Brexit, EU budget, climate protection, migration – even without the Corona pandemic, the German EU Council Presidency 2020 would have been very challenging. It is therefore quite understandable that the German government was unable to meet all the expectations placed on it. But it is disappointing that Germany largely ignored Africa-EU relations and global responsibility, two of the priorities announced by Chancellor Merkel half a year ago.
Germany’s 13th EU Council presidency was of course dominated by the Corona crisis. The many “last minute” agreements showed that it was particularly difficult to make compromises this time. Against this background, it is important that the EU institutions and the member states agreed on the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) and the “Next Generation EU” recovery plan, thus avoiding a profound institutional crisis in the EU.
In the view of the German government, the EU has also made decisive progress on other issues because it has “acted with solidarity internally and unity externally”. For the countries in the Global South, however, European unity has had little effect. Although more global solidarity was repeatedly promised as a response to the Corona pandemic, neither the design of the MFF nor the EU climate policy, the Africa-EU relations or the post-Cotonou agreement were marked by a high level of partnership.
MFF 2021-2027 and “Next Generation EU”
With regard to the EU budget, it is a generally positive result that an agreement was reached on the Neighborhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI) and that it includes a clear commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), climate protection and gender equality. The provision that 93 percent of the NDICI budget must be used for official development assistance (ODA) is an important element of a reliable European development policy.
Apart from these basic agreements, it is difficult to detect signs of solidarity with the Global South. With only moderate increases in NDICI funding, it remains unclear how the EU will support its partner countries in dealing with the severe social and economic consequences of the Corona pandemic. Pledges for isolated initiatives such as the COVAX vaccine alliance are no substitute for binding MFF commitments. There is also no additional funding through “Next Generation EU”, nor is there an action plan for access to vaccines, drugs and medical treatment in the least developed countries (LDCs).
A very alarming development is the strong tendency to link NDICI spending to migration control and security issues. At the same time, both the MFF and the recovery plan lack verifiable criteria to better connect fair and sustainable economic activity with the protection of human rights. In this context, the German Council Presidency has missed the opportunity to advance the discussions on a European supply chain law.
EU climate policy
In the area of climate protection, it was agreed that the EU should reduce its CO2 emissions by at least 55 percent by 2030 (compared with 1990 levels) and reach climate neutrality in 2050. In addition, at least 30 percent of EU spending over the next seven years shall be used for climate protection, and these and other targets are to be laid down in an EU climate law. It is good that the EU has set out on a more ambitious climate policy. But the agreements are not enough; they are once again at the lower end of what is possible and necessary. More far-reaching measures – such as those put forward by the EU Parliament – were not reached due to hardened national positions. Likewise, the United Nations Climate Ambition Summit held in December 2020 to mark the fifth anniversary of the Paris climate agreement did not make any significant progress. Overall, the German government failed to use the concurrence of the Corona, climate and economic crises to convince EU member states of the urgency of taking bold steps for climate protection. Therefore, the demands for more climate justice, adequate climate financing and early climate neutrality remain high on the agenda.
According to Chancellor Merkel, Africa as the “continent of the future” was to become one of the focal points of Germany’s EU Presidency. The AU-EU Summit was scheduled for mid-October in order to adopt a joint Africa-EU strategy and to promote coordinated multilateral initiatives in view of the Corona pandemic and the climate crisis. Both this meeting and a video conference of selected heads of government and top officials of the AU and EU Commission planned for early December were cancelled at very short notice and without giving any reasons. It is very telling that the planned Africa-EU focus is not mentioned at all in the German government’s presidency review. On the other hand, the results of the virtual EU-China meeting as well as the strategic partnership with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are explicitly highlighted.
By organising the Digital Africa Forum (May) and the Africa-Europe Conference “Civil Society Driving Change” (October), VENRO and its partners proofed that close cooperation was possible despite the Corona restrictions. More than 500 participants from Africa and Europe showed that civil societies on both continents want to and can make important contributions to a vibrant AU-EU partnership. We will therefore continue to remind decision-makers on both sides that broad participation is a necessary prerequisite for a true Africa-Europe partnership.
At the beginning of December, the EU and the Organization of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) reached a political agreement on the continuation of their cooperation, just a few weeks before the expiry of the twenty-year-old Cotonou Agreement. The agreement must be confirmed in the coming months by the signatory states and institutions such as the European Parliament. Therefore, the validity of the Cotonou Agreement was extended until November 30, 2021. The EU sees the agreement as a “step into a new era,” but ultimately, despite years of negotiations, relations remain in outdated structures. Instead of a new partnership with a clear reference to the 2030 Agenda, the negotiations circled around petty interests and detailed agreements on trade issues. The links with the Africa-EU Strategy and the newly established African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) remain vague and have yet to be worked out. In areas such as health, nutrition, agriculture or migration, there is also a lack of forms of cooperation that focus on human development.
In conclusion, the outcomes of the German EU Presidency are rather disappointing from a development policy perspective. The German government has not managed to defend the commitment to global solidarity from being largely undermined by national and European self-interest. A fair and equal partnership between Africa and Europe as well as an equitable migration policy and the protection of refugees got lost in the different policy processes. “Leaving no one behind” therefore remains our key demand and a fundamental task for EU politics.
This article by Mathias Mogge, the Deputy Chairman of VENRO, was also published in German on the VENRO blog.