By Benjamin Fox
(EurActiv) — Simmering institutional tensions between the EU and the African Union resulted in the last-minute cancellation of a ‘mini-summit’ between European Union and African leaders planned for Wednesday (9 December).
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, the current chair of the AU, called off the summit on Tuesday, and insiders to the talks say that the cancellation of the videoconference was the result of disagreements over the agenda and the format of the meeting.
No African heads of state aside from Ramaphosa were able to attend the summit. Neither was, from the EU side, German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
An EU official blamed “agenda issues” for the cancellation.
The meeting had been billed by the EU as “an opportunity to build further momentum towards the upcoming summit and discuss the partnership between Europe and Africa.”
However, there is frustration among African officials that the EU seems intent on driving the agenda with little consultation.
The mini-summit had been announced in October by EU Council President Charles Michel, with minimum consultation with African leaders, shortly after plans for an EU-AU summit scheduled for October were abandoned because of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and disagreements over the agenda.
The European Commission’s strategy paper published in March promised to “build a more prosperous, more peaceful and more sustainable future for all”, around five proposed partnerships on energy, digitalisation, inward investment, peace and migration. The African Union is yet to publish its own position paper on its hopes from the partnership agenda.
“The EU needs to rethink its approach to the consultation process. The cancellation reflects the need to take the African side seriously,” a senior official involved in the talks told EURACTIV.
Having started this year with hopes of agreeing a ‘strategic partnership’ between the EU and Africa by the end 2020, little progress has been made, in part because the priorities of both continents have been focused on combating the COVID-19 pandemic.
The cancellation was greeted with dismay by development NGOs.
“The AU’s last-minute cancellation of today’s EU-AU leaders meeting sends a worrying signal of their lack of confidence in the EU’s commitment to a stronger partnership,” said Brandon Locke, policy and advocacy manager at The ONE Campaign.
“The EU’s partnership with Africa needs to move past a “donor-recipient” relationship to an alliance on equal footing, where Europe recognizes Africa’s interests and vision for its own future,” added Locke, who said the EU “needs to deliver with concrete commitments to rebalance the economic partnership between the two continents”.
Negotiators from the EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific community signed off on a 20-year partnership deal to succeed the Cotonou Agreement last Thursday night (3 December) after nearly three years of difficult talks.
Although the new pact includes a new regional protocol between the EU and sub-Saharan Africa, and a new tougher text on migrant re-admission and return, it left trade relations unchanged and based on the controversial economic partnership agreements, widely criticised for perpetuating unbalanced trade relations between the EU and African countries.