The fourth lunch-time seminar on the future of Africa-EU relations organised on 20 January 2014 by the European Commission through the JAES Support Mechanism re-emphasised the importance of promoting democratic governance and fighting against corruption to support sustainable development. The truthful and open views shared during the meeting showed that the partnership has come a long way in creating better conditions for dialogue between Africa and the EU on sensitive issues such as corruption and human rights. The seminar brought together more than 100 participants from African Embassies, EU Member States, international organisations, research institutes, civil society and the private sector.
The opening of the seminar was done by Françoise Moreau, Head of the Pan-African unit at the European Commission. The panel of speakers was composed of Mr. Günter Nooke, Personal Representative of Chancellor Angela Merkel for Africa, Professor Adebayo Olukoshi, Director of United Nations African Institute for Economic Development and Member of International IDEA Board of Advisors, Mr. Jose Manuel Briosa e Gala, Special Advisor to President Barroso on Africa and Development within G8, Rt Hon Lord Paul Boateng, UK Parliament, Mr. Hassan Sire Sheikh, Director of the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights’ Defenders Network, and Mr. Wael M. Attiya, Director of Human Rights and Social Affairs Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Egypt. The moderator and facilitator of the discussions was Jean Bossuyt of ECDPM.
The key messages that emerged from the intensive discussions include:
- African and EU have common goals: Good-governance, human rights, the fight against corruption, the promotion of greater transparency and accountability, are at the core of EU internal and external action (European Court of Human Rights, the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights, etc.) and are also upheld by the AU as demonstrated by the number of continental frameworks dealing with those issues such as the African Governance Architecture, the African Convention on Preventing and Combatting Corruption and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, etc.
- Strengthening of local systems and home-grown reform processes: Those elements are seen as of key importance in Africa and EU countries and a way of enabling citizens to use rule of law to challenge those who threaten their rights .
- Continental added-value: Although good governance, justice, rule of law, the management of natural resources and fight against corruption are exercised at country level, there is an added-value in addressing it at continental level to promote shared values and harmonise standards as well as to ensure exchange of best practices, at all levels, including in important industries such as the exploitation of mineral resources.
- No African or European country can claim absolute insulation from the risk of corruption and bad governance: Good governance, including the institutionalisation of rule of law, of strong judiciary systems and fight against corruption is a permanent process; Africa and EU should work together on those issues without pointing fingers at each other.
- Yes to frank and serious dialogue – No to prescriptions: it emerged from the debate that renewed relations and enhanced dialogue should be based on forthrightness, and mutual respect, and avoid prescriptions and conditionality as it is doomed to fail in the long-run.
- Transparency and accountability by citizens and corporate entities need to be reinforced in Africa and Europe through the institutionalisation of effective legal and regulatory instruments to curb illicit financial flows including those that could potentially originate from the activities of multi-nationals and through reinforcing the roles of civil society institutions including consumer protection agencies and the strengthening of Parliament to Parliament dialogue.
- Africa is not a monolithic block: The tendency to treat Africa as a monolithic block should be done away with, especially when referring to issues related to governance, corruption and human rights.
- There can be no room for double standards: Africa and EU should avoid the application of double standards when taking measures on issues related to democratic governance, human rights, justice, rule of law, corruption and illicit financial flows, and illicit trafficking in general.
- Respecting the life of spirit: Africa and EU should consider adopting frameworks that meet peoples’ identity to address issues relating to human rights such as the cases brought before the ICC.
- Universal relevance and/or universal rights: the debate underlined the need for addressing this question in an open and balanced manner and highlighted challenges being faced both by the EU and Africa, challenges of universal relevance – such as inequality, unemployment, fight for a sustainable environment, human rights (including rights of minorities), etc.
- EU and AU must open further to civil society if the partnership is to be relevant: a call for more inclusiveness and more openness to civil society participation, at the various levels was made and considered essential, both on EU and AU side ; examples of possible steps to create a more enabling environment for civil society were given, such as the call for NGOs that have observer statues at the ACHPR to be encouraged to participate in dialogues on human rights in the framework of the joint partnership.
- Prioritise areas where there is high level consensus: Africa-EU partnership actors need to take joint-cognisance of the areas that are still blurred (such as the articulation between human rights and the rights of minorities) by factors such as cultural differences and colonial heritage, and park those requiring better consensus in order not to lose momentum.
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