While EU member states and citizens debate the new EU Pact on Migration and Asylum, it is clear that migration has been, is and will continue to be an integral part of the relations between African and European countries. A ‘strong external dimension’ takes a pride of place in the Pact and ‘migration diplomacy’ will most probably be deployed as a tool of first choice to persuade (sometimes coerce) governments to agree to keep people in countries of origin and transit.
The European Union’s (EU) security engagement in Africa must always be viewed against the backdrop of colonial and postcolonial ties between Africa and Europe. However, irrespective of historical factors, Africa has a complex relationship with the EU in terms of peace and security. For more than two decades, EU member states, particularly France, have attempted to move their security role in Africa from traditional security focused on direct military interventions in armed conflict towards a broader ‘human security’.
Until a few years ago, one might have asked what does "development" have to do with the OECD, an organisation seen as the "Club of Rich Countries"? In fact, “development” is in the name of the organisation itself - the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. However, the meaning attached to the word has changed over 60 years of history. To understand this journey, I will outline three different phases.
Since the AU-EU Summit held in Abidjan, Nov 20-30, 2017, a progressive shift in the political and policy approach to Africa occurred in the EU. This change was not only meant to respond to the increasing requests for more investments and job creation, coming from African leaders and stakeholders, such as the private sector, civil society and youth; it was also driven by the geo-strategic changes occurring on the African continent.
Historically, EU relations with Africa have remained fragmented, based on relatively short-term arrangements, and with a weak capacity to command attention and political support. In an effort to inject new vigour into EU-Africa relations – and in line with a pledge to lead a ‘geopolitical Commission’ – early in her mandate president Ursula von der Leyen called for a ‘New comprehensive strategy with Africa’.
The most striking feature about Africa today is its geopolitical centrality. Predominantly because of the strong economic growth it experienced in the last decade, the technological innovations linked to the fourth industrial revolution, and heightened hopes for peaceful transitions, a new narrative of Africa as a “land of opportunity” has emerged in the international community.
What role can Italy play in today’s Africa? And what are our priorities?
Of course, our country cannot compete alone with the global giants either in size of funding or in impact on the continent. Yet, as a founding member of the European Union, it can certainly contribute significantly to forging EU policy and strategies beyond the Mediterranean, and indeed it is fulfilling this role quite effectively.
The European Commission's draft for a new “Comprehensive strategy with Africa” published in March 2020 deems the continent a top priority for the EU. The document proposed a renewed Euro-African political alliance based on five pillars: green transition and access to energy; digital transformation; sustainable growth and employment; peace, security and governance; migration and mobility.
The year 2020 was supposed to be a milestone in EU-Africa relations but the sixth AU-EU Summit planned in October was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. At the time when the EU released its draft for a new “Strategy with Africa”, early in 2020, no one working on its preparation could prevent the Covid-19 crisis’ escalation.
After Ursula von der Leyen took office in November 2019, her first visit outside Europe was to Africa. Selecting Africa as her first foreign visit was a bold statement to seek a partnership of equals with the African Union. In her speech, she made clear that Europe strongly aspires to become a geopolitical partner and a more assertive actor in the global arena. She presented the fight against climate change as the EU’s first priority.
After more than two years of negotiations, only in part affected by the outbreak of Covid-19, on 3 December 2020 the chief negotiators from the European Union (EU) and the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) reached a political deal on a new partnership to succeed the Cotonou Agreement for (at least) the next twenty years. This lengthy negotiation period was preceded by an equally long and contentious preparation process leading to the adoption of the two negotiation mandates.
In a progressively fragile and complex reality, the true social, economic and industrial revolution will start from space.