Academy Fellow, Africa Programme

Growing instability in both regions may diminish the appetite and possibility of maintaining engagement.
 

The main hall of the Budapest Congress and Trade Center on 16 May 2011, as parliamentarians from the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of nations kicked off talks with their EU counterparts. Photo: Attila Kisbenedek/Staff/Getty Images.Parliamentarians from the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of nations hold talks with their EU counterparts, Budapest Congress and Trade Center on 16 May 2011. Photo: Getty Images.

Summary

  • The countries of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) and sub-Saharan Africa have started to re-engage with each other after many years of limited interaction following the end of the Cold War. While renewed partnership will not become a top priority for countries on either side, it is likely that mutual interest will remain at higher levels than in the past three decades.
  • For CEE countries, foreign affairs and trade institutions, the business sector, civil society organizations and European Union (EU) membership support and enhance these renewed relations. However, limited top-level political attention and resources, insufficient institutional and research capacity, and regional dynamics restrict the pace and depth of re-engagement.
  • EU membership enables CEE countries to engage in discussions and influence decisions on the EU’s relations with Africa, to make financial contributions (significant for their budgets) to the European Development Fund (EDF) and other EU financing instruments, and to receive up-to-date information and analysis about current affairs in Africa. At the same time, EU membership also poses challenges for CEE governments that have to consider the implications and constraints of their EU membership when re-building bilateral relations with Africa.
  • CEE governments lack the confidence to engage more fully in sub-Saharan Africa because of the latter’s perceived complexities. However, the recent economic and migration crises in Europe and sanctions imposed on the Russian Federation have pushed CEE governments to make more concrete steps towards re-building relations with sub-Saharan Africa.
  • The core motivation for re-engagement is identical on both sides: a strong interest in diversifying economic relations and increasing trade and investment. These are counterbalanced by the concerns of CEE countries about security in the EU’s eastern neighbourhood and the Middle East, which may limit the sustainability of their commitment to Africa.
  • Sub-Saharan African governments, while interested, place less emphasis on their re-engagement with CEE counterparts, which indicates that they have higher priorities and are not convinced of the sustainability of CEE policies. But if CEE countries demonstrate a sustained commitment to the region, it is likely that this attitude will change.
  • Rebuilding relations may be initially costly for both sides, but could provide economic, security and political benefits given the structure of the economies, needs and resources of the two regions. Strengthening relations will, however, be a long-term process, considering the particularities of both CEE and sub-Saharan African countries, therefore a strategic approach is needed. The building blocks for this could include high-level dialogues and analysis of core bilateral needs, capitalizing on mutual trust (where it exists) for expanding trade and investment, sharing experiences of transformation, and putting in place mechanisms that enable stronger people-to-people relations in areas such as education, research, civil society, media and culture.
  • The case for stronger relations is enabled by compatible economies; opportunities for strengthening trade, investment and business development; proximity; similar economic, political, security and social transformations in the past three decades; similar current transformation challenges; and good levels of trust among several of the countries in the two regions.
  • Some core challenges to be tackled include limited high-level political commitment for strengthening relations; low awareness about current realities in the two regions; lack of sufficient institutional and organizational mechanisms for advancing bilateral trade and investment; uncertain positioning of CEE countries within the EU and in their relationship with Western European countries in Africa; and hesitation on the European Commission’s side to facilitate participation of CEE actors in the EU’s Africa and development policies and practices.