity, poor quality governance and chronic levels of poverty. In chapter 12, Simon Lightfoot points to the importance of climate change in EU–Africa relations. Firstly, climate change has a developmental dimension, hitting Africa earlier and harder than many other countries. Secondly, the EU has attempted to gain support from developing countries, particularly in Africa, in its attempt to shape the post-Kyoto Climate Agreement. However, the EU’s efforts to project a vision of normative power and offer global leadership has been significantly weakened by the lack of policy coherence, as well as the limited amount of funding made available to meet any of the priorities identified in the EU–Africa partnership on climate change.

The last two substantial chapters deal with the more social aspects of the EU–Africa partnership: migration and labour rights. In chapter 13, Tine Van Criekinge argues that the issue of migration, which has increasingly become more prominent in both Africa’s political agenda and EU’s external agenda, has created tensions between the two parties. On the one hand, African governments have attempted to make sure that migration contributes to development, most notably through remittances, ‘brain gain’ and by attracting external assistance to address its roots causes. On the other hand, the EU has attempted to promote a comprehensive and balanced approach, but has ultimately used a combination of repressive measures and incentives with the view to inducing African countries to comply with re-admission and migration control measures. Besides this preference for a security-oriented approach, the EU external migration policy has suffered from the lack of adequate funding, policy expertise and coordination between EU member states and supranational institutions. In chapter 14, Jan Orbie argues that since the early 2000s the European Union has followed international trends and has explicitly committed itself to promoting the social dimension of globalisation in its external relations, including in Africa. Nevertheless, after meticulous analysis of political agreements, budgetary commitments and trade arrangements, he found that the EU’s implementation record has been poor, and social issues have been largely overshadowed by other considerations. This failure, however, has not strained the EU–Africa partnership: in fact the EU’s overall emphasis on labour standard has generally been seen by African countries as a neo-colonial agenda, interfering with their sovereignty. By contrast, African policy-makers have generally favoured a paradigm which prioritises growth and development over social issues.


In chapter 15, Michael Smith reviews the main findings of the volume and draws some more general conclusions on EU–Africa relations. Broadly in line with this introduction, he identifies four general themes coming from the various chapters: intra-EU institutional dynamics, tensions in policy implementation, impact, links with the broader world order. Firstly, internal institutional forces have major shaping effects on the formulation and the direction of the EU’s Africa policies. The European Commission and the EU member states are at the core of the multilevel policy-making dilemmas faced by the EU. But the chain extends upwards to the institutions of global governance and downwards to the role played by the (post-Lisbon Treaty) EU delegations. Unsurprisingly, the results are a fragmented policy-making process and the related problems of a lack of coherence and consistency. Secondly, there is a highly differentiated set of relationships between the EU and Africa, both in terms of countries and issues. This generates a number of tensions and contradictions between normative and material interests. The EU’s commitment to poverty eradication and African development, therefore, is only one part of the story. The other part is represented by the hard-nosed trade negotiations, the resistance to African migration and the increased securitisation of development policy. Thirdly, beyond the rhetoric of equality and partnership, some interesting dynamics are at play in the EU–Africa relationship. On the one hand, the EU’s approach often evokes distinctly coercive forms of behaviour. On the other hand, there is evidence that African countries find ways to avoid, resist or re-configure EU policies, because of the agency available to African countries or because of the benefits they manage to reap from the uncoordinated character of EU polices. Fourth, the EU–Africa relationship can be seen as part of the EU’s search for order. Granted, the EU may no longer be in a position of dominance as a partner for African countries, because of the growing interest in the continent on the part of China, the USA and other emerging powers. Nevertheless, one of the truly distinctive aspects of the EU’s relationship with Africa is the attempt to construct and institutionalise a comprehensive inter-regional partnership and to build into it both the normative and material dimensions of the EU’s engagement with the international order.


1  Besides the relations with the members of the ACP group, the EU has developed formal relationships with North Africa through the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP) and European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), and with South Africa through the Trade and Development Cooperation Agreement (TCDA). This introduction, like most of the contributions, focuses only on sub-Saharan Africa.

2  The European Parliament (2005) endorsed the idea of having a ‘common’ strategy towards Africa in November 2005, but strongly emphasised the need to use conditionality to promote human rights and democratic practices.

3  For a review of EU–Africa relations between the 1950s and the 1990s, which is beyond the scope of this volume, see for instance, Ravenhill (1985), Lister (1988), Grilli (1993), Brown (2002) and Arts and Dickson (2004).

4  In addition to member states and EU institutions, other actors have at times played a role, so multilevel governance approaches have been proposed to explain the evolution of EU–Africa relations (Holland, 2002).


Arts, K. and Dickson, A.K. (eds) (2004) EU Development Cooperation: From Model to Symbol, Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Babarinde, O. and Faber, G. (eds) (2005) The European Union and Developing Countries: The Cotonou Agreement, Leiden: Brill.

Bach, D. (2010) ‘The EU’s Strategic Partnership with Africa: Model or Placebo?’, in O. Eze and A. Sesay (eds), The Africa–EU Strategic Partnership: Implications for Nigeria and Africa, Lagos: Nigerian Institute of International Affairs.

Bagoyoko, N. and Gibert, M. (2009) ‘The Linkage between Security, Governance and Development: The European Union in Africa’, Journal of Development Studies, 45 (5): 789–814.

Bayart, J.-F. (2004) ‘Commentary: Towards a New Start for Africa and Europe’, African Affairs, 103 (412): 453–8.

Brown, W. (2002) The European Union and Africa: The Restructuring of North–South Relations, London; New York: I.B. Tauris.

Carbone, M. (2007) The European Union and International Development: The Politics of Foreign Aid, London: Routledge.

Carbone, M. (2010) ‘The European Union, Good Governance and Aid Coordination’, Third World Quarterly, 31 (1): 13–29.

Carbone, M. (2011) ‘The European Union and China’s Rise in Africa: Competing Visions, External Coherence, and Trilateral Cooperation’, Journal of Contemporary African Studies, 29 (2): 203–21.

Carbone, M. (2013) ‘Friends with Benefits: The EU, the ACP Group, and the Renegotiation of a Special Relationship’, unpublished paper.

Chafer, T. and Cumming, G. (eds) (2011) From Rivalry to Partnership? New Approaches to the Challenges of Africa, Farnham: Ashgate.

Council of the European Union (2005) The EU and Africa: Towards a Strategic Partnership, 15961/05 (Presse 367), 19 December.

Council of the European Union (2007) The Africa–EU Strategic Partnership:

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