The portfolio of the new commissioner for international partnerships has raised a lot of discussion. The title was formerly development commissioner, and in the past few years many guessed that there would also be a Commissioner for Africa. Now Urpilainen will face a challenge in combining the development point of view, EU’s interests in Africa and wider partnerships.   

The mission letter of Urpilainen called her to lead the commission’s work towards EU’s new comprehensive strategy for Africa. But what does this actually mean? No one even in the Brussels bubble know yet, but what is for sure is that the new strategy will not start from an empty table since there are multiple strategies, alliances and agreements between Europe and Africa already.  

The relationship between EU and Africa goes all the way back to the fifties, when the European Community agreed on special relationship with former colonies. These agreements have since evolved into the current Cotonou Partnership agreement between EU and 57 African, Caribbean and Pacific states. The Cotonou agreement is not just about aid, but also about politics and trade. Currently the negotiations on post-Cotonou agreement are going on and this will be one of the main points where EU sets an agreement with most of the African states.  

There is also the 2017 Jucnker’s EU-Africa alliance, which focused on jobs and growth for African states. Africa holds a special place in the future Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation instrument known as NDICI for the years 2021-2027, where the biggest geographical envelope will allocate finance to Africa 

So where does the new comprehensive strategy fit between all the different agreementsFrankly, there is not a lot of room to try to renew the whole partnership between the two continents since long term negotiations are already going on.  

The whole idea of EU’s strategy for Africa also sounds also a bit ancient. For the past years there has been a lot of emphasis on mutual and genuine partnership, trying to move past the colonial burden and the dynamic of aid giver and receiver. When listening to the hearing of Urpilainenshe seems to be willing to try to move past the old narrative, since she called us to “welcome with open arms Africa as a young continent of hope and prosperity.” 

Despite the talk over mutual partnership, the current situation is still far from it. Migration is one of the issues where creating a mutual partnership seems like an utopia – just take the visa policies in Africa for Europeans and in Europe for Africans and you will find them to be from two completely different planets. Talking about a mutual partnership seems like a joke when EU is willing to do and pay almost anything to block and return migrants 

Urpilainen has not at least yet taken the strict line of using all money possible to manage and block migration flows.  “I believe that the only way to have sustainable migration policy in the future is to try to address the root causes,” Finland’s Urpilainen told the parliament in her hearing. “We need to improve the living conditions in the country of origin, but also our other partner countries. That’s the only way to give a hope for the people in those societies.” 

So no one knows what to expect from the new EU strategy on Africa or when to expect it. Most likely Urpilainen will first try to close on the post-Cotonou and NDICI negotiations in order to have the legally binding agreement and the financing for partnership with Africa in order. But after this, what is there to have a strategy about? Most likely we’ll get to see this at the next EU-Africa Summit, probably taking place around end of 2020 or early 2021. 

Sonja Hyötylä,
Development Policy Specialist at Fingo

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