Continuity and Change in European Union-Africa Relations on Peace and Security

Paul Kagame Flickr
Paul Kagame Flickr

The European Union (EU) and the African Union (AU) maintain a long-standing partnership on peace and security which can be qualified as constructive. It is largely based on joint interests and objectives and is less contentious compared to other more challenging topics, such as migration and trade. The EU’s new seven-year budget for 2021 – 2027 introduces new ways of working which impact on how the EU will engage on peace and security in Africa. Most notable in this regard is the establishment of the European Peace Facility (EPF) which can potentially undermine the AU’s role in leading and coordinating peace and security measures on the continent. Moreover, these new developments take place against the backdrop of an overall troubled EU-AU relationship which suffers not only from the divergences in interests in key areas such as migration, trade and climate but also from the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, and global geopolitics.

EU and the AU have a long-standing partnership on peace and security  which dates back to the formulation of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) in the early 2000s. The EU is the AU’s second most important financial partner on peace and security after the United Nations (UN). Between 2004 and 2019, the EU provided some EUR 2.9 billion in financial assistance to the APSA. This funding was channelled through the African Peace Facility (APF) and much of it (93%), was spent on peace support operations (PSOs), primarily the mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Some 6% was spent on strengthening the institutional capacity of the African Union Commission (AUC), and 1% went to the Conflict Early Response Mechanism. Next to this partnership, the EU has supported African states and regional organisations for many years through a range of civilian peace and security activities with the objective of strengthening the linkages between security and development.

Under the new European Peace Facility #EPF, the EU can enter into direct military cooperation with governments and regional organisations. This is a departure from past practice which could undermine the AU’s role @volker_hauck & @LidetTadesse

At the political and operational levels, African member states have always taken a lead in initiating, leading and managing PSOs and incur significant human and financial costs associated with troop contribution. As part of its efforts to enhance its overall financial autonomy, since 2016 the AU has paid particular attention to securing funding for African PSOs. Key features of this effort include introducing a 0.2% levy on eligible imports to all African countries, and using some of this money to fund 25% of costs related to PSOs while securing the rest (75%) from UN assessed contributions.  

Change and continuity in the future of the EU-AU partnership on peace and security

The EU-AU peace and security partnership has never been a love-affair, but objectives on peace and security largely converge. For example, the Joint Communication ‘Towards a Comprehensive Strategy with Africa’, adopted in 2020, contains multiple peace and security objectives which broadly side with the ‘AU’s Silencing the Guns by 2020’

Nonetheless, interests do not always align and recent political evolutions within EU institutions indicate that the AU-EU cooperation on peace and security is about to see some changes. In 2020, the EU ended its last budget cycle and redefined its funding instruments as well as the parameters of its international cooperation for 2021-2027. These new arrangements represent a mix of continuity, change but also confusion and affect the broader EU-Africa relations as well as the AU-EU partnership on peace and security:  

  • There is continuity on development funding. Globally, over EUR 70 billion over the next seven years, will be channelled via the new Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI). The Instrument contains various provisions to fund “civilian peace and security related reforms and initiatives” in Africa, mostly under bilateral and regional cooperation agreements. Nearly EUR 900 million of the NDICI is allocated to ‘global stability and peace’ to finance programmes like anti-terrorism programmes and EUR 2.8 billion is set aside for “rapid response actions”, to respond to crises world-wide. 
  • With the start of the new budget period (2021 to 2027) a substantial change was introduced with the creation of the new European Peace Facility (EPF). The EPF which is set up to intensify and enhance the EU’s engagement in hard security support, will be used to provide military material to partner countries and regions. The APF, which used to be (and will continue to be until mid 2021) the EU’s main financial instrument for funding peace and security related commitments to the AU will be integrated into the EPF. Allocated a financial envelope of EUR 5 billion for the next seven years, the EPF can be disbursed beyond Africa. A substantial amount of this money is, however, expected to be used to continue EU’s support to AMISOM.
  • The Cotonou Agreement, the EU’s long-standing cooperation agreement with 79 states in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (collectively known as the ACP) signed in 2000 expired in 2020. While a preliminary deal was negotiated between the EU and the ACP countries, via the new Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) in 2020, the scope of the EU-OACPS cooperation on peace and security is not yet clear. Questions also remain on how this EU-OACPS partnership will run in parallel to the EU-AU partnership on peace and security. One should expect that peace and security issues will principally be addressed in the context of the EU-AU partnership. Nonetheless, the parallelism creates confusion.

While the NDICI funding allows for continuity of the EU’s support to peace and security in Africa, with a focus on the Sahel and the Horn of Africa and strongly linked to the migration agenda, the EPF signifies the most significant change with the past. Four aspects of the EPF are worth highlighting.

While the EU has expressed a strong commitment for continued peace and security support in Africa, which is also in the EU’s own interest, there are no earmarked funds for Africa in the new European Peace Facility #EPF @volker_hauck & @LidetTadesse

Firstly, the EU can enter into direct military cooperation with individual African governments and African regional organisations without having to consult or negotiate with the AU. This implies a departure from the practice of supporting African military engagements only through the AU. Hence it can undermine the AU’s role in leading and coordinating peace and security measures on the continent. The EU, however, is determined to maintain the established cooperation principles with the AU, including consultation and political endorsement, when supporting African-led operations within the APSA framework as agreed in the MoU between the EU and the AU on Peace, Security and Governance (2018). 

Secondly, as mentioned above, the EPF also allows the EU to provide lethal weapons. The amount of money available for arms provision is roughly calculated at some EUR 300 million per year if one subtracts all other commitments of the EPF (in particular the payment of stipends for AMISOM and costs for EU CSDP military missions). This change marks a paradigm shift from the EU’s traditional self-projection as a ‘soft power’ wielding peace and security actor. This change needs to be seen in the context of a growing EU ambition to evolve from being a “payer to [being a] player”, as laid out in its 2016 Global Strategy. The latter is problematic as the EU has a fragmented foreign policy which lies in the hands of both EU institutions on the one side, and the 27 EU member countries on the other. Some of the EU’s member states do not always align with EU-wide consensus. 

Thirdly, while the AU has offered the EU a seat on the Board of the AU managed African Peace Fund, together with the UN, the AU has no comparable institutional mechanism to signal its concerns or inform decisions on the implementation and monitoring of the EPF. Such nonreciprocal relationship contradicts the EU’s ambitions to deepen its partnership with Africa on peace and security. Moreover, it side-lines the AU from decision making on sensitive matters such as the delivery of weapons into conflict zones in Africa. While EU member states, in their bilateral military cooperation, have been providing weapons to states in African governments in the past, the arms transfer is a new aspect of the EU’s partnership with African countries.

Finally, because of its global nature, EPF resources – contrary to the past APF – can be used outside the African continent as well. While the EU has expressed a strong commitment for continued peace and security support in Africa, which is also in the EU’s own interest, there are no earmarked funds for Africa in the EPF. If major demands for military support might arise in the immediate EU neighbourhood over the next seven years, the mobilisation of EPF funding for military support outside Africa could be requested. 

The response to the #COVID19 pandemic also put to test the weight and effectiveness of the AU-EU partnership. Europe’s support was slow and inadequate and fell evidently short of the EU’s own ambitions to prioritise its partnership with Africa @volker_hauck & @LidetTadesse

The EU-Africa partnership on peace and security  in a changing and COVID-19 infected world 

While the EU-Africa peace and security relationship has its own change processes, it occurs against the backdrop of a larger AU-EU partnership which is fraught with disappointment and frustration about the lack of progress towards a partnership of equals. The COVID-19 pandemic has also put an additional strain on the partnership.

In the past decade, economic development in various African countries, coupled with a multipolar global order have allowed Africa to diversify its strategic partnerships beyond the EU. This economic momentum and the changing global context have also rekindled a political ambition to enhance the continent’s global standing not least through the AU. While the expression of African agency and assertiveness is growing ever more apparent, including in the continent’s partnership and negotiations with the EU, the continent is not immune to the negative spill over effects of geopolitical competition. For example, in Libya, the diverging geopolitical interests of multiple actors has prolonged the conflict in Libya and also undercut the AU from playing a prominent role in the peace processes.

In this context, climate, migration and trade were already major areas of contention between the EU and the AU when in 2020 COVID-19 struck, obstructing planned in-person meetings including the AU-EU Summit. The response to the pandemic also put to test the weight and effectiveness of the partnership. Europe’s support was slow and inadequate and fell evidently short of the EU’s own ambitions to prioritise its partnership with Africa. Moreover, while the EU supported the pooled COVAX Facility for vaccines, the EU and its member states (but also the UK, US and Japan) struck bi-lateral vaccine deals with pharmaceuticals, undermining the supply of vaccines through the COVAX Facility. They also ordered far more vaccines than would be needed for their populations, while also rejecting a proposal to suspend intellectual rights over vaccine technology to enhance the global supply of vaccines for other regions. This has led to resentment against the West, including Europe. 

The EU-AU partnership on peace and security may not come easy due to the evolutions discussed above – in particular the roll out of the EPF. Nonetheless, there are enough shared interests and objectives to continue the partnership even if the scope and modality of the partnership may vary depending on the context. Meanwhile, the broader EU-AU partnership leaves much to be desired and the pending issues are unlikely to be fully resolved in the run-to and during the planned AU-EU Summit. 

Volker Hauck and Lidet Tadesse Shiferaw work at the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM). Volker Hauck is the Head of ECDPM’s Security and Resilience Programme. Lidet Tadesse Shiferaw is a Policy Officer in ECDPM’s Security and Resilience Programme. 

Article by:

Volker Hauck
Head of the Security and Resilience Programme, ECDPM
Lidet Tadesse Shiferaw
Policy Officer in the Security and Resilience Programme

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