THE EU-AFRICA LISBON SUMMIT AND THE FUTURE OF AFRICA
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”. 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," he said.
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 clearly towards a brighter future for either the 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 emphasised that Brussels was not pressurising African countries over trade, but warned that if no more interim deals take place by year end 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” adopted by the Lisbon Summit is to be successfully implemented and any mutual benefits are to be reaped from the relationship between the two continents in 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 above illustrate the issues: the one on the left is extracted from an EC presentation entitled “EU-Africa Partnership: Lisbon and Beyond”, while the one on the right depicts the existing overlapping African Regional Economic Communities (RECs). It would seem that little needs to be added to these graphs to make the point that neither Africa can be treated “as one”, as desirable as this may be as a long-term goal, nor deeper and wider economic integration can take place in Africa for as long as all the existing RECs are not adequately rationalised.
The EPAs 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 MDGs by 2015, are not jeopardised in the process. All these elements seem to be covered by the newly adopted “Africa-EU Strategic Partnership”. So there seems to be no need to ‘look back in anger’. However, in a wider context, Africa is faced with the challenge of simultaneously liberalising 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.
[A slightly different version of this article, originally written on 09/12/07, can be found at Atlantic Community and also at the Die Welt Debatte]
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