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SADC countries unhappy with major new framework for rel...

Africa

EUROPEAN UNION

SADC countries unhappy with major new framework for relations with the EU

From left: Euro banknotes. (Photo: Pixabay) | The SADC logo and map (Images: Wikimedia) | European Union flag. (Photo: Simon Dawson / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Southern African countries have rattled the European Union by indicating they might reopen negotiations on a major new, long-range framework for relations between Europe and developing countries that has already been accepted by all sides.

EU officials believe the Southern African Development Community (SADC) is unhappy with the new deal because SADC will lose its role as the default implementer of a set amount of EU development funds. Instead, it will have to compete with other regional economic organisations and other institutions in sub-Saharan Africa for EU financing. 

After more than two years of hard bargaining, negotiators from both sides agreed on the Post-Cotonou Agreement between the EU and the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific countries (OACP) in December and initialled it in April this year. It is due to come into effect on 30 November, after postponements caused by Covid-19. The new deal is meant to replace the Cotonou Agreement which has governed relations between the EU and the 79 African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) developing countries since 2000.

But SADC’s objections have now cast doubt on the 30 November launch date. At their summit in Malawi on 18 August, SADC leaders expressed concern about the implications of the Post-Cotonou Agreement and the associated Global Europe fund. They said these could fragment the OACP, weaken regional economic communities (like SADC) and “shift agenda-setting powers from member states to other parties”. This last point apparently meant SADC felt the draft agreement would give too much power to the EU. 

The leaders directed the SADC Secretariat to submit the regional body’s concerns to the European Union Commission and to clearly identify areas of concern in these instruments and to propose concrete solutions. 

Last week SADC ministers directed the SADC Secretariat to frame a comprehensive response to the two instruments. 

The EU’s actions in these countries and with its partners in North Africa and Eastern Europe will be financed through the Global Europe instrument. It earmarks €79.46-billion of EU funds for development across the world over the next seven years, 2021-2027. At least €29.18-billion of this will go to sub-Saharan countries. They should also get a bit more financing from a budget for thematic programmes such as those promoting human rights and democracy.

The €79.46-billion represents a 12% increase over the amount the EU budgeted for its last fund for external action, covering 2014-2020.  

Sandra Kramer, Africa director for the EU’s directorate-general for international partnerships — ie, development — told Daily Maverick last week that the OACP remained the foundation of the EU’s relationship with the ACP countries, with the three pillars of the EU’s separate relations with Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific built on that foundation. “We look forward to signing and ratifying it,” she added. 

Rita Laranjinha, the head of Africa for the European External Action Service — the EU’s foreign service — noted that the Post-Cotonou Agreement was already “mutually agreed” after long negotiations, including by the “tough” lead negotiator on the ACP side, Togolese Foreign Minister Robert Dussey. 

“So no one had the starting point of, ‘Let’s undermine this.’ On the contrary, it was to renovate it, to make it more fit for the new challenges, to modernise this relationship.”

Laranjinha added that Elias Magosi, the new SADC executive secretary, had not expressed any grievances about the Post-Cotonou Agreement when she met him in Gaborone, Botswana, last week.

But Kramer said, “I think the worry of SADC might be that we’re not going to have them as a default implementer of regional integration.”

There would still be a large role for SADC in regional integration projects, but none of the regional economic communities like SADC would be default implementers of EU funds, as there would be no dedicated budget allocations for each of the three regions of sub-Saharan Africa as there were now.

There would just be one overall sub-Saharan African fund.  This arrangement would give the EU more flexibility. 

“So you look at needs and you look at how we can get the greatest impact for people in the region. And you look at where that’s done best,” Kramer said.

This could be done at national level, or just cross-border, or trans-regional, sub-regional or sometimes continental. It might be best done by a combination of countries in different regional economic communities.

And that calculation would decide whether SADC or another organisation implemented the project, Kramer suggested. 

In other words, though she did not say it in so many words, SADC will have to compete for funds, along with other regional economic communities or different organisations, such as national governments or pan-African bodies like the African Union.  

But she insisted that the Post-Cotonou Agreement would not undermine regional integration, the OACP or the African regional economic communities. 

“Obviously we will continue to support regional integration. That’s what the EU is all about. We don’t abandon that. But we have to see, as I said, case by case, where to do this best.”

Kramer suggested Chileshe Kapwepwe, the secretary-general of another regional economic community, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa), was taking a better approach to the changes. 

“She has started to look into her own organisation to see what do we do best, how can we prepare for this, what are we good at, how can we help this regional integration process in that new frame. 

“The thing here is, look at what we want to achieve and do that not institutionally, but functionally,” she summarised.  

Kramer said there would not be a 180-degree turn to the new approach, but a transitional period as the EU was still disbursing funds to regional economic communities under the old arrangement, through the European Development Fund.

The EU was still implementing about €180-million through SADC and had just signed off on €85-million through Comesa.  

Laranjinha noted that another change under the Post-Cotonou Agreement would be that money would not be disbursed through the European Development Fund, which was outside the overall EU budget. It would be disbursed from within the budget, as the EU — including the European Parliament — wished to gain greater oversight over spending. 

Officials inform Daily Maverick that much of SADC’s objection to the Post-Cotonou Agreement derives from a paper by Carlos Lopes, the AU High Representative for EU-AU Partnerships post-2020, in which he advises African negotiators to address several problematic aspects of the continent’s relations with the EU. 

SADC concerns are likely to be raised at a meeting of ministers of the African Union and EU members on 26 October to prepare for the AU-EU summit to be held in Brussels next year, though no date has yet been set. It was supposed to have taken place last year, but was postponed because of Covid-19 restrictions.

Officials from the SADC states have also complained that the Post-Cotonou Agreement does not show enough sympathy for ACP countries that have to transition from their current heavy dependence on coal and other fossil fuels towards renewable energy sources. 

Some African countries also fear that the EU will use lack of green credentials as a pretext for blocking ACP imports. And others criticise the heavy emphasis on human rights in the agreement, saying that the UN Human Rights Council is already in place to deal with human rights.

Laranjinha said such debates about the energy transition were also taking place within the EU where some member states like Poland were also heavily dependent on coal. And so while trying to modernise economies, the EU was taking into account such sensitivities.  

She said no one doubted any longer the need to counter climate change, but that the EU was ready to discuss with individual countries how to reconcile the overall climate goals with their specific challenges. 

She added that no African government had told her that it disagreed with the climate goals, the digitalisation goals and other aims of the partnership with the EU. 

The EU ambassador to South Africa, Riina Kionka, noted that the EU was very pleased with South Africa’s recently updated “nationally determined contribution” (NDC) to helping the world to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels 

In its NDC update announced last month, the South African government lowered its emission targets of greenhouse gases by a further 17% by 2025 and by 32% by 2030, compared with its previous, 2016 NDC targets. 

Officials inform Daily Maverick that much of SADC’s objection to the Post-Cotonou Agreement derives from a paper by Carlos Lopes, the AU High Representative for EU-AU Partnerships post-2020, in which he advises African negotiators to address several problematic aspects of the continent’s relations with the EU. 

These include a recommendation that the EU should focus less attention on irregular migration from Africa and more attention on facilitating regular migration from the continent.

Laranjinha said there was an ongoing debate on this within the EU, with different views being held by different member states. Kramer said the EU was giving 600 to 700 South African students scholarships to study in Europe this year, implying this would boost their ability to migrate legally. DM

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