A globe that shows parts of Europe and Africa. What are the top five challenges for the two continents in 2015? Photo by: duncan c / CC BY-NC

Both the European Union and African Union face a threshold year where key international deals need to be struck at four major summits on financing for development, sustainable development goals, climate change and trade for development. Are global leaders ready to reach wide-ranging agreements for the post-2015 world?

The European Year for Development coincides with the culmination of the post-2015 debate, but not by coincidence. The new EU Commission, led by Jean-Claude Juncker, must get off to a running start. Now, more than ever, Europe’s problems need global solutions and global problems need European action.

Can the African Union speak with one voice and work to make the SDGs a useful stepping stone for its own ambitious Agenda 2063? What are the top five challenges for Europe and Africa in 2015?

Challenge 1: Build on the foundations of EU-Africa relations

In 2015, the new tone set in Africa-EU relations at the fourth EU-Africa Summit will need to be translated into deeds. Positive cooperation extended across multiple sectors and a commitment was made to strengthen dialogue at the highest level. Yet, to modernize the partnership and meet current needs, both continents still have some way to go in setting aside old stereotypes and patronizing attitudes. It is time to start implementing the road map set out, not least in tandem with global debates in 2015. The window of opportunity is short, as the African Union itself will see major institutional changes in just over a year.

Challenge 2: Define the future we want

Negotiations toward a new post-2015 development agenda are entering their final stretch. How ambitious will the new goals be? The secretary-general’s synthesis report confirms the importance of a broad sustainable development agenda that is integrated, inclusive, transformative and universal in application — and not just for developing countries to implement. How universal will “global” development be in practice?

Africa is giving greater attention to its own funds to implement its development plans and needs. Taking their lead from the lower-middle-income countries that have been most successful in poverty eradication during the past decade, Africans will likely also be seeking ideas and support for strengthening mobilization of their own domestic resources for development. Stronger cooperation between Europe and Africa will be needed to effectively tackle illicit financial flows.

Challenge 3: European solidarity and cooperation on migration

Europe is facing a humanitarian crisis on its own shores. In 2014, more than 3,400 migrants lost their lives crossing the Mediterranean. Since the new year, “ghost ships” have arrived on the shores of Italy, with gangs finding shocking ways of making sure migrants arrive in the EU, forcing authorities to react in an ad hoc way as official rescue operations in the Mediterranean by European naval forces have ended. Migration represents a vital area of cooperation that affects European and African citizens in a very immediate way.

Uncontrolled and illegal migration as a result of conflict, climate and economics is a problem on Europe’s doorstep, yet there is no process with sufficient political leadership and resources to meaningfully confront the problem and engender fuller cooperation on migration among EU member states. The December 2014 EU Foreign Affairs Council concluded that “EU action on migration and development should comprehensively address the full range of positive and negative impacts of migration on sustainable and inclusive economic, social and environmental development in countries of origin and destination” — will we see real progress in 2015?

Challenge 4: Security and development in Europe and Africa

Federica Mogherini, the EU’s new high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, will probably spend much of 2015 addressing volatile situations in Ukraine, Libya and the Sahel, and in Syria and Iraq with EU member state action against the Islamic State group.

This array of crises may also prompt calls for a review of the 12-year-old European Security Strategy. However, reviewing the ESS at a time when European sentiment is on the wane risks it being watered down. Much will depend on whether the new EU leadership succeeds in restoring a measure of confidence and dynamism to the European project.

The 2014 EU-Africa Summit reaffirmed peace and security as a joint priority for Europe and Africa. The outbreak of multiple conflicts in late 2013 and early 2014 suggest that Europe and Africa must consider ways to further strengthen their partnership’s commitment to peace building.

In Africa the African Governance Architecture aims to address the governance deficit in Africa by promoting and sustaining democracy, governance and human rights. It is hoped the July 2015 AU Summit may finalize the tools and legal instruments needed for the African Union to be better positioned to further address these governance issues and pre-empt the eruption of conflicts. The African Union’s handling of the recent crisis in Burkina Faso shows how the AU can now position itself with authority, and see results.

Challenge 5: A comprehensive approach to Ebola

The Ebola epidemic in West Africa is the largest and most devastating outbreak of the virus to date. In addition to the 8,000 deaths and many disrupted families these have created, the crisis has brought economic life to a halt, isolated remote communities, disrupted cross-border trade and raised concern about food shortages. The broader devastating impact of the Ebola outbreak will become clearer in 2015.

Ebola requires a much more comprehensive response from the EU. Longer-term support will need to focus on policies to support resilience in addition to immediate necessities like military assets and logistics support. The EU’s newly appointed Ebola coordinator, humanitarian aid chief Christos Stylianides, has been tasked to address these needs and coordinate action with his colleague Neven Mimica, the commissioner for international cooperation and development.

The rapid spread of the epidemic underscores global interdependencies and vulnerabilities and points to the continuing need for a rigorous, comprehensive and sustainable global development framework focused on lifting as many countries as possible out of the limbo of fragility that has, in many ways, enabled the disease to spread out of control in the first place.

What is the single most important international development or humanitarian aid-related challenge facing Europe and Africa in 2015? Have your say by adding a comment below.

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About the authors

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    James Mackie

    James Mackie is a specialist on EU development policy with a career of some 30 years in international development cooperation. In January 2012, he was appointed as a senior adviser on EU development policy in the European Center for Development Policy Management. He is also a visiting professor at the international relations and diplomacy department of the College of Europe in Bruges.
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    Rhys Williams

    Rhys Williams is communications officer at the European Center for Development Policy Management. He has a master's degree in global politics from the University of London, and a bachelor's in economics from Cardiff University. Previously, he was an analyst and communications assistant at Development Initiatives.