Economic and social stakeholders discuss the future of the EU-Africa partnership in the aftermath of the pandemic

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) hosted on 2nd March the 7th Meeting of the representatives of African and EU economic and social stakeholders, a virtual event where speakers discussed the future of the EU-Africa partnership with a special focus in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences.

The main purpose of the meeting was to prepare a political declaration that will be forwarded to the upcoming African Union-EU Heads of State summit that will take place in the second half of 2021 to feed the debate by contributing the view of organised civil society. The event, which was held under the specific title "Infrastructures at the heart of the Africa-EU comprehensive strategy", focused mainly on the cooperation in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic

Representatives of organised civil society from both the EU and Africa attended the meeting to discuss the challenges that lie ahead. The first panel was devoted to the recovery in the aftermath of the pandemic as a new priority for the partnership.

The effects of COVID-19 in Africa

Denise A. O. Kodhe, Presiding Officer of the African Union Economic, Social and Cultural Council, insisted on the social consequences of the pandemic: My biggest concern about COVID-19 is not the economic effects of the pandemic, it's the impact on citizens, as people are devastated and this situation will affect them in the long term. In Africa traditions are very important and this means gatherings that are no longer possible. Mr Kodhe also highlighted the role of organised civil society: "We are not enemies of governments, we are here to add, and governments have to understand our role".

From the European Commission, Gabriella Fesus, Head of the Social Inclusion and Protection, Health and Demography Unit of the Directorate General for International Partnerships, insisted on the need to think in the longer term: This pandemic has shown the need to strengthen prevention and health systems. We have to provide support to local manufacturing of medicines and medical equipment in Africa. And this is, of course, a long-term project.

Matshidiso Moeti, Regional Director for Africa of the World Health Organization, reminded that the COVID-19 pandemic has had dramatic consequences in Africa, with the first economic recession in the last 25 years. The recovery will require years of common efforts; we have to apply the lessons learned to increase the resilience of African countries and societies. Together we have to work on building local capacities in the long term, said Ms Moeti, who also underlined that the pandemic has also had positive effects in terms of improved infrastructures.

Two representatives of Médecins sans Frontières, Inma Vázquez and Salha Issoufou, presented the ongoing initiatives of this NGO in Africa and how the pandemic has affected their work. Strengthening health systems in Africa is essential, said Ms Vázquez, who also recognised the work of EU institutions while inviting them to take into account the need of vaccines for specific groups and allow a waiver on intellectual property rights on vaccines.

Green Deal and sustainable development

The second part of the debate examined the common challenge of the green transition as one of the main strategic aspects of the EU-Africa partnership. Bernardo Ivo Cruz, Counsellor for the cooperation with Africa of the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union, declared: We can't rely anymore on the 'business as usual' models; we need to build a renewed partnership inspired by our common aspirations, which would include the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) established by the United Nations. Mr Cruz announced that the Portuguese Presidency will hold a in Lisbon on April 22nd & 23rd with all involved stakeholders, such as the Chair of the ACP-EU Follow-up Committee, to discuss these topics.

Jocelyne Landry Tsonang, representative of the African Circular Economy Network, mentioned some of the challenges African countries have to face, as poor governance, corruption, supplies shortages or climate change and insisted that circular economy can be a useful tool to face SDGs. Anaïs Amazit, presented the African Union-European Union Youth Cooperation Hub, a network of young people from both continents aimed to look for new approaches in the EU-AU partnership and monitor youth-related policies, such as education, job creation or digitalisation. An example of cooperation was given by René Mono, founder of Solaris Offgrid, an initiative aimed to provide electricity to isolated areas in Africa through solar power.

African Continental Free Trade Area

The third panel focused on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), an initiative of the African Union aimed to Accelerating intra-African trade and boosting Africa’s trading position in the global market by strengthening Africa’s common voice and policy space in global trade negotiations.

Ewa Synowiec, Director for sustainable development in European Partnership Agreements of the Directorate-General for Trade of the European Commission, reviewed the support of the European institutions and EU Member States to the implementation of the AfCFTA: The EU must deepen its engagement in Africa, as there are many economic and cultural links.

From the African side, Anselme Amoussou, Secretary General of the Confederation of Autonomous Trade Unions of Benin (CSA-Benin) and Member of the Economic and Social Council of Benin, mentioned the need to create inclusive mechanisms for the implementation of the AfCFTA, although so far there is little involvement from social stakeholders. Amadou Sako, External Advisor for Africa of the International Organisation of Employers, explained the advantages of the AfCFTA, such as lower prices for consumers, improved competitiveness or the creation of jobs, and insisted on the need of making the most of this free trade area. An example of this was presented by Bayla Sow, from the Civil Aviation Trade Union of Senegal, who explained the specific issues of air traffic in Africa and how the AfCFTA opens new perspectives for the sector in the continent.

In his closing remarks, Carlos Trindade, President of the ACP-EU follow up Committee of the EESC, thanked the speakers for their contribution and said: A lot has been achieved, but there is a lot to achieve yet, emphasizing the need to fight inequalities in Africa.