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What role for civil society in the reform of the Joint Africa-EU Strategy?

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Three years after Cairo, the Second Africa-EU Civil Society Intercontinental Dialogue Forum on the Joint Africa-EU Strategy (JAES) was held in Brussels from 23 to 25 October 2013.


The around 100 participants formulated recommendations for the next Africa-EU Summit of Heads of State to be held in April 2014 in Brussels.  



Three objectives were identified:  

  1. To provide input from civil society for reform of the Joint Strategy. 
  2. To ensure that the new JAES is people-centred.
  3. To formulate recommendations on what the role of civil society must be in the new organisation of the JAES. 

Concerns and assurances

In their opening speeches, Marta Martinelli and Joseph Chilengi, representing the steering committees of European and African SCOs for the JAES respectively, recalled how Europe and Africa had undergone major changes since their partnership was launched in 2007. This partnership has achieved major successes and encouraged common positions on the part of the two continents. Among other things, it favoured ratification of the African Charter on Democracy and the introduction of an Africa-EU Platform for Dialogue on Governance and on African Human Rights Strategy. The JAES can also take credit for integrating civil society that is represented on an Africa-EU Joint Steering Committee.


Yet the partnership has not lived up to all the expectations, causing the European Union to propose a reform of the Joint Strategy ahead of the next Africa-EU Summit. Marta Martinelli and Joseph Chilengi, who expressed their concern to see the role of civil society maintained and strengthened, understood the purpose of this Forum as being to convey to the AU and EU institutions, clearly and jointly on the part of European and African CSOs, the desire to strengthen civil society as a full and essential player in this partnership.


David O’Sullivan, Chief Operating Officer of the European External Action Service (EEAS), stressed the growing awareness of the fact that governments were no longer the sole stakeholders and in this context civil society must be at the heart of the Africa-EU partnership: “We need to find ways to better put our common vision into practice,” he stressed, indicating that “We have suggested that the theme of the next Summit should revolve around 'Investing in peace, prosperity and people.’”


On behalf of Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Chairperson of the AU Commission, Jinmi Adisa (Citizens and Diaspora Directorate- AUC) assured the SCOs present that: “The AUC looks forward eagerly to receiving the reports of your deliberations and promises to support recommendations, proposals, measures and strategies that will strengthen the Africa-EU partnership in a manner that will enable and accelerate the pace of delivery on its promises to the African people.” 


The Forum’s opening session, closed by a representative of the Ethiopian Embassy, was followed by a session devoted to the evaluation of the JAES and reflections on the architecture of the future JAES. The experiences of previous partnerships (EC-CELAC) were highlighted to learn the necessary lessons and as a basis for operational recommendations. The activities then continued in the thematic working groups (Migration/Democracy and human rights/Peace and security/Trade, regional integration and investment/Socio-economic inequalities/Food security). 


And civil society in all of this?  

The CSOs looked at the proposals submitted by the EUC and AUC respectively and that must be the subject of a compromise by April 2014. They approved the objective of rationalising and simplifying the priorities and structures of the Joint Strategy and expressed their commitment to seeing their role confirmed within this new architecture. 


Regarding institutional mechanisms, the key issue for the CSOs is to maintain and strengthen their role within the groups of experts and joint ad hoc consultative bodies.


Regarding the review of thematic partnerships of the JAES, the Forum looked at the proposals made by the EU. 


The EU’s project is to lend a new dynamic to the Joint Strategy around three principal priorities: 

  • Common work on peace, security, democracy and human rights.
  • Increased cooperation on sustainable development and inclusive growth. 
  • Increased coordination on global themes. 

On the basis of past experience and practice, it is above all a question of promoting structures that have jointly shown their effectiveness.

The AU Commission for its part proposed five priorities, indicated Joseph Chilengi, Chairperson of the Africa-EU Civil Society Joint Steering Committee: 

  • Peace and security.
  • Democracy and governance.
  • Regional integration.
  • Sustainable and inclusive development.
  • Development of human capital.

The participants asked for those fields to be identified that constitute the added value of the JAES. African CSOs stressed the need to maintain the “development” dimension of the partnership and to take as the basis the AUC’s 2014–2017 Strategic Plan and the AU’s Vision 2063. 


Funding of the partnership

The SCOs welcomed the EU’s proposal to launch a Pan-African Programme that would serve to fund projects on a continental and trans-regional scale, while also stressing that it must be granted sufficient resources.

The question of a genuinely egalitarian partnership when the financing remains essentially European was also raised. On this subject, several CSO representatives appealed for African resources to be mobilised and mention was made of the ADB. The need was also stressed to ensure that there are specific allocations for actions by civil society. 


During the Forum’s closing session, Andris Piebalgs, European Commissioner for Development, repeated his commitment as “defender of pluralism, inclusive policymaking, people’s concerns and participatory democracy.” In his opinion “the CSOs have an essential role to play in the discussions and decisions with a view to the Africa-EU Summit of April 2014.” He remained convinced that the proactive participation of civil society – at the political and operational level – was vital for the success of the strategy in the years to come.


Six months to reach agreement

At the end of the proceedings, the Forum adopted a series of recommendations relating in particular to: 

  • Recognition of the role of civil society as JAES stakeholder and its participation in decision-making processes. 
  • The creation of inclusive working groups with the CSOs on the various thematic priorities.
  • The introduction of partnership monitoring mechanisms that include a role for civil society.
  • The adoption of a communication strategy at the intercontinental national levels. 
  • The creation of a permanent secretariat to support and coordinate the work of civil society. 

Specific recommendations were also made on the basis of the conclusions of the various thematic groups. 


The Forum will communicate its proposals to as many stakeholders as possible so as to mobilise the broadest possible support during the six months prior to the Summit.


This second Africa-EU Forum showed the commitment of African and European CSOs to full participation in the debate on reform of the Joint Africa-EU Strategy. 


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