Leaders from the European Union (EU) and African Union (AU) have just had their first official meeting since 2017. The original plan was for them to meet in 2020, three years after their last summit, but… You already know how that sentence ends. 

The partnership between the two continents, which unites the 27 EU and 55 AU member states, was formally established in 2000. As part of this partnership, both unions attend summits which alternate between taking place in Africa and Europe and have historically been held every three years. 

From colonial empires to the heritage of slavery, the relationship between Africa and Europe has tended to be one dominated by the idea of Europe as the magnanimous donor and Africa the grateful recipient. 

The Africa-EU partnership was set up to bid goodbye to that “white savior” dynamic and instead establish them as equal partners cooperating “based on shared interests and values.”

Many saw this year’s summit, which ran from Feb. 17-18, taking place under the apt motto “Europe and Africa: A joint vision for 2030”, as a chance to really cement this equal footing and leave behind postcolonial views of Africa as a continent dependent on charity. 

But against the backdrop of vaccine inequality, military coups, and climate change, was that ever going to be possible? We take a look at what happened and, most importantly, what didn’t.

What Usually Happens at These Summits?

In a nutshell, a lot of dry intergovernmental talking and not much action.

“There was a tendency to jump from one summit to the next without enough happening in between,” said Koen Doens, the director-general for International Partnership (INTPA) at the European Commission. 

Speaking to the French publication Le Monde in January, the leading African development economist Carlos Lopes expressed his cynicism that the summit would result in nothing but “grand declarations of intent” that have little substance. 

And Africa is sick of the flowery rhetoric and glacial pace of progress. In fact, one of the AU’s reps deleted the word “alliance” from the earlier versions of the summit text. Ouch.

What Caused the Most Awkward Silences?

Five years is a long time not to meet up and a lot has happened since the last summit in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire. This is what has been happening in the background that was bound to cause some bitterness between the EU and the AU at this year's summit. 

Vaccine Inequality
Since the moment a COVID-19 vaccine saw the light of day, wealthy countries have monopolized access to it, even locking out African countries that were ready to pay for doses. Some have called this “The Great Vaccine Robbery”, while it’s also known as “vaccine nationalism”, which you can learn more about here. This has led to massive global vaccine inequality — with just 8% of Africans being fully vaccinated, according to the World Health Organization, compared with more than 60% in many high-income countries.

Fossil Fuel Hypocrisy
We’ve written before about the duty of wealthier countries — which have contributed the most to climate change, while lower-income countries are disproportionately feeling the effects — to pay for the loss and damage in poor countries caused by climate change. But are they doing it? Not enough. 

Over 12 years ago, the world’s richest countries promised to deliver $100 billion every year from 2020 to 2025 to tackle this. Spoilers: that target still hasn’t been met, with wealthy countries admitting in October last year that this target now likely won't be reached until 2023. 

Meanwhile, there’s also the question of transitioning away from fossil fuels globally, without limiting the potential of lower-income countries to develop their economies as a result. Africa’s situation is a perfect example. Africa wants to invest in its own natural gas, in part to tackle its massive energy poverty problem (approximately 600 million Africans lack access to electricity, which is more than the entire population of the EU). 

Europe, with its eco-cap on, is opposed. Yet, it's not offering up any meaningful alternative. And the cherry on the cake? Germany continues to invest in its own gas pipeline… Hypocritical much?

COVID-19 Relief
European countries wrote themselves a fat cheque (26.4% of GDP) to bolster their own economies during the pandemic. But the response to support African countries with aid and debt relief was tepid. 

The lack of support from the international community meant African countries could only muster 3.7% of GDP in fiscal stimulus (the economic equivalent of cash CPR). The result? More than 25 million are struggling to meet their basic food needs  — and that’s just in West Africa. 

The fact that African countries were punished with credit rating downgrades for taking advantage of the G20’s meager Debt Service Suspension Initiative — which didn’t cancel but simply rescheduled debt service payments — was the icing on the cake. 

The Good(ish) Things That Came Out of the Summit

The Fact That It Even Happened

Working together on such a large scale (and in the middle of a global pandemic no less) isn’t easy and the very fact the EU and AU are showing up, whether that’s to argue, disagree, or come up with global solutions is a good step. 

Investment in Health 

There were commitments (great!) but many of them were recycled from previous pledges (not so great). The EU had previously promised to deliver 450 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to Africa by mid-2022 and committed EUR 425 million for vaccine roll-out — a commitment that was “reaffirmed” at the summit. This is good, as vaccine delivery has been critically underfunded. But it’s still not 100% clear where that mony is going to come from or what the action plan is. 

Investment in Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights

Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) are an essential building block to achieving gender equality. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, two-thirds of illnesses that women of reproductive age experience are caused by sexual and reproductive health problems. 

At the summit, the EU promised EUR 60 million — to be supplemented by funding from the member states — for an initiative focusing on supporting frameworks for continental and regional sexual and reproductive health and rights. However, the topic was avoided in the summit communique (the official announcement made at the end of the summit). 

The Things That Didn’t Get Airtime But Should Have

Special Drawing Rights

Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) are a source of financing that can help countries recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The problem is that the current process of distributing SDRs means that wealthy nations get the most, despite lower-income countries having the greatest need. 

Global Citizens have been calling on EU member states to give away 25% of their SDRs to support low-income countries for well over a year, and the summit was a real opportunity for the EU to address this. But instead, they just recycled the same old platitudes, and not one country meaningfully stepped up.

The Climate Crisis

​​Developing African nations are already disproportionately experiencing the impacts of climate change — and with little infrastructure or funding at hand to help. But there wasn’t so much as a whisper about climate finance at the summit. 

Africa's Own COVID-19 Vaccines

One of the biggest issues in vaccinating Africa against COVID-19, is that the continent doesn’t yet have the ability to manufacture its own vaccines, relying instead on imports. 

There’s been a lot of debate over whether intellectual property rights (IP) for the vaccine should be waived to help with this issue. Some countries argue the intellectual property rights system has played a “positive role” in vaccine innovation, while others say IP rights should be binned so that lower income countries can make their own vaccines instead of having to rely on others.

3 Actions You Can You Take Right Now to Help

1. Demand Global Access for COVID-19 Vaccines

The quickest way to end the pandemic and ensure the world gets back on track is to make sure all countries have access to vaccines and a chance to recover, a process that is being thwarted by rich nations hoarding vaccines. Join us right now in taking action to support vaccine equity by a) taking our quiz to learn more about vaccine nationalism, then b) signing our petition calling on G20 leaders to deliver 2 billion vaccines this year, and then c) signing our open letter calling on Germany to stop blocking global COVID-19 vaccine access.

2. Find Out More About Climate Finance

Can you guess the reasons why climate finance could save the planet? Take our quiz here. Then leave a message for world leaders urging them to help low-income nations confront climate change.

3. Help Us Reallocate Special Drawing Rights

Even though it didn’t happen at the EU-AU Summit, we’re continuing our call to European member states to share at least 25% of their SDRs with lower-income countries. Sign up as a Global Citizen to join us in taking action, and sign up to our newsletter to stay up to date with developments in this vital effort.


Demand Equity

Europe & Africa Leaders Just Met for the First Time Since the Pandemic. Here’s What to Know.

By Tess Lowery