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Towards EU-Africa summit

Last December, President Macron spoke of establishing a "fair system of peace and prosperity" at the upcoming EU-Africa summit in Brussels on 17 and 18 February. Now that France holds the EU presidency and Macron will thus be the host of this sixth summit, he can really start putting this ambition into action. According to the African Union (AU), this is an important moment for establishing long-term cooperation that represents more than just a donor-and-receiver relationship.

The sixth edition was originally scheduled to take place in October 2020, but even this summit proved to be not immune to the corona pandemic; it was first shifted to spring 2021 only to be postponed again to autumn 2021. Again, the new dates proved unachievable. It is only this week, February 2022, that the summit finally looks like it will actually take place. While in recent years many events in adapted form have been organised online, Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, strongly believed in the importance of having everyone in the same room. Therefore, efforts were made to still make the summit physical in 2020. However, the AU quickly ruled this out. For the many aged African heads of state, a summit in such form would pose too many health risks. With the current developments of the corona pandemic, these risks now seem manageable and the summit can go ahead this week.

Climate and vaccinations are crucial issues

During the meeting, several important subjects are addressed. These include, for example, growth finance, agriculture and sustainable development, peace and security, and, of course, climate change. Although the latter issue has been urgent for years, it was not yet counted among the four key areas at the last edition in 2017 when a joint declaration was adopted. It is therefore important that this is comprehensively addressed this summit. During the Africaweek from the S&D Group last week, there was extensive discussion on how Africa is experiencing disproportionately negative effects of the climate crisis. Reference was made to the responsibilities of European countries in combating the issue, so as to also relieve the African continent.

This is also covered in our study Climate justice: African perspectives & EU policies. Europe must take its responsibility to tackle climate problems and thus also spare the African continent as much as possible from irreversible consequences. In this respect, it is vital that those most affected by climate change have a say in the possible solutions and have a voice in where investments are made. The summit will discuss an investment package to help with this, and will also look at African initiatives that can contribute to solutions. The Great Green Wall is a great example of this; this is an African-led movement that aims to achieve massive vegetation across the length of the continent. Allowing African companies to be part of climate solutions themselves will not only combat the crisis, but also take a step towards more equal cooperation.

This investment package should also help combat the current health crisis in Africa. Figures from the World Health Organisation show that in most African countries, less than 20% of the population has received a corona vaccine. Although pledges have already been made from the EU to support countries with vaccination campaigns, so far this remains mostly just words. Emily Wigens, director of ONE Campaign Tells EU falls far short of donation target. As long as the doses are not actually delivered, it remains an empty promise. Wigens expects it will give EU leaders a headache when they have to explain this to African partners next summit.

Ambitious goals and declarations

The summit between the two continents has usually taken place every three years since 2001. At the very first edition, the Cairo Declaration was adopted; a strategic partnership between Africa and Europe, with the spirit of equality, respect, alliance and cooperation. The Africa-EU Partnership was also formed then, a formal political channel through which the two could work together from then on.

The summits have more often led to important and promising ambitions. For instance, the second edition adopted the Joint Africa-EU Strategy, an official document setting out shared principles. ''This partnership and its further development will be guided by the fundamental principles of African unity, interdependence between Africa and Europe, ownership and joint responsibility, and respect for human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law, as well as the right to development''. Again this year, it is expected, and hoped, that the meeting will lead to ambitious plans. A joint vision for the year 2030 is likely to be adopted.

For such a vision to be truly complete, it is important to involve not only heads of state but also other stakeholders, including the most vulnerable. Civil society organisations in Africa, especially local organisations, are often not given a sufficient role in such discussions, while they represent important and unheard voices. To ensure an inclusive future, it is crucial that these actors also have a place in the discussions. This is the only way to ensure that the desired positive effects of European policies trickle down to all parts of society.