Author: Dr. Marta Martinelli
Affiliated organization: The Open Society Institute–Brussels
Type of publication: Briefing Paper
Date of publication: July 2010
In 2007, the Heads of State and Government from 53 African countries and 27 EU member-states launched the Joint Africa-EU Strategic Partnership (JAES). This is meant to develop relations and pursue common interests beyond traditional development policy and with initiatives at the global, continental or regional level that have a clear added value over cooperation at the national level. Eight thematic partnerships were put in place to ensure the operational follow-up: Peace and security; Democratic governance and human rights; Trade, Regional integration and infrastructure; Millennium Development Goals; Energy; Climate change; Migration, mobility and employment; Science, information society and space. African and European leaders renewed their commitment to the Partnership at their 3rd Africa-EU Summit held in Libya in November 2010 and focused on the overarching theme of investment, economic growth and job creation. They also adopted a second Action Plan (AP) for all eight areas for the period 2011-2013. The AP provides the roadmap for implementation of the four main JAES objectives, namely:
- improving the Africa-EU political partnership
- peace, security, democratic governance and human rights
- basic freedoms, gender equality
- sustainable economic development, including industrialisation
- regional and continental integration
- ensuring that all the Millennium Development Goals are met in all African countries by 2015
- engaging in effective multilateralism
- developing a people-centred partnership.
The Joint Africa-EU Strategy: an overview
The Joint Africa-EU Strategy provides a long-term framework for relations between the AU and the EU, based on equality and shared interests. It replaces the 2005 EU-Africa Strategy adopted to guide EU support for the Millennium Development Goals in Africa and essentially marked by an unbalanced donor-recipient relationship. At the core of the JAES is the understanding that relations between the two continents must be premised on equal participation and representation. For the first time it put both partners on an equal footing and raised expectations that Africans would not be just the ‘recipients’ of pre-packaged assistance from the EU but would be sitting at the negotiation and decision-making table together with the EU. The 2011-2013 Action Plan lists specific priorities and desired outcomes in all eight thematic partnerships which provide the parameters for such cooperation. Implementation projects are then defined in discussions within ‘Joint Expert Groups’ (JEGs) established for each of the partnerships. The groups bring together working level representatives from the institutions of both continents (members of the EU and AU Commissions, chaired by member states’ representatives) as well as experts and representatives from civil society. Progress on implementation is normally assessed 18-24 months after approval of the Action Plan at a ministerial summit gathering representatives from both continents.
Informal accounts of progress since adoption of the first Action Plan indicate a general level of dissatisfaction with political cooperation between the two continents. The JAES was meant to deliver on: a) improved political dialogue and joint positions on shared inter-continental and global concerns; b) closer involvement of non-state actors; and c) stronger European support for continental integration in Africa. Publicly EU and African leaders claim progress in all these areas. In private they admit that if anything, the JAES has the merit of having illustrated the differences existing between the two regional groupings on fundamental issues such as civil society participation in political processes; the role of the media in promoting democratic accountability and contributing to regime change; and the deep cleavage over international justice (the International Criminal Court being one of the most contentious issues on the table).
Initial enthusiasm has been replaced by a widening gap between the discourse and the reality of the strategic partnership which in turn has led to criticism, particularly by civil society. EU member-states have become more sceptical and are thinking of pragmatically reverting to parallel relations with sub-regions. Meanwhile, EU officials are left to wonder where the misunderstanding comes from. On the AU side, African decision makers perceive a diminishing enthusiasm in their European partners. In their view the EU is quick to pledge support but does not always keep its commitments. They also question the concrete deliverables of the strategy and find that it is hard to sell at home. Civil society, for its part, criticizes it for being too state-centric and top-down and for failing to inform African citizens about its objectives. The result is civil society’s marginal participation in their definition and implementation. In short, the JAES has failed to convince the wider public of its usefulness.
Democratic Governance and Human Right
Both continents affirm that democratic governance and human rights are key for sustainable development and for their cooperation. They also claim that they are part of both the EU’s and AU’s core values. Hence a thematic partnership has been established to promote democracy, rule of law and human rights in both continents and beyond. Cultural cooperation is also part of the partnership which, in its first Action Plan included three objectives: 1) enhance dialogue at global level and international fora; 2) promote the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) and support the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance; and 3) strengthen cooperation in the area of cultural goods. These have remained largely the same in the second Action Plan which now lists:
- Support the implementation of the African Governance Architecture (AGA)
- Coordinated efforts with the aim of building a strategic dialogue and partnership on DGHR issues between the two continents
- Enhance cooperation between Africa and the EU in the area of cultural goods
- Strengthen synergies with other thematic partnerships and in particular with the partnership on peace and security.
With the aim of promoting governance, democracy and human rights in Africa, the AU Commission was instrumental in promoting an overall political and institutional framework called the African Governance Architecture. The AGA comprises a set of normative and institutional instruments and bodies. The rationale for the AGA consists in establishing ways and means of strengthening existing governance mechanisms, improving their effective coordination and enhancing performance. The AGA is an evolving mechanism composed of three principal pillars: a normative vision/agenda; organs and institutions; mechanism/ processes of interactions amongst AU organs/ institutions with a formal mandate in governance, democracy and human rights.
Both continents affirm that democratic governance and human rights are key for sustainable development and for their cooperation. They also claim that they are part of both the EU’s and AU’s core values. Hence a thematic partnership has been established to promote democracy, rule of law and human rights in both continents and beyond
The AGA governance vision is developed through the norms, standards, principles and practices that engage AU member-states collectively and individually. Some of these policy pronouncements include, inter alia: the Constitutive Act of the African Union; the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance; the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights; the Algiers Declaration on Unconstitutional Changes of Government; the Lomé Declaration for an OAU Response to Unconstitutional Changes of Government; the OAU/AU Declaration on Principles Governing Democratic Elections in Africa; the Protocol Relating to the Establishment of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union; the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption; the African Union Post Conflict and Reconstruction Policy Framework; the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa; the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa; and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.
Adoption of such documents points to the willingness to improve democratic governance, human rights and rule of law in the continent. Institutions have been set up at the level of the AU to ensure coordination and coherence of governance initiatives at the regional and continental levels. The main institutions that comprise the AGA are: the AU Commission; the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights; the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights; the PanAfrican Parliament; the Economic, Social and Cultural Council; the AU Advisory Board on Corruption; the NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency (NEPAD Agency) and Regional Economic Communities. In addition the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) is also an institution of the AGA and allows African states to engage in a self-evaluation process that monitors progress in several governance areas.
The EU-AU Platform for dialogue
Amongst the chief deliverables of the first PDGHR (Partnership on Democratic Governance and Human Rights) Action Plan was the establishment of the Africa-EU “Platform for dialogue” on governance and human rights. Differences in interpretations, objectives and understanding between the AU and EU on what the Platform might be, its relation to the JAES structures, whether it was a one off or periodic meeting, a process or something between the two, have meant that it was only established in November 2010, just before the third summit. The Platform responds to the overall aim of the PDGHR, which seeks to facilitate an open, intensive and comprehensive dialogue on all aspects and concepts of governance. By creating an open space for key stakeholders, institutions, governments and civil society it is conceived as the main process for the continent-to-continent dialogue on governance. Human rights issues are also dealt with in the context of the existing “dedicated senior officials human rights dialogue, flanked by an Africa-EU civil society dialogue”.
Following the 2007 Lisbon Summit, each of the parties started its own reflection process with regard to the nature and modus operandi of the proposed Platform. The EU Implementation Team (EU-IT) considered this topic during its meetings and developed an EU concept note regarding key dimensions of the Platform such as the objectives, the various actors to be involved, the organisation of the dialogue process around a yearly event, the themes to be covered as well as financial aspects. The EU Concept note has been revised twice on the basis of exchanges with African partners. On the African side, a similar process was started by the African Union Commission (AUC). This resulted in the elaboration of a draft African position (March 2009). For the AU the Platform was to be considered at the heart of the PDGHR and was viewed as a process of structured dialogue between the various institutional actors that have a formal mandate to work on governance in Africa and Europe. From the outset, the AUC also insisted on the need to first consolidate the “African Governance Architecture (AGA)” and establish an “African Governance Platform” before engaging in the JAES Platform with the EU.
A multi-stakeholder workshop held in Addis Ababa in September 2010 led to consensus on fundamental dimensions of the proposed Platform (‘acquis’ of Addis). Elements of the acquis include its potential added value in its capacity to function as an open, inclusive and informal space for dialogue; the mandate to formulate shared governance agendas and recommendations that can feed the political dialogue between the two continents; its role in assisting and informing decisionmaking through the appropriate existing JAES channels; its composition consisting of institutional actors with a formal mandate to promote governance as well as member states, civil society organisations, private sector and experts; organisational modalities to work as a “process” rather than being limited to an “event”; the integration in existing JAES structures with the capacity to ensure complementarity with political decision-making bodies as well as with the informal Joint Expert Group (iJEG) and the basic conditions for success dependent on autonomy and structured funding.
The role of civil society in JAES
The JAES is designed as a ‘people-centred partnership’ that aims at providing a permanent platform for information, participation and mobilisation of a broad spectrum of civil society actors in the EU, Africa and beyond. Civil society in the European Union and Africa has progressively organised itself with the aim of allowing citizens’ participation in the dialogue between the two continents. The first Africa–EU Civil Society Intercontinental Dialogue Forum was held in Cairo on 8-10 November under the joint auspices of the African Union Commission and the European Union Commission. Attended by a cross-section of African and European civil society representatives and led by the civil society steering groups from the two continents, the forum reflected on enhancing the role of civil society in the partnership. The final communiqué presented to the heads of state during the EUAfrica Summit at the end of November called for better implementation of the JAES and the establishment of concrete measures to increase civil society involvement in all processes of the JAES. Participants also looked into future collaboration between European and African Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and how to take the forum further.
Involvement of civil society actors in JAES has been slow and limited. There are no agreed procedures for civil society participation in the overall implementation of the JAES. Access to working level meetings is mostly ad hoc with each joint experts group establishing their own process for involving civil society organisations.
The Human Rights Dialogue
The EU and AU have established a regular human rights dialogue. This is a foreign policy instrument that the EU uses in its relations with several non-European countries.
EU Guidelines on Human Rights Dialogues adopted in 2001 envisage the involvement of civil society. In line with this, civil society seminars are organised in the margins of the dialogues. These seminars allow representatives of civil society from the EU and partner countries to discuss specific human rights issues and report back to the official human rights dialogue meeting. Participants include human rights defenders, academics, trade unionists and journalists. However they are not directly interacting with policy-makers and are not formally part of the dialogue. This is due to the fact that not all states have the same legislation on NGOs and some of them refuse certain civil society organisations (for instance during the EU-China HR dialogue in 2007 in Berlin, China walked out of the dialogue on the pretext that it did not want to engage in discussions in the presence of two European CSO representatives).
The process is relatively unbalanced as human rights issues within the EU are seldom, if at all, put on the agenda. It has also been repeatedly criticized by civilsociety, as a strategy by the EU to replace action with dialogue not backed by a comprehensive strategy for change.
Any decision to initiate a HR dialogue with the country concerned is normally made by the EU Council Working Group on HR (COHOM), together with the geographical working parties, the WG on development (CODEV) and the Committee on measures for the consolidation of democracy and the rule of law. In a bilateral situation, such as the EU-South Africa HR dialogue, the Union will hold exploratory talks with the country concerned before the official dialogue is initiated. The human rights experts representing EU member-states locally and the head of the EU Delegation in the field are normally involved in the process. In this regard it is likely that innovations introduced by the Lisbon Treaty and incorporated into the new EU External Action Service may alter these procedures. In the past, COHOM-Chairs were heads of member state human rights units and could draw on their staff for the implementation of the Presidency work programme. With the establishment of a Human Rights and Democracy Department within the EEAS’s Directorate for Global and Multilateral Issues the permanent COHOM-Chair will rely on input from desk officers in the Department who will also take the lead when preparing initiatives and presenting progress on specific dossiers. The ‘Human Rights – Policy Instruments’ Division within the department will take the lead in the organisation of dialogues and consultations with third countries.
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