Union to Union: How are Europe and Africa Getting Along?
Steve McDonald, Director Africa Program and Project on Leadership and Building State Capacity;
Dr. Nick Westcott, Managing Director for Africa, European External Action Service, European Union
"My role as Managing Director is to try and bring together all of the diverse threads of Europe's relationship with Africa in a way that we have not been able to before," Dr. Nick Westcott said of his post in the European External Action Service (EEAS). Westcott affirmed that although Europe and Africa have, in the past, had relationships based on development, trade, and political agreements, "these were not brought together into a single, coherent policy towards Africa as a whole, and African countries bilaterally on an individual basis. Now we can do that." He went on to discuss the dynamics and intricacies of the relationship between the European and African Unions, but made the essentials of cooperation, collaboration with regard to resolving political matters, and economic integration the centrepiece of his discourse.
A New Kind of Engagement
Westcott identified two sets of issues – political crises and economic integration. In terms of current political crises that have come to a boil, Dr. Westcott cited Cote d'Ivoire as an example of the African Union taking the lead in arbitration, while the EU played a supportive role in response to the AU's position. He then spoke of the situation in Libya, which he characterized as "complex," due to what he deemed as "complicated international diplomatic geography" resulting from Libya's membership in the Arab League and its proximity to the EU. Nevertheless, he posited that efforts were being made to incorporate the AU into the UN-sponsored international effort. He briefly mentioned the referendum in Sudan, and asserted that the AU and the EU were working together to ensure the evolution of two viable states in the North and South. Also, Dr. Westcott touched on Somalia and said that joint efforts could go a long way to bring about a peaceful resolution to the seemingly "intractable dispute" therein, because the AU and EU both have important "ingredients" to contribute to achieve such an outcome.
As for economic integration and building mutual prosperity between Europe and Africa, Dr. Westcott admitted that the EEAS would take longer to demonstrate its impact, because of some "deeply embedded" pre-existing relationships (e.g. Cotonou and Lome Treaties). Yet, he charged that the EU, as a multilateral organization, is the biggest donor to African development efforts after the World Bank. Further, he stated, African countries find this partnership "congenial" because of a high degree of consultation and dialogue which fosters a "strong sense of ownership" of the direction that development programs take.
Dialogue as a Tool
"The political dialogue," Dr. Westcott asserted, "has to go hand in hand with the development dialogue." For example, political dialogue had undoubtedly been a cardinal element to ensuring an equitable outcome of the Togolese elections of 2010. However, in the event a political situation deteriorates, the Cotonou Treaty has a provision (Article 96), which stipulates the suspension of aid. Yet, this forms part of a process whereby the EU remains engaged and explains why aid has been frozen to the African country involved, what the concerns are, and gives them an opportunity to rectify matters of governance and/or corruption that are being raised. This process engenders "a benchmarked roadmap that will enable us to resume our support into a context where we have greater assurances that our money is going to be put to good use," Dr. Westcott said.
Apart from development assistance, real growth is expected to come out of the private sector, which is what the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA) between the AU and EU are designed to achieve. The EPAs, however, have been pilloried as unbalanced treaties and ineffective tools for African economic integration. Although negotiations to modify the EPAs have "run into the sand" due to competing interests amongst the various regional economic bodies on the continent, the EU is keen to see how the AU intends to promote economic integration with which it can partner.
Dr. Westcott concluded his remarks by stating that the AU assuredly faces many difficult decisions and hard work on the road ahead. To assist the AU, he said, the EU has experience which it wants to share "because the more integrated Africa becomes, the easier and more fruitful the relations between our two organizations can become."
In the Q&A session, Dr. Westcott made note of how criticism of the EPAs stemmed in large part from "a huge amount of misinformation that is thrown about in public." Thus, it is essential to explain what exactly they entail "and make sure this debate takes place in the public domain."
With regard to China, Dr. Westcott was of the opinion that Chinese firms in search of commercial advantages behave in the same fashion that any multinational organization would behave. He opined that although a great deal of noise is made in response to China's presence in Africa, "there is probably less to this than meets the eye" and that it was important that China is engaging with Africa. However, it is equally important that African nations read "the fine print" and make certain that these relationships are mutually beneficial.