Defining AU–REC relations is still a work in progress

The division of labour between the AU and RECs was the focus of the first coordination meeting in Niamey, Niger.

The African Union (AU) and the regional economic communities (RECs) held their first coordination meeting on 8 July in Niamey, Niger. The meeting forms part of the AU’s overall institutional reforms to rationalise its relations with the RECs, which are seen as the building blocks of African integration.

The debate on AU–REC coordination is not a new one – it is embedded in the choice of a gradual integration process. At the core of AU–REC relations is the principle of subsidiarity, whereby regional structures can take the lead in situations occurring in their region or under their political jurisdiction. 

At the core of AU–REC relations is the principle of subsidiarity whereby regional structures can take the lead in their region

The application of subsidiarity has often posed problems, for example in the resolution of the conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR), where the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the AU initially waged a battle over supremacy in the peace process. More recently, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the AU were at odds about the electoral dispute in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The first AU–REC Coordination Meeting focused on three key areas, namely the division of labour between the AU, RECs and AU member states; the first African Regional Integration Report; and the draft protocol amending the 2008 protocol on AU–REC relations.

On the division of labour

The discussion around AU–REC coordination has highlighted member states’ key role as the central pillars of this nexus and identified six main technical areas for the division of labour between them: policy planning and formulation; policy adoption; implementation; monitoring and information; partnerships; and joint resource mobilisation.

Of these areas, implementation, monitoring and evaluation have been the continent’s weakest points. In that regard, it is proposed that the AU Commission (AUC) should organise annual consultations between AU organs and RECs. These consultations could look into different topics, such as the implementation of the African Peace and Security Architecture or the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, taking stock of their progress and the challenges they face.

The RECs are, in fact, meant to report annually to the AU–REC Coordination Meeting on the status of regional implementation, and the monitoring and evaluation of continental policies, programmes and projects.

The RECs are meant to report annually to the AU–REC Coordination Meeting on the status of regional implementation

The AUC would also be tasked with coordinating the implementation of cross-cutting issues among RECs. This, however, could face serious resistance from RECs and member states, as has happened in the past. This is especially the case given that member states are ultimately in charge of implementing continental or regional policies and programmes, as well as ensuring the implementation of AU legal instruments at the national level.

One practical challenge is for member states to provide sound and accurate national data on the implementation of continental and regional policies, as is expected of them under the new AU–RECs–member states coordination arrangement.

Discussions will continue between the AUC, RECs and member states on developing a matrix for the division of labour around thematic areas. Overall, as with all governance issues on the continent, one of the biggest challenges to coordination between the AU and RECs is the goodwill of member states.

One of the biggest challenges to coordination between the AU and RECs is the goodwill of member states

African Regional Integration Report

The July 8 AU–REC Coordination Meeting saw the tabling of the first edition of the African Regional Integration Report, produced by the AUC, RECs and the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF). Its findings were presented by AUC chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat. The main conclusion of the report is that Africa is indeed progressing towards becoming an ‘integrated, prosperous and peaceful continent’.

However, and not surprisingly, the report also states that ‘the eight RECs recognised by the AU face teething challenges of funding and human capacity constraints, overlapping memberships, weak implementation of key regional integration programmes and projects, and a lack of focus and institutional alignments’. It also notes that ‘persistent conflicts, insecurity and infrastructure bottlenecks remain pervasive obstacles to deeper integration. The need to devise innovative mechanisms for funding cannot be overemphasised.’

The analysis in the report is based on the eight dimensions of integration in the multidimensional index on African integration, which focuses on the following elements: trade integration, free movement of persons, infrastructure integration, political and institutional integration, monetary integration, financial integration, social integration, and environmental management.

Interestingly, the report also states that the division of labour between the AU and the RECs still has to be clarified. Although mentioned in the report, the issue of overlapping memberships does not seem to feature prominently in the debate, despite the fact that it presents a serious challenge to AU–REC coordination.

The issues plaguing the RECs and regional integration, as identified in the report, will also likely be challenges to the coordination between them and the AU.

The new protocol on AU–REC relations

Meanwhile, a new draft protocol on AU–REC relations has been proposed to replace the 2008 protocol on AU–REC relations, in order to address the above-mentioned challenges. The two protocols differ on two major points: the new draft protocol is broader in scope and sets out the structures and functions of the mid-year coordination meeting between the AUC and the RECs.

In terms of scope, Article 2 of the new protocol sees the introduction of the environment, the blue economy, migration and the African governance architecture as new areas to be covered in the relations and coordination between regions and the continent. This is in addition to economic, social, political and cultural fields, including gender, peace and security areas.

The new draft protocol also establishes new structures or organs for the coordination meeting:

  • The mid-year coordination meeting itself, composed of the Bureau of the Assembly and Chairpersons of the RECs, in charge of assessing the state of continental integration and coordinating the implementation of continental decisions, among others
  • The Committee on Coordination, composed of the chairperson and chief executives of financial institutions of the AU and the AUDA-NEPAD, which will provide policy orientation for the implementation of the new protocol
  • The Coordination Secretariat, composed of the representatives of the AU, RECs and other AU organs, which is tasked with preparing and submitting reports to the Committee on Coordination

According to the draft protocol, the AU is to open permanent representations at the headquarters of each REC. In turn, each REC is expected to establish a national integration structure in each of its member states. Moreover, Article 23 of the draft protocol provides for sanctions (by the Assembly and/or Executive Council) in cases where RECs are lagging behind in implementation or where their measures and programmes are incompatible with AU treaties.

Although it was not adopted at the first coordination meeting (probably owing to some of the contentious clauses), it appears that the draft protocol will in fact create another AU structure that will be in charge of supervising coordination between its different parts.

The draft protocol will in fact create another AU structure that will be in charge of supervising coordination between its different parts

One could legitimately wonder about what seems to be the proliferation of AU organs aimed at coordinating the work of the many existing ones in an attempt to rationalise the work of the union and integrate the continent.

The way forward for AU–REC coordination

The major outcome of the first AU–RECs–member states coordination meeting is that it began putting in place the framework for the coordination meeting, including the possibility of sanctions for non-compliance.

It is also clear that subsidiarity and comparative advantage will remain the driving principles of AU–REC relations and will guide the division of labour between them. This also means that ad hoc or REC-specific arrangements will sometimes be necessary, especially given the diversity in their respective levels of advancement and capacity, as well the very ethos of each REC. The different stakeholders must consider this as they finalise the matrix on the division of labour.  

Finally, member states will be either enablers for or barriers to better AU–REC relations for the benefit of the continent.

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