“EU support to regional integration in Africa: A shared vision” published on Trade Negotiations Insights

Article from the February issue of joint ECDPM-ICTSD monthly newsletter Trade Negotiations Insights (TNI), written by Lodewijk Briet, Head of European Union Delegation to South Africa.
“Motivated by its own experience over the past fifty years, the European Union (EU) has been a long-standing supporter of regional integration throughout the world, including in the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries where there has been a steady expansion, in both depth and breadth, of regional integration initiatives. While the EU experience is a point of reference for integration initiatives within the ACP and other regions, the EU does not promote a “one size fits all approach” in this regard. Thus, within the ACP, the EU tailors its support to the priorities, pace and methods identified by the countries of the region in line with their own integration agendas.

The EU and its ACP partners have jointly acknowledged the political and economic benefits of regional integration, which is set as one of the general objectives of the 2000 Cotonou Partnership Agreement[1] (Article 1). Within the African context, the launch of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) in 2001 and the birth of the African Union (AU) in 2002 clearly confirm that regional integration is seen as an essential vehicle to achieve sustainable development and poverty eradication. The EU has supported NEPAD since its conception and values many of its principles and objectives. Our shared vision on regional integration is additionally enshrined in the 2007 EU-Africa Strategy, which recognises and promotes the essential role of Regional Economic Communities as building blocks of wider continental integration in the long-run. Furthermore, “Regional Integration, Trade and Infrastructure Development” figure as one of the eight EU-Africa Strategic Partnerships within the 2008-2010 Action Plan[2].

EU Support to Regional Integration in Africa – Policy Framework

In light of the above, the European Commission put forward a Communication on “Regional Integration for Development in ACP Countries”[3], which was endorsed by the Council in November 2008. The Communication adopts a comprehensive notion of regional integration that is reflected in the five priority areas identified for EU support, namely:

  • Building regional integrated markets through the effective implementation of existing regional trade-in-goods commitments and the integration of the services sector, investment and regulatory standards;
  • Facilitating business development by improving the regulatory environment, strengthening productive capacities, and mobilising capital;
  • Connecting regional infrastructure networks with an emphasis on completing the “missing links” between national road, energy and telecommunications networks;
  • Strengthening regional institutions, particularly with a view to promoting regional governance and cooperation for peace and security and to improving national institutional capacities to implement regional policies;
  • Developing regional policies for sustainable development, especially with regards to food security, the common management of natural resources and social cohesion.

Continuous progress in these five areas is expected to foster political stability and economic prosperity within Africa as well as enhance the capacity of African regions to tackle shared challenges and to deliver cross-border public goods. The Communication further stresses that EU support to regional integration shall follow the principle of ownership laid down in the Cotonou Agreement. The EU thus respects the choices and decisions made by its African partners on the objectives, pace and methods of their integration processes. Ownership, therefore, is about African countries defining and implementing their own regional integration agendas.

EU Support to Regional Integration in Africa – Instruments

The Commission Communication identifies three main instruments of EU support to regional integration in Africa: political dialogue, trade policy and financial assistance.

As agreed in Cotonou (Article 37), one of the main trade tools to support regional integration is the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). Within Africa, EPAs are being negotiated with five African regions: West Africa, Central Africa, Eastern and Southern Africa, the East African Community, and the Southern African Development Community. These agreements are thus intended to consolidate existing regional integration initiatives within Africa and to help facilitate the gradual integration of African countries into the global economy. In particular, EPAs are aimed at fostering the effective implementation of existing regional commitments on trade in goods, at expanding regional trade in services and at promoting investment within African regions and with the EU. EPAs also seek to encourage African regions to forge common positions and to develop regional rules on trade-related matters[4].

Regarding financial assistance, the 10th European Development Fund (EDF) constitutes the primary instrument of EU support to regional integration in Africa, complemented by the Development Cooperation Instrument for South Africa and the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument for a number of North African countries. Funding (initially) allocated to trade and regional integration has been considerably increased under the 10th EDF, to be channelled through both regional (approx. €457m) and national indicative programmes (approx. €400m) on the basis of the objectives jointly agreed in the Regional and Country Strategy Papers[5]. In addition, as part of its “Aid for Trade Strategy”, the EU has provided over €1bn for trade facilitation projects in developing countries between 2006 and 2008, and pledged to increase such a support by 2010[6].

Infrastructure is an area where the “costs of non-integration” are particularly felt in Africa, where the lack of efficient infrastructure networks at regional and continental levels generates excessively long transport time and high transport costs causing major hurdles for trade, investment and economic development. As an illustrative example, a study presented at the NEPAD Transport Summit of November 2009 finds that the average waiting time at key ports in Africa (Dar es Salaam and Mombasa) is 23-26 days compared to 3-5 days at other major world ports, while average transport costs are 2-3 times higher in Africa than in other parts of the world, including Brazil and China[7]. In response to this challenge, and in line with the EU-Africa Infrastructure Partnership launched in 2007, the EU is devoting a substantial amount of resources to infrastructure development within Africa and between Africa and Europe. A major part of the financing for the partnership comes from the 10th EDF and is complemented by the EU-Africa Infrastructure Trust Fund, an innovative tool combining grant resources from the EU with the lending capacity of the European financing institutions (including the European Investment Bank) in partnership with the African Development Bank. Approximately €4.5 billion in grants is expected to be allocated for infrastructure development in Africa over the period 2008-2013[8].


Regional integration is an essential driver for political stability, sustainable development and poverty eradication, and is thus an overarching goal guiding the European Union’s action in trade policy, financial assistance and political dialogue. The EU is, and will continue to be, a strong supporter of regional integration in Africa, on the basis of the partnership approach enshrined in the Cotonou Agreement and the Joint EU-Africa Strategy.”

[1] Partnership Agreement between the members of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States of the one part, and the European Community and its Member States, of the other part, signed in Cotonou on 23 June 2009, OJ [2000] L317/3.

[2] All the documents pertaining to the EU-Africa Strategy are available at: http://ec.europa.eu/development/geographical/regionscountries/euafrica_en.cfm.

[3] Communication from the Commission to the Council (et al.), “Regional Integration for Development in ACP Countries” COM(2008) 604 final/2, Brussels 6 October 2008, available at: http://ec.europa.eu/development/policies/9interventionareas/trade/regional_integration_en.cfm.

[4] More information on the EPA negotiations is available at: http://ec.europa.eu/trade/wider-agenda/development/economic-partnerships/.

[5] More information on the 10th EDF is available at: http://ec.europa.eu/development/how/source-funding/edf_en.cfm.

[6] More information on the EU “Aid for Trade Strategy” is available at: http://ec.europa.eu/trade/wider-agenda/development/aid-for-trade/.

[7] Japan International Cooperation Agency, “The Research on the Cross-Border Transport Infrastructure: Phase 3 – Final Report”, March 2009, available at: http://www.jica.go.jp/english/operations/thematic_issues/transportation/pdf/research_cross-border01.pdf.

[8] More information on the EU-Africa Infrastructure Partnership is available at: http://ec.europa.eu/development/policies/9interventionareas/infrastructure_en.cfm#partnership.

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