Saturday 15. August 2020
#145 - January 2012


The European External Action Service and Africa


If the EEAS is struggling it is largely because the EU’s politics, not least towards Africa, lacks coherence.


The EEAS sometimes seems as if it were set up to fail. The problems appeared from the outset, and were discussed by the present writer in Europe Infos in June 2010 (‘Prenatal complications of the European External Action Service’). The root difficulty was summarised in March 2011 in La Stampa (Turin), by Marta Dassú: ‘Why is it so difficult to establish a common foreign policy that actually works? Because member states have divergent geopolitical interests – or at least they think they do - and because there is no diplomatic equivalent of economic phenomena like the single currency or the common institutions linked to the single market.’


Ms Dassú was writing explicitly about the EU’s response to the crisis in Libya, when the military action of France and the UK raised particular dramatic issues.


However, her provocative challenge applies more widely, especially with regard to Africa, which may be seen - right from the Schuman Declaration itself - as the principal test case of the EU’s claim to be committed to development and international solidarity. Strikingly, just one year ago, the EU-Africa Summit was held in Tripoli, with Colonel Gaddafi as host. He then condemned Europe’s economic partnership with Africa as a failure, and went on (with a logic that is far from clear) to ask the EU for increased financial support for his attempts to combat irregular migration to Europe, so as to avoid the risk that Europe would ‘become black’.  His outburst provoked the President of the European Council, Mr Van Rompuy, to insist that ‘in Europe's experience, the perspectives for economic growth are closely linked to elements of good governance’, Africa being no exception.


Mr Van Rompuy’s statement remains the primary and authentic criterion for assessing the EU’s Africa policy. The assessment cannot be entirely positive. One relevant criticism was discussed in a recent article in Europe Infos by Emmanuelle Devuyst: the divergence between the objectives of European cooperation and development policies and those of the EU’s trade policy. The EEAS has responsibility for the first of these but not for the second.


A second case is that of the EU’s diminished ambition concerning the elections of November 29th in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The EU sent an Election Observation Mission, with a core team of nine and a total strength of approximately 150, speaking with strange confidence of a methodology ‘developed and perfected by the European Union around the world for fifteen years’. The overall involvement of the EU - complementary to the continued engagement of the UN and its peacekeeping forces - is tiny compared with the massive logistical and financial support given to the elections of 2006. Yet as the International Crisis Group has commented, these elections are crucial in indicating whether the DRC can consolidate its democratic status and democratic institutions. It almost looks as if the EU has given up on DRC as a democracy. The press release of the Council of the EU’s Foreign Affairs meeting just one day later, over which Baroness Ashton presided, makes no mention whatever of the DRC; or even of Africa itself, apart from the Arab countries.


It is whispered in Brussels that the morale of the EEAS is currently alarmingly low. If that is true, it may reflect the fear that the Service has an impossible task. The account of ‘What we do’ appearing on its website offers ten examples of the work done ‘in order to defend Europe’s interests and promote its values’: but it appears that these interests and values are sometimes incompatible.


If one asks further why this is so, it seems that powerful EU states (several with long histories of global expansion and colonisation, above all in Africa) have no intention of delegating their disparate foreign policy objectives to the EU. William Hague, the UK’s Foreign Secretary, spoke with brutal clarity in May, 2011 following the strikes on Libya: the EU's role will be to help build open markets in the region, and the UK will rely on the European Commission's economic and trade portfolios rather than on the EEAS. Such a statement, and such a reductionist conception of the EU, leaves the EEAS adrift. Blaming it or its leader is a mere displacement activity.


Frank Turner

Jesuit European Social Centre

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Note: The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Jesuit European Office and COMECE.