Reshaping the EU’s partnership with Africa at the nexus of climate and development

Pascal Lamy writes there is an urgent need to dispense the notion of a Global North-South divide, restore trust in Africa-Europe relations and transform our model of cooperation, with climate as its new backbone.

Political relations have worsened since last year’s long-awaited summit of AU and EU leaders and following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but the deterioration of relations stems from fault lines that have emerged since 2020. The ‘vaccine apartheid’ and mounting criticism of ‘green imperialism’ have highlighted the clear economic and power imbalances between our two continents. Additionally, the colonial shadow still marks approaches and viewpoints on both sides, trapping dynamics and models of development cooperation in the past.

Several EU policies are creating serious worries in Africa, including the latest Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM), the deforestation-free products directive, the latest policies on pesticides and neonicotinoids, as well as the draft corporate sustainability due diligence directive or calls to sever financing for gas infrastructures. The EU is right to green its global trade relationships, but it cannot do this without re-inserting the development dimension into the trade and climate nexus.

Priority must be given to climate action as seen from both sides, in the spirit of a true partnership

The Global Gateway – the EU’s vehicle to achieve these goals – is not yet delivering for Africa. Mostly infrastructure-focused, the Global Gateway should also focus on climate adaptation and the pressing needs identified by Africans. It is a question of priority, listening and trust-building.

Africa already receives support through Regional Economic Communities or from international players, including the United States, Türkiye, China, India and Russia, among others. The EU should reflect on the added value of its offer to Africa. Cooperation with Africa as a continent and all emerging and developing countries needs to be demand-driven. Avoiding a top-down approach, the EU needs to listen to partners to rebuild trust and truly revise the Africa-Europe partnership.

Positively, the Global Gateway and its Team Europe Initiatives have enabled greater integration and cooperation amongst EU actors, notably policymakers and practitioners. It is now time to take a step back and understand that priority must be given to climate action as seen from both sides, in the spirit of a true partnership.

Despite being at very different stages in their transitions, the two continents can support each other by working together, notably on issues related to investment climate, securing access to critical minerals, building a just and equitable energy future, and forging a joint platform for cooperation on ocean governance and blue economy. Both sides could benefit from the combination of EU experience and expertise around climate, development and trade-related policy, its available capital for investment and Africa’s enormous potential.

This year represents a significant milestone towards recalibrating and enhancing a close climate and development partnership between Africa and Europe

The 6th EU-AU Summit provided a valuable opportunity to recast and repurpose the cross-continental relationship away from a donor-client relationship focused on development aid alone. However, the EU must do this together with its partners to design a meaningful offer that can contribute to resilient, sustainable investment in partner countries.

Hence the importance of the calls for reform of the global financial architecture, from the forthcoming Macron Paris summit and the Africa Climate Action Summit in Kenya to the COP28 Global Stocktake and subsequent revision of nationally determined contributions. This year represents a significant milestone towards recalibrating and enhancing a close climate and development partnership between Africa and Europe. However, there is an urgent need to address the mismatch between the climate and biodiversity promises made by governments at cross-continental and international levels and evidence of the delivery of such commitments.

At September’s SDG summit, leaders are expected to reconfirm their commitments to the 2030 Agenda and announce new initiatives to accelerate its implementation. This represents a unique opportunity to re-ignite EU and AU commitments to advance the SDGs. Aligned with the AU’s own Agenda 2063, Agenda 2030 currently serves as the best plan for peace and development. It should be the starting point when the EU engages with the rest of the world, starting with Africa.

The views expressed in these Frankly Speaking op-eds reflect those of the author and not of Friends of Europe.