Select Committee on European Union Thirty-Fourth Report

CHAPTER 2: The EU's comparative advantage

16.  The EU Strategy for Africa is not simply about what the EU Member States can do for the continent; it is predicated on the idea of building a strategic partnership. This implies that the European Union is a natural partner for Africa. Indeed, Jakkie Cilliers of the South African Institute for Security Studies described the partnership in those terms and argued that, in so far as the Strategy sought to strengthen the partnership between the two, it was "an extremely welcome development." (Q 122)

17.  This Chapter examines this "natural partnership" in detail under three headings: first we discuss why Europe is the natural partner of Africa; second we ask why the EU should act as a co-ordinating body; and third we consider how the EU should work with other multilateral organisations in relation to Africa.

Europe's relations with Africa

18.  The geographical proximity of Africa and Europe has ensured a close, but not always harmonious, relationship between the two continents for many centuries. Long before the systematic colonisation of Africa in the 19th century there were significant trade links and a history of the exchange of cultural ideas and developments, marred by the slave trade. Colonialism imposed European dominance upon the continent, but also cemented relations between particular countries, especially in the use of common languages such as English and French. Despite state independence movements in the mid-twentieth century, a number of Western European Countries such as the United Kingdom, France, Belgium and Portugal retain close ties with their former colonies.

19.  European trade and investment has remained of particular importance to Africa. The EU is the main trading partner for almost all African countries[15] whilst most investment in Africa originates from Europe, led by investors from France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Together with South Africa and the United States, these countries accounted for more than half of the region's inflows of foreign direct investment in 2004.[16] These economic links ensure that European governments and businesses have a direct interest in promoting sustainable development, in particular in terms of investment in infrastructure and governance initiatives which help to create a stable investment climate.

20.  But Europeans do not have a purely economic interest in African development. There is a growing recognition that Europe's security interests are closely related to those of its neighbours. The EU's Security Strategy[17] states that Europe now faces threats which are diverse, hidden and unpredictable such as terrorism, regional conflicts, state failure and organised crime.

21.  A particular challenge for Europe is the growth of migration from Africa—the population of Africa is growing rapidly and there are plenty of economic incentives for workers to seek employment in the developed world, whether legally or illegally. Given the proximity of the two continents, and the sharing of languages such as English and French, the majority of immigrants seek to come to Europe.

22.  Although the EU's strategic priorities are focused on its immediate neighbours, it is not possible for the EU to concentrate solely on the Mediterranean countries of Northern Africa and expect that problems elsewhere in Africa will have no impact on European affairs.

23.  The historical links between the two continents, as well as trade links and shared security interests, have resulted in a political willingness to work together which is not always apparent in other large developed states. The Strategy itself is a demonstration of this willingness, but more concrete evidence comes in the levels of aid donated by the EU Member States which together provide around 55 per cent of global overseas development assistance (ODA).[18] This is significantly greater than either the US or Japan, the world's next two largest contributors.[19] Given this level of aid, it is no surprise that developing nations, including those in Africa, wish to work with the EU to influence its development policy. In terms of funding, the EU is clearly the most important partner for Africa.

24.  Our attention was drawn by a number of witnesses towards the growing importance of relations between China and Africa. China is actively engaged in Africa in the search for resources, particularly raw materials such as oil and minerals, and in the creation of markets for its own products. It appears that the prime interests of the Chinese are economic, with little consideration of questions of human rights or governance. This type of engagement is often attractive to African leaders more concerned with bringing direct investment into a country than with developing good governance. (Q 289)

25.  The growing activity of China, and other newly industrialised states, represents a new dimension and possibly complicates implementation of the Strategy given that promotion of human rights and democracy is one of the Strategy's key components.

26.  Africa will only remain important as a trading partner if it is allowed to develop economically, and this cannot happen without peace, security and democracy. The EU's wide-ranging approach to sustainable development in Africa is, we believe, in the best long-term interests of both African states themselves and of those states investing in Africa.

27.  The EU should use its dialogue with China to encourage the Chinese to participate in encouraging reform in African states in the areas of governance, democracy and human rights.

The role of the European Union

28.  Given the longstanding relations between certain nations in Europe and Africa, it may be questioned why the EU as such needs to act. We have already seen that some Member States have longstanding relationships with particular African countries, with others having less experience of working in Africa. Not every Member State shares the United Kingdom Government's view of Africa as an external relations priority. For too long, EU-Africa relations have been fragmented, both in policy formation and implementation. The Strategy is designed to address this fragmentation.

29.  In many ways the EU already has a co-ordinating role in relation to Africa: trade policy for the EU is determined largely by the Union negotiating directly within the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and with third countries; EU peace and security (ESDP) missions in Africa can be run without the stigma of colonial interference that might arise from individual French, British, Belgian or German missions; educational exchanges can be promoted in parallel with schemes between Member States; and border controls to avoid illegal migration affect states beyond the EU's Southern borders.[20]

30.  The EU has developed formal links with Africa through the Yaoundé[21] and Lomé[22] Conventions and the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership.[23] The former Conventions date back to 1963 and established the framework for relations between the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of states (since 2000 this framework has taken the form of the Cotonou Agreement[24]). The latter agreement was established in 1995 and sets out the political, economic and social relations between the EU and southern Mediterranean partners. It covers African countries north of the Sahara, as well as other Middle Eastern states.[25] Both agreements have a trade and political dimension (including the promotion of good governance), but the former is more explicitly development oriented. The potential tensions between the two frameworks and their implications for a strategy for the whole of Africa is considered further in Chapter Four.

31.  More recently the EU has developed links with regional and continental organisations within Africa, in particular the recently formed African Union. The EU has a privileged relationship with the AU which is at the heart of the Strategy for Africa. As a regional organisation itself the EU has experience of institution building, a history of integration and an inclusive approach to partnership. African states can benefit from working together through regional organisations, and the EU is best-placed to assist in this process.

32.  Paradoxically, it is in relation to one of the Strategy's central themes—development assistance—that some doubts remain over the role of the European Union since it gives rise to questions of the extent to which the Union should co-ordinate the actions of Member States and seek harmonisation of policies. We consider this further in Chapter Five.

33.  Leaving aside the technical and other difficulties of bringing about closer co-operation, there is a clear case to be made for the EU's development of the Strategy for Africa. The European Union now covers most of Europe, including all those states with particular historical interests in Africa; it is the obvious means by which European countries should co-operate to deliver aid to Africa effectively and ensure coherent policies in areas such as peacekeeping, governance and trade.

34.  We endorse the principle of strengthened co-ordination between the Member States and institutions of the European Union and urge the United Kingdom Government to engage fully with the Commission and other Member States in the implementation of the Strategy for Africa.

Working with other multilateral institutions

35.  Despite the advantages discussed above, the EU has not taken the lead on the world stage in terms of prioritising the needs of Africa. As noted in Chapter One, the EU Strategy for Africa was only adopted at the end of 2005, following a number of other multilateral initiatives and commitments. Indeed, its primary aim of achievement of the MDGs is part of a global campaign led by the United Nations. Europe may have particular ties to Africa, but it is not alone responsible for ensuring that sustainable development targets are met. Whilst it is important that the European Union does act, it is also essential that its actions complement the work of other multilateral organisations and, in turn, that those organisations recognise the particular contribution which the European Union is capable of making.


36.  The UN is, and will remain, the overarching multilateral organisation through which the countries of the world come together to maintain international peace and security. One priority under the European Security Strategy is to strengthen the UN in order to equip it to fulfil its responsibilities and act effectively.[26] The EU's recognition of the worth of the UN has made it one of the most important contributors to that organisation.

37.  In our recent Report on the EU's Role at the Millennium Review Summit[27] we found that the EU contributed to the UN in two particularly important ways. Firstly, the EU Member States collectively pay 38 per cent of the UN's regular budget, as well as contributing 40 per cent of the costs its peacekeeping activities and around half of the voluntary contributions to UN finds and programmes.[28] Secondly, the EU has become invaluable to the UN in terms of peacekeeping and crisis management capabilities.[29]

38.  The Millennium Review Summit, held in September 2005, brought together more than 100 heads of state and government to forge an action plan for promoting international security and for achieving the Millennium Development Goals. The outcome document reaffirmed the UN member states' commitment to addressing the special needs of Africa, including strengthening co-operation with the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), supporting African commitment to primary education and basic health care, supporting the building of an international infrastructure consortium, making efforts to fully integrate African countries in the international trading system and encouraging the initiatives of the African Union[30] and sub-regional organisations to prevent, mediate and resolve conflicts.[31]

39.  Encouraging as such statements are, however, little in the way of new concrete commitments to Africa came out of the Review Summit. The Summit did commend the commitments made by the G8 and the EU and welcomed recent initiatives such as the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness[32], but these did not lead other UN member states to follow suit. Nevertheless, the agreement to establish a Peacebuilding Commission, recognition of the principle of the responsibility to protect and reform of the Human Rights Commission[33] could have a beneficial impact in Africa which suffers particularly from the cycle of conflict, economic stagnation and further conflict.

40.  The United Nations General Assembly is not a body which can deliver direct assistance to Africa in the way in which the European Union can. It is simply too large and too diverse. But its political statements give international backing to the EU's actions and are therefore important. The EU should continue to seek international backing for its work in Africa through the United Nations in order to gain the approval and assistance of third countries for that work.

41.  In addition, there are a number of UN agencies which are heavily involved in Africa. These are detailed in Box 2 below. Many of these agencies have established a high level of expertise in delivery of programmes as well as in co-ordinating programmes across the world. It is possible that EU and Member State programmes, for example on HIV/AIDs, could duplicate or even undermine the work of these agencies thus wasting resources of both organisations and failing the very people whom the EU and UN are trying to help. Accordingly, the EU and its Member States must work with all relevant UN agencies in both policy formation and programme delivery in a genuine spirit of co-operation.


Main UN Agencies Working in Africa

Programmes and Funds: UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD); UN Children's Fund (UNICEF); UN Development Programme (UNDP); UN Population Fund (UNFPA); Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); World Food Programme (WFP); UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT); Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

Commissions: Commission on Human Rights and the Office of the High Commissioner; Commission for Sustainable Development; Commission for Population and Development; Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).

Specialised Agencies: Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN (FAO); World Health Organisation (WHO); International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).


42.  In terms of Africa's economic development, the organisations which have the greatest potential impact are those that control the purse strings. Loans and grants from the World Bank are a significant form of finance for most African countries, whilst World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules have an impact on access to world markets for African goods. The OECD, whilst formed primarily of wealthier non-African member countries, has a commitment to the promotion of market economies around the world which also impacts on African states. In relation to the WTO the EU acts as a single unit and has the potential to take Africa's development needs into account in determining its trade policies. The likelihood of this being the case is considered further in Chapter Four. The EU has less direct influence over the other international economic institutions, but its Member States are often important players in their decision-making.


Institutions Governing the Global Economy

The International Finance Institutions

The IFIs are member state owned institutions which provide multilateral funding for development projects and resolving problems created by international indebtedness. The best known are the Bretton Woods institutions, in particular the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.

The IMF has 184 member countries and was established to promote international monetary co-operation, to foster economic growth and to provide temporary financial assistance to help ease countries' balance of payments adjustments.[34]

The World Bank also has 184 member countries and provides low-interest loans, interest-free credit and grants to developing countries for education, health, infrastructure and other purposes.[35]

There are a number of regional banks which support development, including the African Development Bank which committed US$53 billion between 1967 and 2004, and which announced on 19 April 2006 that it had approved debt cancellation for 33 African countries equal to US$8.54 billion.[36]

IFIs also include export credit agencies (ECAs): state-based public agencies which provide loans, guarantees and credit to domestic private corporations to do business abroad, particularly in the developing world.

The World Trade Organisation

The WTO governs the global rules of trade between nations. Its primary aim is the removal of trade barriers through the use of multilateral agreements.[37] The Sixth Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong in December 2005 emphasised the central importance of the development dimension in the current round of negotiations adopted at Doha and due to be concluded in 2006. This round is thus seen as of particular importance to African nations in ensuring that their needs are met.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

The OECD groups 30 member countries sharing a commitment to democratic government and the market economy. It works with 70 other countries, NGOs and civil society to promote good governance in the economy, public services and corporate activity. Its work with non-members is primarily with transition and emerging economies, but includes some developing countries.[38]

43.  It is essential that the EU, through its Member States, encourages the international finance institutions and the OECD to take into account the development and security needs of Africa in formulating and implementing their policies.


44.  The Commission for Africa was launched by the British Prime Minister in February 2004. It was formed of 17 Commissioners representing both the public and private sectors from Africa and Europe; the Commissioners all worked in a private capacity, not as representatives of particular states. The Commission agreed five formal objectives—to generate new ideas, to support the best of existing work on Africa, to help deliver implementation of existing international commitments towards Africa, to offer a fresh perspective and to listen to Africans—and carried out a wide-scale consultation programme in order to meet them. The Commission's Report was published on 11 March 2005.[39]

45.  The Commission for Africa Report was extensive[40] and covered six main areas: governance, peace and security, investing in people, poverty reduction, trade and resources. Although the areas themselves were not new, the Report emphasised the need for the different areas to be treated as a coherent package. The thrust of the Report was that "Africa requires a comprehensive 'big push' on many fronts at once. Partners must work together to implement this package with commitment, perseverance and speed, each focussing on how they can make the most effective contribution."[41]

46.  There is no doubt that the Report was influential. Its recommendations were quickly taken up by the EU, the G8 and the UN with the first two agreeing to increase resources whilst the UN secured further commitments from the international community, including on the creation of the Peacebuilding Commission. The Commission for Africa recommendations are not in themselves international commitments and there is no direct implementation mechanism for them. It is therefore important that other international organisations continue to monitor whether and how they can take up the recommendations.


47.  The G8[42] has made a number of commitments on Africa stretching back to the Kananaskis Summit in 2002 at which the Africa Action plan was adopted. The Plan defined a new partnership between G8 countries and those of Africa and set out specific commitments in support of NEPAD[43]. Under the Presidency of the United Kingdom the G8 Summit in Gleneagles in July 2005 reaffirmed the partnership with Africa in support of Africa's development and agreed to double aid for Africa by 2010.

48.  The G8 also approved an agreement earlier in the year by Finance Ministers[44] to cancel 100 per cent of outstanding debts of eligible Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC).[45]

49.  The United Kingdom Government have taken the challenge of monitoring the G8 commitments seriously. They have, since January 2006, published monthly updates on a Gleneagles Implementation Plan which sets out the milestones which need to be met to deliver the commitments agreed by the G8.[46] The Department for International Development also recently published a report setting out the United Kingdom's contribution to implementation of the Commission for Africa recommendations and the Gleneagles commitments on poverty.[47] This report recognises that Africa must lead its own development and provide effective governance whilst stating that the United Kingdom Government stands ready to be a partner. The report acknowledges the commitments made by the EU but does not comment directly on implementation of the EU Strategy. Following on from this, a Department for International Development (DfID) White Paper is expected to be published in the Summer of 2006 setting out a plan to translate the promises of 2005 into better lives for people in poorer countries.[48]


Summary of the Gleneagles Commitments for Africa

A doubling of aid by 2010—an extra $50 billion worldwide and $25 billion for Africa;

Writing-off immediately the debts of 18 of the world's poorest countries, most of which are in Africa. This is worth $40 billion now, and as much as $55 billion as more countries qualify;

Writing off $17 billion of Nigeria's debt, in the biggest single debt deal ever;

A commitment to end all export subsidies. A date for this, probably 2010, should be agreed at the World Trade Organisation's Ministerial in December. The G8 have also committed to reducing domestic subsidies, which distort trade;

Developing countries will "decide, plan and sequence their economic policies to fit with their own development strategies, for which they should be accountable to their people";

As close to universal access to HIV/AIDS treatments as possible by 2010;

Funding for treatment and bed nets to fight malaria, saving the lives of over 600,000 children every year;

Full funding to eradicate Polio from the world;

By 2015 all children will have access to good quality, free and compulsory education and to basic health care, free where a country chooses to provide it; and

Up to an extra 25,000 trained peacekeeping troops, helping the Africa Union to better respond to security challenges like Darfur.

50.  The G8 at Gleneagles identified the Africa Partnership Forum (APF) as the key body to track the implementation of its commitments on the basis of an action plan.


The Africa Partnership Forum

The APF was formed as a result of the formation of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) in 2001. At that time the G8 leaders decided to appoint a committee of high-level personal representatives to work with the NEPAD steering committee to develop a detailed, implementable Plan of Action in support of NEPAD. This resulted in the G8 Action Plan which was presented at Kananaskis. The committee developed into the APF.

APF members include the G8 partners as well as 11 other countries including the Nordic countries and the Netherlands. These countries account for some 98 per cent of ODA to Africa. The President of the European Commission is a member. The Forum also includes personal representatives of the heads of five key international institutions: the IMF, the OECD, the UN the World Bank and the WTO. Finally, it includes the African members of the NEPAD Heads of State and Government Implementation Committee (HSGIC) as well as the heads of the AU recognised Regional Economic Communities, the Head of the African Development Bank and the heads of state or government of Africa's principal industrialised development partners.

The Forum is a means of discussing and monitoring at a senior political level policy issues, strategy and priorities in support of Africa's development.[49] One of its key aims is to establish a Joint Action Plan bringing together the commitments that African countries and Africa's development partners have made to address the continent's development needs. Informed by the Joint Action Plan, the Forum will monitor progress and identify priorities for action as well as who will be responsible for implementation to facilitate delivery of the commitments made.[50] The Forum is due to next meet in the United Kingdom in October 2006 where an annual progress report will be presented.

51.  The Forum's terms of reference state that it should avoid setting up any new bureaucracy or institutions and that it should not duplicate the work of other fora.[51] Its remit is very much limited to strategic thinking and the sharing of information between its partners. It cannot deliver on the various commitments made by its partners, only monitor and review them.

52.  Although the EU Strategy for Africa brings together the institutions of the European Community and the Member States, the institutions themselves have the capacity to fulfil many of the commitments on development contained within the Strategy. Moreover, the EU also has a much broader remit on, and capacity for, peace keeping and security. It is this capacity which potentially renders the Strategy more concrete than other sets of promises made by the international community. Unlike the Forum, the EU can, and must, actively engage in Africa in order to deliver on the promises made.

53.  The EU Commission's participation in the Africa Partnership Forum should be used to ensure that unnecessary duplication of efforts by its members and the EU is avoided.

54.  Through its member states, the Forum should work with the EU, particularly in seeking to formulate complementary policies and ensure that their activities are carried out in a co-ordinated fashion avoiding unnecessary duplication.

15   Error! Bookmark not defined..  Back

16   World Investment Report 2005, United Nations, Overview, p 13. Back

17   A Secure Europe in a Better World: European Security Strategy Council of the European Union, Brussels, 12 December 2003.  Back

18   The Reform of the Management of the European Community's External Assistance: An Overview European Commission Report October 2002 p 2. Back

19   The Reform of the Management of the European Community's External Assistance: An Overview European Commission Report October 2002 p 2.  Back

20   The EU has recently agreed to co-ordinate its first joint sea patrol mission aimed at helping Spain stop migrants from reaching its Canary Islands. Many northern European countries, including the UK, are contributing to this mission, recognising that they are equally affected by illegal migration into the EU. Back

21   The first Yaoundé Convention between the Associated African and Malagasy States (AAMS) and the EEC of the six original Member States was signed in 1963. Back

22   The first Lomé Convention between the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries and the EC was signed in 1975. Back

23   This agreement between north African and Middle East countries and the EU was signed in 1995.  Back

24   For the full text of the Agreement see: Back

25   The 10 non-EU members of the Partnership are: Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey.  Back

26   A Secure Europe in a Better World: European Security Strategy Council of the European Union, Brussels, 12 December 2003. Back

27   European Union Committee, 11th Report (2005-2006) (HL 35).  Back

28   Paragraphs 17-18.  Back

29   Paragraphs 19-21.  Back

30   The structure of the African Union is outlined at paragraphs 65-67 and in Box 6.  Back

31   UN General Assembly, 60th Session, 2005 World Summit Outcome United Nations, 24 October 2005, A/Res/60/1. Back

32   See Chapter Five, paragraphs 194-199.  Back

33   UN General Assembly, 60th Session, 2005 World Summit Outcome United Nations, 24 October 2005, A/Res/60/1. Back

34   See the IMF website for more details: Back

35   See the World Bank website for more details: Back

36   See the African Development Bank website for details: Back

37   See the WTO website for more details: Back

38   See the OECD website for more details: Back

39   Our Common Interest: Report of the Commission for Africa 2005.  Back

40   The full Report totals 462 pages.  Back

41   Our Common Interest: Report of the Commission for Africa 2005, Executive Summary, p 13. Back

42   Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Back

43   The New Partnership for Africa's Development-see paragraphs 68-72 and Box 7.  Back

44 Back

45   The following 18 countries became eligible immediately: Benin, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guyana, Honduras, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia. As the remaining unsustainable HIPCs reach Completion Point they will also became eligible. Back

46  Back

47   Implementation of the Commission for Africa recommendations and G8 Gleneagles commitments on poverty HM Government, March 2006. Back

48   Eliminating World Poverty: A Consultation Document Department for International Development, January 2006. Back

49   Revised Terms of Reference for Africa Partnership Forum 5 October 2005, paragraph 3.  Back

50   Revised Terms of Reference for Africa Partnership Forum 5 October 2005, paragraphs 8 and 9. Back

51   Revised Terms of Reference for Africa Partnership Forum 5 October 2005, paragraphs 6 and 6. Back

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