Europe is committed to finding African solutions – EU ambassador

EU–AU multilateralism in response to the world’s most pressing peace and security issues has been on both institutions’ agenda for some time. The PSC Report spoke to Birgitte Markussen, European Union (EU) ambassador to the African Union (AU).

What are the mechanisms for an EU–AU joint response to peace and security challenges in Africa, especially in addressing the root causes of conflicts?

The EU’s engagement is built on the ‘African solutions for African challenges’ concept, which remains the basis of our support, including addressing the root causes of conflicts. The new European Peace Facility (EPF) won’t change the importance given to African solutions. The major change ahead is that the EPF aims to allow for more flexibility to address the whole range of the conflict management cycle. As a new element, the EPF will include the option of lethal equipment purchase when necessary.

Following the fifth AU–EU Summit in 2017 in Abidjan, ‘Strengthen Resilience, Peace, Security and Governance’ remained one of the four priorities of the Abidjan Declaration. In practical terms, this has been further developed in a Memorandum of Understanding between the AU Commission (AUC) and the EU on peace, security and governance signed on 23 May 2018. This intends to strengthen cooperation between the AUC and EU and spells out many potential activities in different areas and at different levels (including mediation, conflict prevention, countering terrorism/countering violent extremism, governance, etc.). This sums up the overarching institutional framework for our cooperation.

What are the tools developed to ensure joint responses to peace and security challenges?

The African Peace Facility (AFP) is probably the more ‘known’ instrument, which has been operational since 2004 with total direct support in the area of peace and security amounting to EUR 3.5 billion. Most notably, the APF has been used to support operations such as AMISOM in helping bring stability to Somalia. You will notice that I use the past tense here as both these instruments are coming to an end.

Taken together, all these declarations and instruments allow the EU and AU to coordinate politically and implement joint actions. This can be at the purely political level, as was recently the case in Somalia. The EU, the AU, the UN [United Nations] and IGAD [Intergovernmental Authority on Development] have shown closely aligning positions and issued joint statements in support of a return to dialogue. While it is too early to tell where the current crisis is going in Somalia, the fact that all multilateral organisations of the region have joined forces to speak with one political voice is a watershed moment. Under the leadership of the AU, the EU is supporting African solutions to African problems. It is the blueprint for continued political cooperation.

Bolstering resilience, peace, security and governance remains a priority of the Abidjan Declaration

At the more practical level, I would also like to point towards our African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) Support Programme, where the EU has been supporting the capacity building of the APSA. This has supported the development of early warning capabilities, as well as the AU’s post-conflict reconstruction and development strategies, such as in the Lake Chad Basin. At the moment, we are also working with the AU to support the development of a Human Rights Compliance Framework for African Peace Support Operations (PSOs). A crucial element in the discussion related to UN funding of African PSOs.

These are only a few examples of our joint responses, and if we widen the net to look at addressing root causes, we can take into account all the joint work we do with the AU on, for example, supporting economic integration and opportunities (through the development of the African Continental Free Trade Area [AfCFTA]), green and digital transition and human development. The scope of our cooperation is indeed all encompassing. It is only limited by our imagination and, obviously, political support. For this reason, it’s important to look forward to our next summit, where the AU and EU leaders will give a new impetus to our cooperation to show that effective multilateralism is the only positive answer to the world’s most pressing peace and security issues.

What experiences have been gained from the implementation of the African Peace Facility?

Many technical and financial audits and evaluations have underlined major results related to the APF. The last one, conducted by the EU Court of Auditors in 2018, firstly stressed the necessity of closer cooperation with African partners in the design phase of our support programmes. Secondly, it stressed the need for stronger focus, as some of the earlier engagements may have been spread too thinly in many areas. Thirdly, it showed that more action is required in the field of prevention and mediation.

Along the AUC reforms, a programme-oriented approach focussing on results has been adopted. We have also learned that having the necessary AU-funded core staff in the various priority peace and security areas is essential to ensure AU delivery. Following the experience gained, the EPF, which will replace the APF, provides an opening to other instances than the AUC for the programme implementation – which means widening the possibilities of initiatives.

How is the support the EU provides Africa different under the European Peace Facility as compared to the African Peace Facility?

With a confirmed global allocation of EUR 5 billion, the EPF will enhance the ability of the EU to prevent conflicts and strengthen international peace and security cooperation, not limited to the African continent. The EPF will continue to support African PSOs for the coming period (2021–2027), allowing rapid resources to support early responses and providing military support. As a new element, the EPF will include the option of lethal equipment purchase when necessary.

Under the AU leadership, the EU is supporting African solutions to African problems

More dedicated to the military component of the security aspect of crises, the EPF will also encapsulate our EU funding to EU CSDP missions and operations (like EUTM, EUCAP, Atalanta). One of the EPF mechanisms foresees Assistance Measures that can take the shape of a global programme, which would allow a stable continued specific allocation for our work with the AU and its PSOs, along the same principles of the APF.

How will the EU continue to support the African Peace and Security Architecture?

The APSA IV programme has been redesigned for a period of five years (2020–2024) with an approved budget of more than EUR 40 million. This funding – issued from the APF – is secured and will be maintained to the end of its contract. The EU believes that the African architecture put in place by the AUC Protocol is still very valid and we are still totally committed to support any kind of evolution, pending African aspirations under the overall framework of ‘Silencing the Guns’.

The new APSA support programme focuses on prevention and early warning, further operationalising the African Standby Force to current needs, reinforcing the cooperation and sharing of experience between all APSA stakeholders (AUC, RECs [regional economic communities], RMs [regional mechanisms]). Furthermore, the new APSA expands the engagement of civil society and youth. Unlike in the past, the support targets programmatic expenses rather than recurrent (staff) costs.

What will be the focus of the next EU–AU annual meeting and when will it be held?

The aim is to move one further step deeper into our partnership. This should be the result of an engaged discussion involving heads of state and government from both continents. In March 2020, the EU (HR/VP and Commission) issued a joint communication proposing five partnership priorities with Africa (green transition, digital, economic development, including trade, peace, security and governance, as well as migration and mobility).

From the EU’s perspective, these priorities constitute a firm basis for the summit, in addition to the overarching partnership on addressing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. We look forward to a similar proposal from our African partners in relation to the EU, in order for the two parties to agree on common objectives based on reciprocal interests; very much along the lines of the AU’s flagship projects of continental integration, resonating with the African vision presented in the AU’s Agenda 2063. One of the main questions is how to foster discussions beyond financial contributions into a deeper political dialogue about shared interests and enhanced visibility among the populations of both continents. The EU, as a peer multilateral and continental integration organisation, considers itself as a close partner of the AU in those endeavours, building on its active role through sharing of experiences and providing support.

What are the challenges to be overcome for the two continents to continue building a partnership based on equity and mutual respect?

Before going into challenges, I would actually first like to emphasise the opportunities that exist to build on our partnership. For this, I refer again to the Joint Communication: ‘Towards a comprehensive strategy with Africa’. In it, we describe the focus of those opportunities: (i) green transition and energy access; (ii) digital transformation; (iii) sustainable growth and jobs; (iv) peace and governance; and (v) migration and mobility.

The EU has shown itself as Africa’s primary partner by supporting vaccination supply through COVAX

Since the pandemic, we have also added health and COVID-19 recovery to these five, what I call the 5+1 partnerships. There will be challenges, but there is political will to strengthen our partnership. In our partnership, it is important to communicate so that Africans and Europeans realise the importance of closer cooperation between the two continents.

Indeed, I am deeply convinced that Europe and Africa, as close partners, have everything to gain in working together on an increasing number of domains – be it in the political and security realm (peace and security, governance), on migration and mobility, on green and digital transition, or economic and trade integration. Common interests as well as values unite us. The AfCFTA is among those projects offering tremendous potential to the African continent and the African people. As it is intrinsically linked to the DNA of the EU, the EU is already engaged in supporting the process and is determined to continue doing so.

An African continent where countries do business together and are increasingly interconnected is in the interest of the EU, as it will provide more opportunities for our intercontinental integration. There is important scope to working together in other multilateral frameworks within the UN on a broad range of issues. If we look at the challenges facing our continents (if not the world), then one quickly realises that we can only tackle those if we work together. This is the strength of multilateralism. I’m sure there are those who would prefer to see the AU or EU fail, to strengthen their relative bilateral weight and impose their will on the ‘weaker’ or ‘smaller’. However, there is much more to be gained from working together.

The pandemic has taught us this at yet another level. In this situation, the EU has shown itself as the primary partner of Africa in supporting vaccination supply (through COVAX) and recovery in a true spirit of the ‘Team Europe’; with the EU and our member states. Not with heavily mediatised token gestures, but with delivery of concrete vaccine doses, support to Africa CDC [Centres for Disease Control] leadership and by helping vaccine roll-out.

This brings me to one of the challenges I would like to highlight to continue building our partnership: communication. Both the AU and EU are doing a lot together. However, communication of our efforts to our citizens is lacking. This gives the wrong impression of ivory towers. We must dare to be bold in our communication and bring our story to the outside world. There is so much to be proud of!  

I would like to end with a thought on our shared future. There are those who want to keep Europe and Africa’s relationship rooted in history and the wrongs inflicted. While it is important to recognise past atrocities, learn from it and correct mistakes, it is also important to recognise that this narrative has only one goal: to divide Europe and Africa. The EU wants to look to the future, together with Africa. Our fates are inextricably linked. By teaming up, Europe and Africa can together be a multilateral beacon for the future and the world.

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