The EU recently announced the renewal of its relations with the African continent. While the von der Leyen Commission emphasises the need to strengthen its external relations, democracy does not take a prominent place on the reform agenda for repositioning in the world and in Africa. This mismatching ambition and strategic action is partly driven by the fact that the democracy agenda has recently come under pressure. A broad range of political and economic dynamics within as well as outside Europe challenge democracy and its supporters: these include the rise of non-democratic countries such as China, challenges to democracy within the EU, and global autocratisation trends. While posing new challenges the EU needs to react to these trends and reinforce the importance of continued support and the protection of democracy abroad.
The new study argues that in light of a changed context, the EU now needs to adjust its strategic approach and instruments in Africa fundamentally towards democracy support and reflect the importance of democracy in the renewal of the relations between the two continents. Although the EU has developed an approach that supports political reforms through democracy, dialogue and positive incentives, support for intermediary and support for the separation of powers has played a limited role in EU democracy support. The context conditions of EU democracy support in Africa have become more challenging and require further action by the EU. Many electoral autocracies and dominant party regimes are under pressure and have responded by restricting political space. The EU has not yet found adequate answers to address these types of problems. Moreover, the economic success of China and the resultant new geopolitical competition make the international context for EU democracy support much more difficult. Setting democracy as a core principle of the EU’s foreign relations can contribute to a sustainable and just development in Africa and beyond. 10 proposals may support reforming the EU’s democracy support in sub-Saharan Africa.
Proposal 1: Bring democracy support and protection to the core of EU external action and implement this strategic priority in EU foreign relations with Africa (and worldwide).
Proposal 2: Develop a new narrative and more strategic approach to democracy support in a geopolitical context where democracy is increasingly being undermined from within in (former) democratic countries and challenged from the outside by powerful authoritarian regimes.
Proposal 3: Address the impacts of demographic change, urbanisation and digitalisation on political regimes through EU democracy support.
Proposal 4: Invest more in intermediary organisations (media, parties, CSOs, trade unions, business councils) and in the democratic accountability of sectoral policies.
Proposal 5: Intensify support for civic education and launch new initiatives to strengthen transnational relations between African and European societies.
Proposal 6: Engage more strategically in contexts where authoritarian regimes suddenly open up or where electoral autocracies gradually close political spaces.
Proposal 7: Continue and deepen cooperation with African regional organisations and put more emphasis on joint learning and practices for defending democracy.
Proposal 8: Create a different institutional set-up that allows the EU to engage more strategically in democratic reforms.
Proposal 9: Increase the capacities of the European External Action Service (EEAS) (and the Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development (DEVCO)) to work on democracy support.
Proposal 10: Develop a joint European approach towards democracy support that is sustained by all European countries.
Countries / regions: EU-Afrika-Beziehungen | Demokratie- und Medienförderung