Europe has since the post-colonialist era played a central role in the African continent, fostering peace and growth through financial and military aid. The EU has also been a major partner in the World Bank’s projects together with the United States and most of this aid has been tracked down in a clear and transparent way. Since 2009 China has been Africa’s main trading partner while European countries have lost their influence in their former colonies. Europe has not been alone in falling behind the fast growth of investments from the East, also other Western countries seem to face the same challenge.
European interests in Africa
European countries' aid missions in Africa surged in the 70s driven mainly by paternalistic reasons, with French, Germans, Italians and later the British, in particular, taking advantage of Africa’s inherited affinity to the old continent. With the decline of these special relationships and of their comparative influence vis-à-vis other foreign powers, the interactions between continents went through a period of stagnation and liberalisation of the agenda based mainly on development aid and democratisation policies. Both because of the vestiges of its paternalistic legacies or because of other important issues at stake, like national safety and migration, there is still a strong military presence of France and other countries, mainly in the Sahel region, with the numerous military bases.
What about the European Union as a whole? The EU has since its creation tried to preserve the ties of its members with their former colonies, this mainly to protect their economic interest and access to natural resources. The biggest challenge for the EU, though, was to become an international actor in foreign policy vis-à-vis other sovereign states, both in development aid (European Development Fund) and later in preventing and resolving conflicts. Help provided by the EEC (the EU’s predecessors) before the end of the Cold War was almost unconditioned. With the fall of the Berlin Wall political goals like democracy, human rights, rule of law
led to a rethinking of the EU and ACP (African Carribean Pacific) relationships that led to the Cotonou Agreement in 2000, with a validity of 20 years, establishing a bilateral deal between EU and 77 ACP states.
While in the beginning the aid was mainly conditional on democratisation and development, with the rising concern about migration, security and migration control became European priorities over economic growth and development. What Europe is trying to do regarding trade, is to regionalize relationships through Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs). Those are agreements between the EU and five sub-Saharan economic areas. The problem is that while some EPAs were implemented in 2016, others are still at varying stages of finalisation because of a lack of adherence inside regional areas. What is unclear is whether full regional EPAs are really feasible or even desired by single African and European states: For the Europeans because these agreements are reciprocal but asymmetric (EU members are to cut all of their tariffs while African countries up to 75%). For African countries because a drop in tariff revenues hits local governments, even if there is some sort of compensation for this loss.