The European Union insists that it’s partnership with Africa is a key strategic priority, urgently needed to capitalize on the potential of both continents and face shared challenges, including climate change and global health. Recently, the European Commission put forth a new proposal for a renewed partnership, aiming to “move forward and bring the partnership to the next level”. The strategy replaces the 2007 Joint Africa-EU strategy (JAES) and will serve as a guiding document for relations between Europe and Africa, paving the way for joint actions on a number of key policy areas.
These discussions are happening in the midst of a pandemic that has claimed nearly 4 million lives, and wreaked havoc on the economies worldwide. African health systems have been under disproportionate strain, due to decades of chronic underfunding across the continent. Now, the coronavirus pandemic is undoing some of the progress made towards reaching the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
In this context, a renewed commitment between Europe and Africa to stimulate people-centred development is welcomed, but the success of this initiative will come down, as always, to the details.
Questions remain. How will this partnership contribute to the coronavirus response and bolster Africa-Europe cooperation on health? And how have local people and communities been included into the process to ensure it has the best possible impact for those who need it most?
In this paper, WACI Health and Global Health Advocates explore these questions based on a literature review, discussions with representatives from both the European and Africa Commissions, and engagement with local African civil society. Our findings indicate that so far, the discussion has been dominated by the European Union’s (EU) priorities, and there is little insight into the African Union’s (AU) official position on their priorities for Europe. Furthermore, the EU has put forth three institutional positions, which vary significantly in content on key issues, especially health.
While the European Parliament’s position is quite strong on health, despite the global context and the proven effectiveness of global health interventions, health is markedly neglected in the positions of the European Commission and the European Council. The African Commission has yet to publish their priorities for the next partnership, but considering the context, their 2016-2030 African Health Strategy should be taken as a guiding document. If the EU intends to establish a genuine and successful partnership with the AU, health systems strengthening must be a key focal area and pillar of engagement. If the European Commission’s proposal of five clearly defined ‘partnerships’ is observed, we recommend a sixth partnership on health.