The African Union (AU)-European Union (EU) summit from 17 to 18 February 2022 failed to highlight Africa’s concern over Europe’s foreign and security policy shift regarding peace and security financing. The change was announced in 2021 as part of the EU’s new defence package.
It remains to be seen how deeply the European Peace Facility (EPF), which replaces the African Peace Facility (APF) under this new defence package, will affect continuation of financing for African-led peace support missions. Some African states also fear the change may signal increasing European militarism and interventionism.
Although the facility promises to build capacity of EU partners and provide predictable funding, it may undermine provisions of a 2018 AU and EU memorandum of understanding (MoU). It may also threaten multilateral engagement between the two continents, and collective African decision-making on peace and security. The AU, however, not only missed the opportunity presented by the summit to discuss this with the EU but failed to recognise and deliberate internally the EPF and its implications.
In the absence of an African strategy for engaging Europe, the AU, particularly the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC), should discuss the implications of the EPF for Africa. Although AU-EU technical expert meetings are ongoing, AU policy organs should understand and formulate a position on the implications of the EU’s potential supply of lethal weapons to African partners.
They should also assess its support to military missions that are neither led nor endorsed by the AU under EPF provisions. Furthermore, the AU has to deliberate how it will compensate the financial shortfalls expected from the change in Europe’s financing strategy under the EPF. Therefore, putting the AU Peace Fund into use and gaining access to United Nations assessed contributions should be Africa's priority.
Africa’s peace and stability are priorities for Europe. European countries are worried not only about the ramifications of terrorism and violent extremism but about undocumented African migrants entering their continent. It is not surprising then that the EU has been the biggest donor for African-led peace support operations (PSOs) within the framework of the Africa Peace and Security Architecture (APSA).
EU military and defence support has been through direct contributions by EU member states to the APF. The facility, founded in 2004 as a dedicated EU fund to support APSA, has contributed €2.68 billion, mostly to finance 16 African-led PSOs deployed in 19 countries.
The Africa-Europe partnership on peace, security and governance was enshrined in the AU and EU MoU. This agreement makes the AU a primary stakeholder and decision-maker in planning, authorising, coordinating and disbursing EU funds to African-led PSOs.
Redefining the relationship
The EU consolidated its financing mechanism for military missions and operations under the EPF in 2021. This effectively ended the terms of the APF and redefined the AU and EU partnership. The AU is no longer the channel for EU financing of military missions and operations in Africa. The EU may finance operations to complement direct military intervention by an EU member state, such as the deployment of an EU military taskforce for France’s Operation Barkhane in Mali.
It is also evident that the move away from the APF and its intention to engage directly with other stakeholders in Africa will significantly reduce EU funding to the AU. This will affect particularly finance for AU-led peace support missions.
The termination of the APF has other major consequences. To date, the AU-EU partnership has been a donor-recipient relationship. However, the two bodies and regional communities decided how EU financing would be used. Under the EPF, the EU, in addition to being a financier of military operations, will also provide strategic direction and political backing to such missions. This, in the long-term, may hamper continental leadership of peace operations as part of Africa’s quest for peace and stability.
According to the EU, a driver of this change was a 2018 European Court of Auditors report. This concluded that the AU had not taken sufficient ownership of financing APSA, forcing the EU to cover operational costs rather than the capacity building of APSA components as per objectives. The report also cited challenges to the EU’s continued financial support of APSA, the lack of coherence of AU financing instruments, paucity of information on results, and inadequate monitoring and evaluation.
The EU’s 2021 defence package includes the European Defence Fund, which allocated around €8 billion to enhance Europe’s defence industrial base and increase its military autonomy from the United States. The change in Europe’s global stance indicates its ambition to not only influence but directly intervene in peace and security outcomes, including in Africa. This has raised concerns.
A number of AU member states have expressed concern about the EPF as representing Europe’s foreign and security policy shift from political engagement to a militarised and interventionist approach in defending Europe’s interests. They believe that although the AU's use of the APF may have experienced challenges, the EPF’s primary role is to exert direct decision-making power in how Europe’s money is used in Africa and elsewhere.
This change in foreign engagement is worrying for these countries. Military intervention will make the EU a direct actor in African conflicts, which could bring more foreign forces to the continent, with or without African states’ consent. Bilateral and/or regional processes may not align with continental priorities nor be controlled by the AU. With the EPF promising to provide partners with lethal weapons, experts fear a proliferation of arms with serious ramifications for the continent’s communities.
This concern is even more pronounced as the EPF does not provide a comprehensive list of EU partners. Although the AU, regional economic communities and AU member states are included as partners, the definition is vague and open to interpretation. African diplomats are, therefore, concerned that the list may include armed opposition groups and other non-state actors when they are fighting with governments regarded to be against EU interests. A similar scenario unfolded in Libya in 2011.
For the first time, the EU is supplying lethal weapons to a third country, Ukraine, under the provisions of the EPF. EU’s military support to the government of Ukraine in its war with Russia has raised concerns over whether the model could be replicated elsewhere in the world, including in Africa. Some experts, thus, fear that EU’s new strategy may therefore not work in the total interest of continental push for peace and security and may even have serious negative consequences.
Dearth of discussion
The EPF’s provisions were never discussed with the AU. From the European perspective, this is because the EPF, unlike the APF, is no longer a dedicated fund to promote peace and stability in Africa. Instead, it is an EU global strategy to safeguard European security and defence interests. Africa is, thus, just one of the many ‘beneficiaries’ of the facility.
The AU PSC did not broach the issue before the February 2022 AU-EU summit, despite having almost a year to do so and to formulate a response. The reason, the AU maintained, was that the EU had not formally informed it of the establishment of the EPF or the termination of the APF.
Support for the EPF among certain West African and Sahelian countries has divided Africa’s position on the EPF. These countries believe the facility helps eliminate bureaucratic delays and overhead costs incurred by the AU’s financial oversight of EU funding to ad hoc military missions in Africa. They also argue that the EPF will acquire for African military missions more financing, modern military technology, capacity building for military personnel and military infrastructure development.
Thus, the AU attended the AU-EU summit without a common position on how the EU should address its concerns. If the relationship between the partner unions is skewed, Africa’s lack of consultation, preparation and consensus is mostly to blame.
While Europe agrees on how to deal with African peace and security concerns, African countries do not share an understanding of their priorities and concerns in partnering with the EU. With the EU’s change in foreign policy approach, Africa has to revisit its priorities and plan its response to Europe’s change in strategy.
Image: © African Union