The upcoming African Union (AU) – European Union (EU) Summit, initially scheduled for October 2020 and postponed due to the pandemic, is crucial for the future of the relationship between the two continents. While preparing for the meeting, the European Commission engaged in forging a more equalitarian partnership and resetting the approach to EU relations with the African continent. At a time full of global challenges, Civil Society hopes that as the parties review their relations this will help them achieve the SDGs and promote Democracy and Human Rights.

The coming months are important for enhancing the discussion on the future of the ties between the European Union and the African Union. When the European Commission lead by Ursula von der Leyen took office, expectations for the AU-EU summit grew in the hope of engagement in a genuine partnership materialising. Initially programmed to take place in October 2020, the meeting was postponed sine die, opening space for in-depth discussion on the review of the relationship framework that has guided cooperation between the two continents since the approval in 2007 of the Joint Africa-EU Strategy. For this very reason, the Portuguese NGDO Platform, together with its partners in the Presidency Project (VENRO, SLOGA and CONCORD Europe), has sought to contribute to this discussion and to enhance the role of – European and African – Civil Society in providing solutions for the next Strategy.

Although it still concentrates the large majority of Least Developed Countries (LDCs) in the world, the African economy was clearly growing before the pandemic broke out. Consequently, African countries have become an increasingly attractive target for the major global powers – in particular China, which has the largest investments in Africa – and are assuming a role growing in importance in international relations. However, the European Union as a bloc is still Africa’s main trade partner and it plays a very important part in the continent’s dynamics. Increasingly we see the focus on preserving the status of largest partner of African countries. The multiplication of moments seeking to mobilize investment from European companies to the African continent, such as the European Union-Africa High Level Green Investment Forum which the Portuguese Presidency is expecting to host at end of April and the Franco-African Summit in July, illustrates just that.

Rejecting the mere exercise that the EU has undertaken to consolidate its position in the international arena, civil society has sought to help develop the Africa-EU Partnership into an instrument that enables it to address the challenges, such as climate change, worsening inequalities and threats to democracy. To facilitate this, the commitment to a partnership between equals must materialize. This means valuing the contribution of African partners and building a relationship that takes into account the needs identified by their governments and by local Civil Society Organizations, as well. This is actually the point on which the Portuguese NGDO Platform, and its partners in the Presidency Project, have insisted most. To ensure that the Africa-EU Partnership will foster sustainable development, its construction process must be inclusive and democratic.

Civil Society makes itself available to help build solutions. In the next month of May, following the Conference organized in October 2020 by VENRO, the Portuguese NGDO Platform will also consecrate a full day to discussions on the challenges facing the Africa-EU partnership. The Conference “A Partnership of Equals: Africa-EU Relationship in a Complex World” will count on the presence of many stakeholders (from European and African governmental entities to Civil Society in both continents). The official program will be available soon.

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