Opinion & Analysis

Trouble in paradise: The EU-Africa partnership in a geopolitical context

On November 20, 2023, the African Union (AU) and the European Union (EU) were meant to hold the third foreign affairs ministerial meeting in Brussels. However, it was postponed just a week before the event was due to take place. While the reasons for the cancellation are not clear, this is perhaps another indication of the troubles of the partnership – which is located within an unpredictable global context.

There is a growing sense of insecurity and change in the world owing to the growing number of high-intensity conflicts and changing power differential among traditional and emerging global powers. Geopolitical shifts of the past two decades have affected global trade and politics, and challenged existing multilateral institutions’ legitimacy and efficacy. These changes have also affected the relationship between Europe and Africa.

This brief discusses how internal changes within Europe and Africa and external factors in global politics have affected the partnership between the two continents. It argues that Africa’s assertiveness and increasing global importance, alongside Europe’s declining centrality in the global economy and politics, as well as the emergence of a multipolar world, have affected the EU-Africa partnership in three ways:

  1. The emergence of multiple international actors has diversified the pool of partners African countries can choose from, making the EU an important but not necessarily the only or the most preferred partner.
  2. The prominence of loans and investments in Africa’s partnerships with non-traditional actors, especially China, has demonstrated that collaboration beyond aid is possible. The shift has increased the demand for trade and investment in the EU-Africa partnership. But African states also have some way to go in articulating their strategic interests vis-à-vis the EU.
  3. As questions on the credibility of the current Western-led global governance system grow louder, African countries not only demand more representation but also push back against the unidirectional ways of norms enforcement that underlie the partnership.


About the Authors 

Lidet Tadesse Shiferaw is the associate director of ECDPM’s peaceful societies and accountable governance cluster. She is also a member of the management team.

Mariella Di Ciommo is the associate director of ECDPM’s Europe and Africa in the world cluster. She is also a member of the management team. Mariella’s work focuses on EU foreign and development policy, Africa-Europe relations, finance and gender.

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