The most important external partner of the African Union since it was founded in 2002 is the European Union (EU). The Joint Africa-EU Strategy (JAES) was signed in 2007 and has provided an orientation for the European-African partnership dialogue ever since. As a result of the importance of both continents to each other and the many years in which Europe assigned lower priority to these relations, this constitutes a key step in the direction of a structured intercontinental partnership.
Africa does not have such close, wide-ranging relations with any other partner like it does with Europe. Europe continues to be the most important partner with regard to direct investment and trade, while it is the most important donor of development aid. In addition, Europe offers Africa support in the development of an inclusive democratic societal system, without which there would not be any sustainable, prosperous, peaceful development among African countries.
At the same time, the sluggish implementation of resolutions adopted by African heads of government and state during the AU summit play a crucial role. Although the AU has an abundance of strategies and policies, such as for example the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, resolutions of this type at the national level are only implemented sluggishly if at all. In contrast to the EU, the AU does not have any powers to legally force its members to implement certain resolutions.
In the guise of Agenda 2063, Africa has moreover prepared an ambitious plan intended to transform the continent into a peaceful, democratic and prospering actor within a space of 50 years. Under Chairman Zuma, the AU has developed into an actor that has given African interests a stronger strategic thrust since 2012. This relates not only to issues that are of importance to the further development of the continent, but also cooperation with partners of the AU and Africa such as the EU, China, Japan, etc.
The lagging implementation of AU resolutions has a negative impact on the acceptance and ability of the AU to act as an institution. In theory, the AU pursues a people-centred approach. In reality, however, the AU has thus far remained a project that is primarily promoted by foreign donors, but does not have roots in the African population. It is urgently necessary for progressive AU resolutions to be implemented more at the national level and for a debate to take place over why certain procedures are bogged down in order to set democratic changes in motion, thereby opening up future opportunities for the young population of the African continent.
For Europe, these developments are of strategic importance. If African countries are not successful in implementing democratic reforms to the benefit of their populations and offering them prospects for the future, it will also have an impact on Europe. Beyond this, both continents are strategically important to one another and have a myriad of common interests ranging from climate change to the implementation of sustainable development goals (SDGs), migration and the terrorist threat.
Given all this, the strategy of the FES is to consolidate and stabilise the political dialogue on current and future challenges relating to European-African relations. This is intended to contribute to greater understanding, trust and confidence between the two partners while at the same time helping to defuse potential future conflicts.
In particular, civil society organisations and activists are to be put in a position to inform themselves about resolutions and call for their implementation. Because civil society organisations are not involved enough in internal African or the European-African dialogue, their participation is in the view of the FES an elementary component of any and all discussions.