In spite of the high-pitched controversy surrounding the contentious issues of Zimbabwe and Sudan, the 2nd EU-Africa Summit held in Lisbon over the weekend ended with the signing by the leaders of both continents of an “Africa-EU Strategic Partnership.” The Prime Minister of Portugal, Jose Socrates, ended the event on a positive note stating that the two continents have opened a new chapter in their relations: “What is important is that we met each other face to face on an equal setting in a new spirit. I think I can say the idea that has been expressed most often is that this summit represents the turning of a page in history.”
However, the apparent fallout over the EU-ACP Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) seems to suggest that, if a page in history was indeed turned, it might not have been towards a brighter future for either EU-Africa relations or the African economies in general. In fact, while Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade is reported to have stormed out of the meeting stating that “It’s clear that Africa rejects the EPAs. We are not talking any more about EPAs, we’ve rejected them,” European Commission President Jose Manuel Durao Barroso emphasized that Brussels was not pressurizing African countries over trade. He warned instead that if no more interim deals take place by the end of the year to avoid trade disruption, “the preferential agreement will no more be applicable from Jan. 1, 2008.”
Whatever the outcome of the current deadlock, there are at least two sets of constraints both the EU and African States must address if the “Africa-EU Strategic Partnership” is to be successfully implemented and any mutual benefits are to be reaped from the relationship between the two continents in the years to come. These constraints arise, on the one hand, from the EU institutional approach to Africa and, on the other, from the existing fragmentation of economic spaces in the continent. The graphs below illustrate the issues. The first is from the European Commission’s presentation EU-Africa Partnership - Lisbon and Beyond, while the second depicts the existing overlapping African Regional Economic Communities.
Little needs to be added to these graphs to make the point that Africa cannot be treated “as one,” though this may seem desirable as a long term goal. Furthermore, deeper and wider economic integration cannot take place in Africa as long as all the existing RECs are not adequately rationalized.
The EPA negotiations were expected to be essentially about striking the right balance between costs and benefits for Africa so that its long-term development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015, are not jeopardized in the process. All these elements seem to be covered by the newly adopted “Africa-EU Strategic Partnership.”
However, in a wider context, Africa is faced with the challenge of simultaneously liberalizing its markets in the context of EPAs and pursuing a path towards deeper regional integration as provided for by the Abuja Treaty, against a backdrop of overlapping memberships of RECs by most member states.
The successful meeting of this challenge is a prerequisite for the emergence of a fully operational African Economic Union, which will certainly be a convenient partner for the EU in a “real relationship of equals” capable of “turning a page in history” as purported by some of the final documents and statements issued by the Lisbon Summit.
Ana Santana is an Angolan based in London. She holds an MSc in Economic History and Development Economics from the London School of Economics and Political Science and has worked extensively in the Southern Africa region as an economic consultant on trade policy, a policy adviser and a research coordinator/trainer. She blogs at Koluki .
Ana Santana’s has written a longer analysis The EU-Africa Lisbon Summit and the Future of Africa for the Atlantic Community.
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