PSC Interview: Outcomes soon to be outputs as AU-EU summit decisions advance

European Union Ambassador to the African Union, Birgitte Markussen, confirms that the intercontinental partnership remains strong and well-funded. The PSC Report spoke to her.

How are the outcomes of the February 2022 AU-EU Summit being taken forward?

As we have just been marking Europe Day in early May, I’d like to share a brief flashback. On 9 May 1950, after decades of tensions and war, French foreign affairs minister Robert Schuman suggested pooling resources previously used for war under a common authority. This was the European Coal and Steel Community.

At that time, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands laid the basis for what we now know as the EU. War among the 27 member states remains unthinkable. In Schuman’s words, conflict between historic rivals France and Germany would be ‘not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible’.

Firstly, the summit outcomes are being advanced through follow-up on the strong commitments of more than 80 European and African leaders at the event. After 18 months of Covid-19-triggered delay, it was very important for our leaders to finally meet.

A joint EU-AU vision would underline a partnership of solidarity, security and peace

Secondly, it was agreed to define a joint vision. This vision underlines a partnership of solidarity, security, peace, and sustainable and sustained economic development and prosperity for citizens of the two unions, uniting people, regions and organisations. Today, this vision of solidarity, security and sustained economic development is more relevant than ever.

Finally, we are working 24/7 with our African partners and EU member states to deliver several concrete outcomes:

  • Supplying 450 million vaccines by July, but, more importantly, contributing to a permanent solution by expanding vaccine production in Africa, already having started in four African countries to support ‘vaccine sovereignty’. With EU member states, we have backed manufacturing capacity with €1 billion and supported Covid Vaccines Global Access with more than €3 billion.
  • The Global Gateway Investment Package of €150 billion. Across Africa and with the African Union (AU), we are exploring investments that will create better living conditions. Simultaneously, we are tackling the global challenges of climate change, global health security and stronger supply chains – focusing on concrete deliverables.
  • This year, we pay special tribute to young people, 2022 being the European Year of Youth. It is time to recognise the huge sacrifices of young people throughout the pandemic and during war. Youth are at the heart of the EU-AU partnership – if we don’t listen to young voices, we miss out on the future and they won’t listen to us. Central to this is fostering people-to-people cooperation and putting youth at the forefront. The new AU-EU programme to support youth, entitled the ‘Youth Lab 3.0’ will take this to the next level.
  • Our leaders committed to continuing cooperation on African-led peace support operations (PSOs), only two weeks ago pledging €600 million to the cause. We have ongoing, and plan future, joint efforts in Somalia, the Sahel, the Central African Republic and Mozambique. The list is long.
  • Finally, our leaders committed to promoting effective multilateralism within the rules-based international order, with the UN at its core.

To ensure the success of these outcomes, we are developing a tracking mechanism and governance structure to monitor implementation. Extensive technical work is continuing.

What is the EU’s view of the African Peace Facility’s termination and the implications of the European Peace Facility for Africa?

This is a crucial issue on which I’m regularly asked for clarity. The European Peace Facility (EPF) was established in March 2021 to finance all Common Foreign and Security Policy actions in military and defence areas. Predictable and reliable EU support to AU-led peace and security activities has endured. Politically and symbolically important, the first assistance measure adopted under the EPF in 2021 benefitted the AU.

The EU recently pledged €600 million to support AU-led continental peace support operations from 2022 to 2024

EU member states have clearly reiterated their strong commitment to peace and security in Africa. The EPF is a key instrument to strengthen multilateralism, notably the role of the AU and African states in peace and security on the continent. In less than a year, the EU built a new, improved tool able to deliver different types of military and defence equipment and infrastructure continentally, regionally and nationally. This included lethal equipment, which was not possible under the African Peace Facility (APF).

As mentioned, the  EU Council recently announced a three-year assistance measure for €600 million to support the AU from 2022 to 2024. The duration of the measure aims to reduce the incidence, length and intensity of violent conflicts in Africa and reinforce the AU's role in continental peace and security. To this end, it will finance military aspects of African-led PSOs, notably those mandated or authorised by the AU Peace and Security Council.

The transition from the former APF is ongoing, with a normal termination of all programmes progressing to initially scheduled deadlines. All activities previously supported through the APF will be reconsidered for funding in collaboration with our African partners.

How will the €1.5 billion EPF funding for military equipment to Ukrainian armed forces affect finance for African-led peace efforts, especially against terrorist groups?

The €1.5 billion is helping Ukraine to defend its territory and population against Russian aggression. Military equipment (lethal and non-lethal), medical supplies and engineering logistical assets were delivered swiftly, demonstrating the utility and efficiency of this new EU supportive tool.

The allocation aligns with the EPF and underpins Europe’s solidarity with a close neighbour. What Russia is doing to Ukraine is an existential threat to Europe, with wide-ranging consequences for Africa and the world. The EPF is a global instrument whose support to Africa will not diminish, as reflected in the €600 million allocated until 2024.

The EU will continue its significant support for military components of African-led PSOs previously funded under the APF. Assistance measures already validated for AU support are the aforementioned €600 million and €30 million in 2021, which include contributions to:

  • The African Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) military component, including troop allowances, to enable the gradual handover of security responsibilities to the Somali security forces.
  • The military training facility and non-lethal equipment for battalions and soldiers trained by EU training missions to enhance the Somali National Army's capacity to effect the country’s transition.
  • Increase the capabilities of the Multinational Joint Task Force fighting terrorist groups such as Boko Haram in the Lake Chad area.
  • Strengthen the resilience of the G5 Sahel Joint Force and increase its capacity for equipment maintenance to ensure its sustainability.

How has the position of African countries on the Russian-Ukraine conflict affected relations between Europe and Africa?

Immediately after Russia’s unprovoked and illegal invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat and current AU Chair Macky Sall responded. Their statement expressed extreme concern and called for respect for international law. Although they did not expressly condemn Russia, the statement was welcome.

Despite the inevitable spotlight on Ukraine, Africa is still an EU priority

Nevertheless, AU member states are divided on Ukraine, which makes it difficult to generalise. The UN General Assembly vote on the Ukraine resolution on 2 March saw a slight majority of member states voting in favour. During the 7 April vote on Russia’s suspension from the Human Rights Council, only 20% of states voted in favour, with the rest either abstaining or voting against.

Despite the inevitable spotlight on Ukraine, Africa is still an EU priority. And as Europe remains outward-looking in these existential times, we all, including Africa, have to step in, not step away from this question. Russia’s actions are affecting the whole world, including Africa. They are in clear violation of basic principles adhered to by African countries and enacted in the UN Charter. Given this threat, it is essential in our view that African countries align with others in condemning without hesitation Russia’s aggression. Indeed, Europe as a close partner of Africa expects support. Africa is an international player with expectations and ambitions in the United Nations, including integration in the Security Council. It is essential to show real action now.

At the EU-AU Summit, only a week before the invasion, European and African heads of state reaffirmed their cross-continental partnership and recommitted to multilateralism and shared values. The EU strongly condemns Russia’s blatant breach of territorial integrity and Ukrainian sovereignty.

In parallel, the EU also wants to continue dialogue with African countries to understand their positions better. This will facilitate joint upholding of the principles of international law and of the threatened multilateral system. It will also enable exploration of ways to mitigate the severe economic impacts of the war on Africa.

How will relations between the AU and the EU be affected by the war in Ukraine?

To reiterate, the AU-EU partnership is and will remain a priority for Europe. The conflict in Ukraine has not weakened the EU’s engagement in Africa. We remain dedicated to honouring the commitments made by our leaders at the summit. Building on our longstanding partnership, and as the biggest economic partner to the region, we stand together with Africa, through our deeds as well as our words.

The commitments that we made at the summit will all remain valid for years to come. Some fear a disengagement of Europe in Africa because of what is happening in Ukraine, but this will not happen. In certain situations, we’ve adjusted our support, but this has been misleadingly attributed to the war. For instance, the downscaling of funding for ATMIS under the EPF has been discussed consistently since 2021.

Russia’s action in Ukraine is dramatically pushing up oil, fertiliser and food prices worldwide, particularly in Africa. The most vulnerable are the hardest hit. The EU is dedicated to mitigating the effects of this crisis by supporting UN efforts, but also by tailoring its response and mobilising additional support for Africa. The EU and its member states have pledged up to €4 billion to address food insecurity in the Sahel, Lake Chad region, the Horn of Africa and North Africa.

EU sanctions are solely targeted at Russia’s ability to finance the aggression against Ukraine and its people. None of the EU’s sanctions target the agricultural sector of Russia. But even so, the increase in global prices is happening through actions, including Russia’s blocking of Ukrainian exports and preventing its agricultural production. Russia, Belarus and China have also introduced export restrictions or bans on fertilisers and their components. This affects everyone, especially here in Africa. The solution is for Russia to stop the war. Rising global food insecurity is not due to EU sanctions but to Russia’s actions.

The war in Ukraine encourages us to step up our joint efforts to develop transformative approaches, resilient and sustainable local production, and food systems in Africa. During crises, sometimes opportunities arise. Russia’s behaviour may even strengthen EU-Africa ties as Europe seeks to diversify energy supply sources and consolidate partnerships to uphold multilateralism with the UN at its core. The EU remains committed to collaborating with its African partners, including the AU, in the spirit of mutual interests and shared values.

Image: Birgitte Markussen/Twitter

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