The 6th EU-AU Summit, scheduled for the 17-18 February 2022 in Brussels, takes place at a rather extraordinary moment in the evolution of relations between Europe and Africa. Leaders from across both regions would do well in recognising the significance of this period, and should aim to provide a more robust sense of strategic direction for the partnership, particularly from a peace and security perspective.
While the Summit will focus on promoting stability, through dedicated thematic roundtable discussions on the theme of peace, security, and governance, it is quite likely that other issues will take centre stage — if prior Summits and the EU-AU ministerial meeting of October 2021 is anything to go by. Despite migration and counter-terrorism efforts being regular features on the shared EU-AU political agenda, particular sticking points this year from the African side would likely stem from issues surrounding economic recovery due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, vaccine production and licensing, as well as responding to the EU’s proposed carbon tax on goods from non-EU states. From the European side, it is likely that issues surrounding climate security, trade and infrastructure will take precedence.
Greater cooperation on these issues is vital to a strengthened EU-AU partnership. However, discussions surrounding the peace and security dimension of the partnership have appeared oddly understated in the run-up to the 6th Summit. Even current European Council President, Emmanuel Macron, who has highlighted the significance of the Europe-Africa relationship as a major geopolitical project, has often limited his statements on the peace and security dimension (from an EU-AU perspective at least) to thematic discussions relating to migration and the fight against terrorism.
The relative side-lining of broader peace and security discussions at prior EU-AU Summits can partly be explained by the less contentious nature of such issues when compared to, for example, trade or migration — where interests on either side of the discussions have been much more sharply divided. Accordingly, such Summits are often not reflective of the pivotal role played by the EU, and individual EU member states, in the African peace and security landscape.
This role is most evident in financial support for AU-led peace support operations, most notably the AU Mission in Somalia, in which the EU’s African Peace Facility (APF) had channeled approximately EUR 2.9 billion during the period between 2004 and 2019, and whose ongoing support is vital for the continued operation of the mission. The EU (and its individual member states) also remain the largest financial contributor to the United Nations, while covering close to a quarter of its peacekeeping budget — the largest and most expensive of which operate across the African continent.
Accordingly, the EU’s role in broader African peace and security issues relating to the financing and sustainability of multilateral responses to conflict, including technical and capacity building support in the realm of peace operations, mediation initiatives and peacebuilding, warrants greater attention by leaders across both continents. And this would clearly benefit from a more streamlined and coherent shared political vision across Europe and Africa; something which could be hammered out and refined either formally or informally on the margins of the 6th EU-AU Summit.
A number of recent developments further reinforce the need for greater EU-AU cooperation on peace and security. Firstly, the new EU 7-year budget has considerably altered the way in which the EU will interact with the AU, and its member states, through the phasing-out and integration of the APF into the newly established European Peace Facility (EPF). This will likely see the EU assume a much more direct peace and security partnership role with individual African member states, while circumventing prior needs to consult and negotiate with AU officials. Moreover, uncertainties surrounding earmarked EPF funds specifically for peace and security support on the African continent may complicate EU-AU working relations over the short term. Another major point of consideration is that the EU now finds itself in an increasingly congested diplomatic space in jostling for influence with Africa. Peace and security have featured as a major component of the continent’s various other Summits with international partners including the United States, Japan, Turkey, China, India, and Russia.
The 6th EU-AU Summit should therefore be viewed as a key platform to advance discussions concerning broader peace and security issues between Europe and Africa. It is ideally structured to gauge the strength of shared interests and the alignment of complex policy positions, which are next to impossible to readily define in any other platform. The UN Security Council (UNSC), for example, provides an interesting setting to examine the confluence of AU and EU peace and security interests.
In recent years, the three elected African members to the UNSC (A3) have increasingly sought to pursue common African positions stemming from the AU, given the greater weight and legitimacy of these positions in influencing Council outcomes. While the coherence and coordination of such positions are of course far from perfect, there has been a deliberate drive toward ensuring that A3 positions become increasingly reflective of common African positions.
The European case is somewhat more complicated given that the formula used for geographic representation on the UNSC encompasses the European region, and not necessarily that of EU member states. In 2022, for example, Ireland is the sole elected member state representative with EU membership. The major catch here, however, is that France, as a pivotal EU member state, also maintains its influential position as a permanent UNSC member.
Accordingly, gauging the confluence of interests and general alignment of positions between the EU and AU within the world’s preeminent institution responsible for maintaining international peace and security could simply come down to examining political dynamics and interactions between France and the A3. The major limitation of doing so, however, is remaining cognisant of the extent to which France can realistically be seen as representative of collective EU interests on matters as complex and divisive as those tabled at the UNSC.
While more research is needed, a few tentative conclusions can be drawn from recent data on UNSC voting outcomes, between the A3, France and other permanent members. What particularly stands out in this regard is that on certain measures of association in voting patterns, France has consistently proved to be most closely aligned to the A3 than any other permanent member (for the 2014-2020 period). By examining the coincidence of ‘in favour’ voting outcomes between A3 and permanent UNSC members for each year between 2014 and 2020, we see a yearly association in similar votes cast between France and A3 members ranging between 88% (in 2018) to 99% (in 2014). By comparison, these measures ranged between 72% to 91% for Russia and the A3, 79% to 96% for China and the A3, 90% to 98% for the US and the A3, and 91% to 98% for the UK and the A3.
Wary of the limitations of such studies, it is nonetheless interesting to note the extent to which African positions (channeled through the A3) could be seen as aligning most closely to broader EU positions (drawing on France as a proxy), more so than any other permanent member on the UNSC.
The key takeaway from this exercise is that European and African leaders should critically appraise opportunities for more meaningful forms of cooperation on peace and security ahead of the 6th EU-AU Summit. There is clear evidence to suggest considerable leeway for both actors to better align their respective interests, and forge a stronger working relationship. While stated priorities relating to trade, climate security, COVID-19, and economic recovery are pressing issues that must be addressed, these could all be more meaningfully tied into a broader debate that situates peace, security and stability at the centre of the EU-AU partnership moving forward.