Lack of inclusiveness at the Fifth African Union-European Union Summit

The Fifth Africa Union (AU) – European Union (EU) Summit took place in Abidjan, Ivory Coast on 29-30 November 2017, in the framework of the Joint Africa-EU Strategy. With a number of key agreements that frame relations between these two leading regional actors under review, this summit came at a crucial time. Trade unions note a number of limitations regarding the space provided to civil society participation at the summit.

Preparatory events

Very limited arrangements had been made for the participation of civil society in the summit itself. A Civil Society Forum was organised over four months earlier in Tunis, Tunisia. Trade unions notably contributed to the Africa-EU Civil Society Forum Declaration, which was set to be presented at the AU-EU Summit. More information on the trade union participation in this event is available here.

Trade unions also participated in the Fourth Meeting of EU-Africa Economic and Social Stakeholders and Economic and Social Council, which took place on 16-17 November 2017. The final declaration of this meeting, available from here, was submitted as a contribution to the AU-EU Summit declaration.

Abidjan Citizens Forum

Trade unions were nevertheless present in Abidjan and attended the Citizens Forum, an alternative forum set up by local civil society organisations. The focus of the Citizens Forum was the same as that of the Summit : ’Investing in the youth for a sustainable future’.

In the margins of the AU-EU Summit, CSC-ACV, ACLVB-CGSLB, WSM (Belgium) together with ITUC-Africa, organised a seminar on social protection, which approved the Abidjan Declaration on Social Protection, entitled ’Social protection at the heart of the EU-AU relations – investing in people and in sustainably and inclusive societies’. The final declaration of the Citizens Forum is available here. Regrettably, the closing ceremony of the Citizens Forum was marked by a police intervention in which participants were forced to disperse, and the march that had been planned was prohibited. The Citizens Forum‘s motion condemning this intervention is available here (in French). Both the inadequate provisions for the formal participation of civil society in the forum and the heavy-handed approach with which civil society initiatives were met set a worrying precedent.

Outcome of the Summit

The outcomes of these policy discussions concern AU and EU citizens first and foremost. As such, representative civil society organisations play a vital role in assuring accountability at all levels of the policy-making process, as well as the legitimacy of its outcomes. While some notable efforts have been made to enable this role, the space provided for civil society within the context of the Fifth AU-EU Summit was deplorable.

The JAES’ Joint Steering Committee is a network of civil society organisations from the two continents, which work on the different thematic priorities of the partnership. Trade unions are part of this body, which promotes the involvement of CSOs in the partnership at policy stages, and especially in the implementation of the roadmaps. CSOs were invited to speak 6 minutes (3 per continent), which was already a small victory compared to the last summit, where CSOs could only speak for 2 minutes (1 per continent). However, the JAES’ Joint Steering Committee was vetoed to speak, which sets a bad precedent for a supposedly people-centred partnership between the EU and Africa.

The final declaration of the Summit was supposedly approved by acclamation. As a matter of fact, it seems the declaration is still being drafted and finalised, as there is no consensus on issues such as CSO participation, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and devolution of migrants from the EU to Africa.

Read the JAES’ Joint Steering Committee statement on the Summit CSO participation modalities here.

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