Last week, European leaders celebrated six decades of a continental project that has been widely acknowledged as the best experimentation of supranationalism in the world. In 60 years, the European integration process has not only stimulated theories and approaches but has also shown how a project can be the victim of its own success. So what lessons does it have for the African Union?
Over the years member states that had initially transferred significant sovereign powers to the European Union (EU) have increasingly resisted what they see as uncontrollable use of power by technocrats and politicians in Brussels.
The Brexit vote and the surge in electoral gains by populist parties in Netherlands, France, Germany, and Italy have all forced EU leaders to be more introspective. As the European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, recently noted, the EU may have to move towards a more formalised “multi-speed” Europe, where a group of member states that are more interested in deepening integration are allowed to proceed with greater speed.
From an African perspective, the EU process is seen through different lenses. These include neo-colonialism (particularly the Anglo-French influence on former colonies), trade policies (the EU Economic Partnership Agreements), and the EU support for national and regional programmes across Africa.
One other major perspective is that the African Union (AU) is modelled after the EU, with national and transnational elites envisaging an EU like future for the AU. This reality has played itself out in not only the institutional set-up and programmes of the AU, but also in the way that the EU has positioned itself as a major financier of AU programmes and projects.
While the issue of excessive reliance on external funders remains one of the AU’s biggest problems, it is also important that the AU learn lessons from how an organisation that it is modelled after has fared.
In other words, if the future the AU seeks is one of an enhanced supranational arrangement, then the question is to what extent is the organisation prepared to pay significant attention to the pros and cons of the EU experiment?
It goes without saying that both organisations exist within different economic and political contexts. This then means that the AU will have to invest more in a process that more specifically suits its peculiarities and needs.
One lesson the AU has to learn is the important role of regional powers in not only underwriting integration but also ensuring that it proceeds at an appreciable speed. The Franco-German partnership in Europe has provided many lessons in this regard.
Regional powers in the AU such as Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Egypt, and newcomer, Morocco will have to start leading by example by faithfully and respectfully implementing AU programmes and providing support to smaller member states to implement the same programmes.
Another lesson is the importance of taking the views of citizens more seriously. The EU has learned the hard way in this respect. The AU is notorious for not carrying citizens along in respect of programmes and policies on regional integration. In reversing this, the AU will have to invest more in measures such as periodic surveys that captures the views of African citizens on regional integration, national awareness drives, collaboration with cultural and business actors (musicians, media personalities, film-makers, investors etc.) in driving the AU Agenda, and collaboration with technology innovators in developing apps aimed at popularising the AU.
Lastly, the AU has to realise that not all 55 member states are willing and able to drive the integration project. This lesson is instructive for advancing the AU Agenda 2063. The legitimacy of AU processes and actions will have to be built on arrangements that allow member states that have the political and economic resources to come together to advance a particular goal. Programmes such as the AU passport, Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA), and the implementation of democratic governance standards are measures that require more than mere public grandstanding. DM
"Man is by nature a political animal" ~ Aristotle