'Top-down' approach needed for EU-Africa partnership — EU official

From left to right: Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa, Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council and José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission at the EU-Africa Summit in 2010. The upcoming 2014 summit aims to reinforce Africa-EU bilateral cooperation, promote investment, jobs, economic growth and conflict prevention in Africa. Photo by: President of the European Council / CC BY-NC-ND

The current Joint Africa-EU Strategy covers the full spectrum of topics and sectors, with communication at all levels following a “bottom-up” approach on an informal and daily basis.

But to accelerate progress in advance of the April 2014 EU-Africa Summit, a new “top-down” system of communication needs to be put in place in order to focus on the nature of this partnership for development, according to Françoise Moreau, Head of the Africa-EU Partnership and Peace Facility Unit at the European Commission.

“We need to carefully look at the current structures and make sure that, at the political level, there is agreement on our common strategic goals. For this agreement to be reached, I am personally convinced that communication matters,” she said during an exclusive interview with Devex. “Beyond institutions, mobilizing all channels of communication will enable us, as equal partners, to get the most out of our partnership and to present a delicious ‘menu’ of activities from our JAES ‘cuisine’.”

Discussing the priorities and future challenges for the Africa-EU Strategic Partnership, established at the EU-Africa Summit in Lisbon in 2007, here are some highlights from our conversation with Moreau:

What is the Africa-EU Partnership’s biggest achievement in the last three years in terms of trade, jobs and aid efficiency?

What is new … is the shared aspiration to cooperate on the continent-to-continent level, on issues of mutual interest, as well as on issues of a global nature. In particular, the EU welcomes Africa’s aspirations for continental integration and cooperation, both politically and economically. The growing engagement of the EU with the AU and the United Nations in tackling conflicts is one of the most tangible achievements of the partnership.

Concerning trade, the most important element has been the launching — or enhancing, where it already existed — of an articulated policy dialogue on trade with the AU and its Regional Economic Communities. In addition, the strengthening of African capacities in the important area of rules, standards and quality control — for instance for food products — will benefit trade between our continents, allowing African producers to access international and EU markets, which in turn helps increase their revenues and create jobs.

What is your main priority for the upcoming Africa-EU summit? What obstacles do you envision for the implementation of the joint strategy and what will be done concretely to overcome them?

The main objective … is to reinforce and strengthen our bilateral cooperation, create a credible alliance in the international arena and support efforts to realize the economic and entrepreneurial potential in the cooperation between Africa and the EU. The summit could highlight the potential of the relationship in areas such as improving the framework for investment, jobs and growth; strengthening conflict prevention and crisis management; and establishing stronger mechanisms of cooperation in international fora to tackle global challenges, such as climate change or the post-2015 development framework.

The implementation of the JAES has been successful in some areas, such as energy and infrastructure. In other areas it hasn’t yet led to concrete results. Having worked with the JAES architecture for a few years now, we have learned that content and activities should go before structures. The summit will be a good opportunity to have a fresh look at our structure for cooperation.

We should continue [to do] what works well and introduce more flexibility, in order to adapt to evolving priorities.

Despite the joint strategy supporting Africa’s aspirations to find trans-regional and continental responses to some of the most important challenges, regional integration remains far below original expectations. What steps are being taken to meet the challenges and what innovative approaches are foreseen?

Regional integration is an ambitious and long-term process, as shown by Europe’s own experience. The main responsibility for the regional integration process in Africa is with African governments, regional organizations and the African Union.

Africa has outlined an ambitious plan towards a Continental Free Trade Area, but is still facing a lot of challenges. Notwithstanding the declared commitment for integration, regional integration in Africa has proven to be a complicated intergovernmental process. Not all past decisions were conducive to effective integration … In this context, the EU is supporting the regional agendas financially, technically and through an active political dialogue.

The funding for the partnership comes from the European Development Fund but there is not a dedicated budget for it. Why not? Will there be one in future? And is additional financing from the private sector or philanthropic organizations foreseen?

Even without a dedicated funding instrument, the EU provides substantial support to the activities jointly agreed under the Africa-EU Partnership Action Plans … For the future, in addition to this support, the Commission has proposed a new program for the next financial cycle [2014-20] dedicated to the cooperation at the continental level, the so-called Pan-African Program. This program will be funded through the EU budget and … aims at involving civil society, other non-state actors and the private sector. Both the private sector and civil society at large have a vital role to play in enabling investment, transforming the economy, and promoting human development and democratic governance. We will therefore make sure that their perspectives and inputs for the summit are integrated into the debate.

The joint strategy sets out both sides’ intentions to move beyond a donor-recipient relationship towards long-term cooperation on jointly identified, mutual and complementary interests. How will this process work, what new trends will emerge and what development aid norms will change as a result?

Our point of departure is the [2011 Commission communication] ”Agenda for Change”, in which the new principles for EU development cooperation are set out, in particular a focus on sustainable and inclusive growth and on the role of the private sector and entrepreneurship.

We also start from the idea that Europe and Africa must work as equal partners who  although being in different situations — face several common challenges, such as youth unemployment or rising inequalities. In practice, this means that our cooperation could focus on initiatives that benefit people and businesses from both continents and contribute to human development. The close relationship between security and development, sometimes referred to as two sides of the same coin, is also at the heart of our cooperation.

You outlined the partnership’s communication problems and lack of a “unique message”. Is there a lack of strategic thinking here, or a case of “too many cooks” giving input with divergent interests and opinions? What can be done to better communicate the key issues?

The current JAES could be described as “bottom-up,” with communication at all levels, on an informal and daily basis.  

The summit will be a good occasion to give guidance “top-down” and provide focus to our partnership. We need to carefully look at the current structures and make sure that, at the political level, there is agreement on our common strategic goals. For this agreement to be reached, I am personally convinced that communication matters … Beyond institutions, mobilizing all channels of communication will enable us, as equal partners, to get the most out of our partnership and to present a delicious “menu” of activities from our JAES “cuisine”.

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About the author

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    Eva Donelli

    As a correspondent based in Brussels, Eva Donelli covers EU development policy issues and actors, from the EU institutions to the international NGO community. Eva was previously at the United Nations Regional Information Center for Western Europe and in the European Parliament's press office. As a freelance reporter, she has contributed to Italian and international magazines covering a wide range of issues, including EU affairs, development policy, social protection and nuclear energy. She speaks fluent English, French and Spanish in addition to her native Italian.