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EU and Africa

EU leaders were stunned to learn that 17 African countries abstained on the UN vote to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. However, a close reading of EU Africa relations would suggest that this outcome was not surprising at all. Helping African countries with both the food and energy crises could stop the rot.

The charge sheet against the EU in its treatment of Africa in just the last two years is long and getting longer.

As they say in respect of many doomed relationships, it didn’t have to be this way. At the beginning of her mandate, President Ursula von der Leyen committed the EU to developing a partnership with Africa and her first overseas visit as President was to....(or she visited ..... early in her mandate).

It was in this spirit that the name of the European Commission’s Development cooperation department, DG Devco, was changed to DG Intpa (International partnerships).

However, covid and the war in Ukraine inevitably pushed this new approach into the sidings. What was not inevitable and is potentially very damaging is the series of other policy approaches which individually amount to very little but, read together, amount to a great deal.

1. Migration conditionality - EU migration policy has begun to bleed into its development policy. The current EU budget makes the disbursement of some EU aid conditional on countries taking illegal migrants back. This means EU aid will no longer go where it is needed most, contrary to commitments made on aid effectiveness. SUSIE

2. Automatic safeguards - EU trade policy provides favourable trade terms to developing countries under what is known as the Generalised Scheme of Preferences. ROCIO

3. Vaccine distribution has left a very bad taste in the mouths of many African leaders. A target of 70% distribution of vaccines globally had been met by only 58 (mostly western) countries by June 2022. A report published in The Lancet in June estimates that 45% of excess deaths in low income countries could have been averted if vaccine distribution targets had been met.

4. The emerging food security crisis is seen by some in the EU farm lobby as an opportunity to ramp up production and roll back EU policies aimed at emissions reductions. Additionally, some have even proposed increasing food security standards applicable to developing countries as a way to protect against cheap imports from Africa and other parts of the developing world.

5. Green finance promised at COP26 for climate adaptation in developing countries has not materialised.

6. The EU’s global gateway (a pledge to mobilise €340bn globally) was supposed to be a greener and more transparent rival to China’s Belt and Road initiative. It is widely perceived on the African continent as old wine in new bottles.

7. The diversion of aid for Ukraine from other worthy causes has led to widespread criticism. If it can be done for Ukraine why can’t it be done for other places.

8. New laws in the EU, including the Carbon Border Adjustment Tax and the Due Diligence proposal, could be harmful to African businesses seeking to sell into the EU’s single market.

9. Finally on debt, there was a meeting of African and Chinese diplomats on August 18th where China agreed to retire 23 interest-free loans to 17 African countries as well as to redirect $10bn of its IMF reserves.

The EU and its member-states have shown no inclination to acknowledge the debt burden on developing countries and no new initiatives have taken place in the last two years. SUSIE Accusing China of debt-trap diplomacy denies African agency implying an inability to make informed choices.

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