Written by Ionel Zamfir
On 22 April 2015, the Colleges of the African Union Commission and the European Commission will come together in Brussels for their seventh annual meeting. Such meetings are held regularly, on an alternating basis in Brussels and Addis Ababa, to provide political assistance to the Africa-EU Partnership.
The African Union Commission is an African Union body entrusted with secretarial and executive functions. The African Union, created in 2002 from the former Organisation of African Unity, is an intergovernmental organisation that includes all countries on the African continent with the exception of Morocco. It has a structure similar to the European Union, with an Assembly composed of Heads of State or Government, a Commission, an Executive Council and a Pan-African Parliament. It does not have supranational competences. The ultimate decision-making power belongs to its member states, represented in the AU Assembly, which is the highest body of the Union. The Commission manages the daily conduct of the AU’s affairs and is composed of one President (currently Mrs Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, South Africa), one Vice-President and eight Commissioners. The AU Commission is subordinated to the AU Assembly, which determines its structure, functions and rules. The specific tasks it accomplishes are established by decisions of the Assembly or the Executive Council.
The African Union has both a political and an economic remit, aiming to promote democracy, good governance, human rights, and economic and social development (for more information on the subject, you can see also our publications on AU’s political and economic dimensions). It has become the main peace and security actor on the continent and can act against egregious human rights violations. It created its own Peace and Security Architecture (APSA), with a Peace and Security Council (APSC), modelled after the UN Security Council, at its centre. It also sent peace missions to several countries and is currently building its own standing troop. The AU also established mechanisms for dealing with coups d’état on the African continent and for improving governance. In the economic realm, it strives to integrate the African continent economically, under the umbrella of an African Economic Community, similar to the EU, according to a calendar stretching to 2028. Progress is slow and, at continental level, integration has not yet reached the stage of a free trade area.
The substantial support provided by the EU and other international partners is vital to the AU’s functioning and will likely remain so. The EU’s relations with the entire African continent are framed by the Joint Africa-EU Strategy (2007), seeking enhanced long-term cooperation and a broad political partnership on the basis of shared values and principles. It aims to secure peace, protect human rights and support democracy and sustainable economic development. The strategy emphasises the role of the African Union, calling it ‘the natural interlocutor for the EU on continental issues’.
The 2014-17 Roadmap for EU-Africa cooperation, adopted at the Fourth EU-Africa Summit in 2014, features peace and security, democracy, good governance and human rights, sustainable and inclusive development, and continental integration among its priorities. In 2014, to facilitate the implementation of its partnership with Africa, the EU launched its first Pan-African Programme – with a budget of €845 million for the period 2014 to 2020 – addressing Africa as a whole for the first time, and supporting continental and trans-regional integration in diverse areas. The EU and its Members provide approximately 80% of the African Union Commission’s programme budget. The EU, via its African Peace Facility, also provides strong support to the African Union in the area of peace, funding non-military aspects of peace operations, capacity building and conflict-prevention measures.