Relationship between EU and AU – less focus on migration and more on investment, trade and climate change

The President of the European Council and the Secretary-General of the United Nations attended the 33th African Union summit under the theme of ‘Silencing the guns’. European Council President Charles Michel went to the African Union (AU) Summit in Addis Ababa to strengthen the relationship between the European Union and the African Union. During Michel’s speech at the official dinner of the AU Summit, he made clear that the relationship with the AU should focus less on migration. Moreover, Michel emphasized the importance of growing partnership between the EU and the AU, including investment, trade and climate change on the African continent. 

Less focus on migration
During the December visit of the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, to the AU Headquarters, von der Leyen already indicated that she wants the EU to become a political partner of the African Union (AU) and not simply their source of aid, reports Politico. The European Union has earmarked billions of euros in development aid to Africa with the purpose to enforce border security and decrease the migration flows to Europe. Von der Leyen made clear that this approach is obsolete and indicates negative post-colonial connotations, such as the development aid paradigm. This line seems to be taken up by the President of the European Council as well, during the AU Summit. 

EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa
The flagship funding initiative of the EU on migration during the last years is the EU Emergency Trust Fund (EUTF) for Africa, established at the Valletta Summit on Migration in November 2015. The EUTF for Africa was created to deliver an ‘integrated and coordinated’ response to the root causes of instability, forced displacement and irregular migration and to contribute to better migration management. The EUTF is worth over €4.7 billion of which €1,611 million is invested in the Horn of Africa. As mentioned in the 2018 Annual Report of the EUTF, the Horn of Africa hosts more than 70% of Africa’s refugees and more than one fifth of all refugees world-wide. 

Growing partnership on investment and trade
However, Brussels now seems to take tentative steps to reform the relation between the European Union and Africa. European Council President Charles Michel was present at the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa to kickstart this reformation. Although migration is still on the agenda, the EU intends to focus more on potential trade and investment opportunities Africa has to offer and the increasing impact of climate change, Michel said in his speech at the official dinner of the AU Summit. The shift away from migration towards more partnership, including trade and investment was made clear by Michel by saying: “Europe is your partner for trade, investment, cooperation and development. But this partnership is no longer enough; it needs to be reinvented. We must build a new house to accommodate our many common interests, and we must write a new chapter together.” 

Tackle climate change together
During the speech, Michel also mentioned the importance of tackling climate change. The increasing impact of climate change on Africa is also of concern to the EU in its revision of relations with the AU. Charles Michel was not invited to directly address the AU summit and only spoke at the official dinner of the AU Summit, whereas UN chief Antonio Gutteres was speaking officially. Guterres mentioned the challenges in connection with climate change as well. Gutteres said: “Ultimately, Silencing the Guns is not just about peace and security, but also inclusive sustainable development and human rights”. He highlighted “three challenges of particular urgency in Africa: eradicating poverty, tackling the climate crisis and silencing guns.” Climate change has been connected in research to migration movements, especially for regions such as the Horn of Africa. 

A shift away from focusing on the security-related aspects of migration may allow the EU to focus more on a productive partnership, rather than stopping migration, which has been criticised for fueling more deadly migration routes and human trafficking. However, as the EU continues to approve projects to spend development funding under the EUTF, including criticeised projects such as the Eritrea road building project, the words of the EU are not yet reflecting the reality in its programmes.