The European Union should understand this pandemic as an exceptional moment to revitalize a progressive multilateralism and to rethink some economic convictions.
The Corona pandemic mercilessly reveals the weaknesses of our economic system and governments all over the world are expected to demonstrate great leadership and to collaborate effectively with each other in order to minimise damage - human and economic. What does this mean for the agenda of the EU-AU summit in autumn and the new European strategy with Africa? We are reminded of the importance of international cooperation to face international crises. It is the perfect time to bring the partnership between Europe and Africa to a ‘next level’, as the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen announced earlier this year. The question is: what should such a next level look like? It should go beyond merely interest-driven collaboration and crisis management. We have to become reliable partners and demonstrate ambitions for permanent and deepened relationships. Only by tackling this crisis while acknowledging that there will be many other global crises in the future, we can go beyond responding to and be able to learn.
How can the EU now demonstrate its role as a reliable partner in the European-African relations?
- It is of crucial importance that feasible and effective solutions to the pandemic are tailored to the respective contexts. In order to implement and promote such measures, states must have enough (financial) space to act domestically. The freezing of debt repayments for 2020 was the first step, but in the end it only postpones the problem. The possibility that this may lead to a debt crisis on the African continent must be taken seriously. A coordinated cancellation of total African external debt would be crucial in order to fight the pandemic and to strengthen future resilience on the African continent. The scope of the pandemic was not foreseeable at the time the EU communication was published and it goes beyond European-African relations, but the EU should strongly push for such an action in international fora like the UN and the G20.
- African countries suffer from depending on exporting resources. The moment in which European economy came to a halt, African economies were immediately affected. The demand for African resources dropped immediately. If we want to achieve a just and sustainable future, we need to get rid of such heavy dependencies, that means i. a. to invest primarily in diversifying economies, to promote learning from each other in the fields of knowledge, (green) technology and educational systems. Exceeding the Commission’s proposal, there is a strong need to link these issues with each other and to emphasise diversification through knowledge and technology sharing. Without such comprehensive sharing approaches, there will not be enough decent jobs for the rapidly growing young African population and the next crisis is already imaginable.
- Current ideas like the shortening of supply chains must be approached by policies that serve sustainable economic activity. Plus, our planets will not be saved by further exploitation. The WTO rules have to include negative impacts on climate change in its system of rules. The EU should, in an alliance with Africa, initiate reform efforts to incorporate climate costs in the WTO and make this possible through supporting major economic recovery programs on the continent that are environmentally sustainable.
- It is time to establish a new narrative for European interior and exterior development policies. The current investment agenda proved ineffective and offers nothing that autocracies can’t offer as well. We’re in the middle of a global pandemic, we are facing a climate crisis, and maybe soon – due to rapidly growing populations and the lack of perspectives – also a poverty crisis. In this situation, the EU development policies – and so too, the proposal ‘Towards a comprehensive Strategy with Africa’ – lack a unique selling point. The new narrative would have to combine highest values, political convictions and necessities. It should embrace democratic principles, multilateralism, the SDGs and human rights while enabling and strongly promoting social protection, health and sustainability in all economic activities. Ideas like a) a universal basic income and b) the replacement of the growth-ideal by sustainable economic activities must seriously be considered in order to make the SDGs a success.
In short, the advice to the European Union is to understand this pandemic as an exceptional moment to improve international cooperation and partnerships. But it must be prepared to move away from some economic convictions and place greater emphasis on political and ecological ideals. It might be a great opportunity to revitalize a progressive multilateralism.