The third lunch-time seminar on the future of Africa-EU relations organised by the European Commission/DG EuropeAid highlighted the challenges and opportunities related to regional and continental integration, both in Africa and in Europe. For the African Union and the European Union, the integration processes are of mutual interest and represent an essential component in their relationships. The seminar brought together 75 participants from African Embassies, EU Member States, international organisations, research institutes, civil society and the private sector. Françoise Moreau, Head of the Pan-African unit at the European Commission, opened this 3rd seminar.
Pascal Lamy, Honorary President of Notre Europe and former WTO Director General and Dr. Obadiah Mailafia, Chief of Cabinet of the ACP Secretary General, set the tone with their open statements that triggered a rich and challenging exchange of views. H.E. Brave Ndisale, Ambassador of Malawi to the EU and Dr. San Bilal, Head of the Economic Governance department at ECDPM raised essential and critical issues to be addressed, by both Africa and the EU, in the pursuit of a win-win partnership.
The rich debate and lively exchanges brought forward several key messages, including:
- Take a fresh look at the changing realities: The Africa-EU partnership must adapt to the political, economic and social changes happening on both continents and in the international power-constellations.
- Change the terms of the relationship: There were unequivocal calls for the EU to reprioritize Africa in the EU investment, trade and foreign policy agenda and for Africa to look at Europe as its closest trading partner rather than an aid provider. African countries should start financing part of their regional integration process themselves.
- Low intra-African trade should be boosted: regional value chains requiring a high level of specialisation provide important opportunities for Africa. The EU – with its successes and failures – offers know-how and capacities that can enrich African decisions in this regard. Political will to push forward the regional integration agenda, to reinforce regional institutions, mobilize investments to national and regional infrastructure development and capacity building will be necessary for a successful outcome;
- “Break the ice” by dealing with the EPAs: The EPA negotiations put a strain on the Africa-EU relationship and a political solution is needed. Technical solutions exist but an engagement at a high political level is required to push the negotiations forward. The discussion on EPAs should be included in the framework of JAES. Once the EPAs are concluded, Africa and EU could turn to addressing convergence of rules, standards and norms which go beyond the Cotonou Agreement;
- Lessons that Africa can learn from Europe: African integration requires effective ownership. Meanwhile it is important to look at the EU's experience and how it may be useful for Africa, in particular to help Africa transform economic growth into well-being. Besides regional integration, addressing regional imbalances is important, through i.e. specific regional policies and tools that promote convergence of less-developed areas. These tools are not yet widely known in the development cooperation circles but are very important to tackle inequalities, promote local economic development, job creation and innovation;
- Focus on regional rather than continental integration in Africa: as the latter will not be a reality soon regional approaches to social and economic integration should be a priority ;
- Nevertheless panafrican institutions are indispensable: One significant area in which they can contribute is the development of statistics and standards, which are of key importance to trade. Here the EU can play an important role;
- Increase EU Africa cooperation on regulatory frameworks: Participants called for enhanced capacity building in the area of regulatory frameworks, rules and standards, quality control and SPS measures to ensure that African exports can reach global markets;
- Move from "aid for trade" to "investment for trade": trade facilitation is important to lower costs for African countries. Meanwhile, more attention is needed to build supply side capacities (skills, innovation, access to finance, entrepreneurship, territorial development).
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