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EU, Africa and China in the 2000s: Bilateral relations and trilateral failure

By accident, I’ve come across a very fascinating academic journal article on EU-Africa relations and the role China played in this relationship in the first decade of the 21st century.

The European Union and China’s rise in Africa: Competing visions, external coherence and trilateral cooperation” by Maurizio Carbone, published in April of 2011 in a special issue of the Journal of Contemporary African studies on Chinas rise in Africa, is a beautiful look behind the scenes of EU decision-making based on interviews and document analysis.

While the article also covers the processes leading to the 2005 EU strategy for Africa and theĀ 2007 Joint Africa-EU Strategy, most revealing are the insights on the 2008 Commission Communication “The EU, Africa and China: Towards trilateral dialogue and cooperation“.

In short, Carbone describes the process as pushed by civil servant within the Commission’s Directorate General (DG) Development and then taken Commissioner Luis Michel. It then met strong opposition from other DGs (in particular External Relations) and the Commission’s Secretariat General. It then becomes so much watered down in the internal coordination of the Commission that it’s almost empty when finally published.

Under the French Presidency, it was quickly endorsed by the Council as there were no controversial issues left in it, but once this was done those in the Commission who worked on it leave and the next Council Presidencies don’t really care. So shortly after, the trilateral idea is politically dead.

The reason that it didn’t work out, and the article shows this more in detail that I did here, is the general lack of coherence of interests at EU level, already within the Commission but especially between the institutions. The Commission’s strive for the EU to become a global power, the Parliament’s strive for European values and the member states’ strive not to lose their privileged relations with African countries seem to make an effective EU-Africa or EU-Africa and EU-China-Africa policy impossible according to Carbone.

Altogether, one of the most interesting academic reads on EU affairs in a while with fascinating behind-the-scene insights of how EU foreign and development is (not) functioning.



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