The 2007 European Union – African Union summit, which is scheduled to start in Lisbon on 12 November 2007, is already freighted with the weight of great expectations. Pre-summit discussions have revolved around both emotive and substantive issues.
The emotive concern has primarily been on the question of whether President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe will attend the summit, and what the consequences would be to the summit, if he was not invited. The media scrummage about Mugabe’s attendance has obscured the fact that there are far more serious issues on the summit agenda. Both the EU and the AU have internal ‘baggage’ which they are bringing to Lisbon, and this will have an impact on the core business of this summit, which is, in essence, to ratify and implement the EU-AU joint strategy.
The row over Mugabe has been the crisis of the season. Prime Minister Gordon Brown of the UK reminded prospective participants that Mugabe was on the EU list of prohibited individuals because of his human rights abuses. The EU would thus be contravening its own laws by allowing Mugabe to travel to Lisbon. The Prime Minister then capped his critique by insisting that he would not attend if Mugabe was present, and urged EU members to boycott the summit if Mugabe attended. Brown has also urged the EU to send a special envoy to Zimbabwe, and has suggested that AU-EU discussions on human rights should focus specifically on Zimbabwe. In response, President Kufuor of Ghana said that it would be unfair not to invite Mugabe, who is after all the head of state of an AU member. He also warned of a likely African backlash if Mugabe was not invited. Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Nicolas Sarkozy have insisted that, despite his failures of governance, Mugabe has the right to attend, and that the Mugabe issue should not be allowed to dominate the summit.
There is no chance that Mugabe will be barred from attending – hosts Portugal desperately want to avoid a re-run of the abortive 2003 AU-EU summit, which ran aground on the Zimbabwe issue. Brown’s non-attendance will be seen by many as a foreign policy own-goal, since it may well affect his standing in Africa, and it has left him isolated in Europe.
There are other emotive issues; President Sarkozy’s July 2007 mini-tour of Francophone Africa resulted in both garlands and brickbats. There was a warm response to his call for France to move away from its often paternalistic relationship with its former African colonies; to re-engage with Africa on egalitarian terms; and to promote Africa’s development. However, his reluctance to discuss France’s role in the underdevelopment of Africa did not win him many admirers, and his Dakar speech, in which he seemingly mocked Africa’s peasantry, drew stinging rebukes from the AU, with many critics labelling Sarkozy’s speech racist, and neo-colonialist.
Beyond the vitriol lies a serious African concern – Sarkozy is arguably the most powerful national leader within the EU. He is perceived in Africa as dynamic, and nationalistic; will his conservatism become the bedrock of the ‘new’ EU, and would he be an asset or a liability in AU-EU relations?
For hosts Portugal, the EU-AU summit will help to cement Lisbon’s reputation as a diplomatic heavyweight within Europe and the EU. The Portuguese are keen to ensure that the Lisbon strategy, which aims to make the EU the world’s most dynamic economy by 2010, remains on course. Although the 2004 Kok Report revealed that little had been done to realize the strategy’s goals, the December summit will be an opportunity for the EU, under the aegis of Portugal, to demonstrate unity and purpose. In an age where perception is everything, it is crucial that the EU be seen as vibrant and cohesive, and not merely as a disparate collection of nationalisms. The EU is, after all, the template on which the AU is modelled, so it is important that the EU, at transcontinental summits such as the Lisbon summit in December, be seen as speaking with one voice. Thus, for the EU, Gordon Brown’s utterances on Zimbabwe, whilst correct in principle, are politically inexpedient, because they can rupture intra EU relations as well as inter EU-AU relations.
For the AU, the summit is a chance to present a collective show of unity and put aside internal issues which have proved to be divisive in the past. The AU deployments in Darfur and Somalia – and the prospective UN/AU deployment in Darfur – have been contentious. The Accra summit in June also raised the question of whether the AU should aim for a ‘United States of Africa’ or continue with the EU template. In 2006, the AU also failed to ratify the Democracy Charter which was designed to empower the AU to strengthen democracy in Africa. At Lisbon, however, the AU will present a united front, and celebrate successes, rather than failures.
The Lisbon summit is, however, not about cherry-picking the internal baggage of each side. It is a showpiece transcontinental event, one which has four fundamental objectives: first, to ensure that the summit happens. The last OAU – EU summit was in 2000, while the scheduled 2003 summit never was. The 2007 summit is thus long overdue. The second aim is for both sides – EU and AU – to present united fronts and thus discuss and negotiate from positions of strength. The third objective is to discuss substantive issues, and to reach agreement on policy and implementation. The fourth aim is to manage the inevitable differences which will arise, and ensure that these transcontinental differences of opinion do not cause the summit to collapse.
The summit is likely to base its key discussions around the EU’s ‘Strategy for Africa’ project which was launched in 2005. The Strategy framed EU financial support to Africa within the context of Africa’s Millennium Development goals, which promote sustainable development, security and good governance. There will be discussion around what has been achieved in Africa since 2005, and what remains to be done. Quite what level of detail the discussions will delve remains to be seen – the temptation will always be to go for the broad brush-strokes of general policy issues, rather than to fight in the trenches of cumulative detail.
There will be some level of detailed discussion on issues such as EU funding for specific AU development projects, and there is likely to be a discussion on security. The proposed UN/AU deployment in Darfur will almost certainly be discussed – while Khartoum has stressed that the UN contingent should be composed of African soldiers, AU commanders on the ground have repeatedly stated that logistical support has to come from the EU or UN, because Africa does not have sufficient resources particularly in vital airlift capacity. The forthcoming EU deployment on the Chad-Darfur border will also be discussed; the EU will be keen to ‘contain’ their mission, and avoid being sucked into the wider, ongoing Darfur conflict, and also avoid the looming re-emergence of the north-south Sudan conflict.
In terms of policy, the summit will be keen to meld the EU’s ‘strategy for Africa’ with the EU-Africa Joint Strategy proposal which was drafted in May 2007. Immigration could be a sticking point. Although the EU as a collective body has moderated its stance on immigration, many EU member states are taking a hardline approach to immigration from Africa. A subtext is the contentious issue of EU patrols around African waters to stop the flood of desperate refugees who make the perilous Mediterranean crossing to EU destinations. The summit will also have to pay attention to civil society groups, and their demands for measurable progress on development, security and governance.
Critics of past events contend that these summits are merely talking shops in which nothing of substance is achieved. This, however, misses the point; the Twenty-first century will certainly be the Asian century, but the EU and the AU will also become increasingly relevant and assertive in global affairs, particularly if the US enters a period of semi-isolationism after the ‘War on Terror’. The EU is already active in Africa, and if an EU-AU partnership is formalized in Lisbon, as is likely to be the case, it will certainly a significant addition to global affairs.
Head, Africa Programme
The views expressed above are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RUSI.