On 24 February, Russia invaded Ukraine. The invasion prompted a strong reaction from the EU in a manner and speed that few had anticipated. Just a week prior, the EU summit with the African Union convened 40 African heads of state and government and 27 of their European colleagues. As the global setting for EU security policy has dramatically changed within a few weeks, the war in Ukraine will also have important implications for EU-Africa cooperation on peace and security.
Former Finnish prime minister Alexander Stubb remarked on social media that he had “never seen the EU acting with more determination, speed and unity.” In a similar fashion, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy Borrell called the EU’s response to the war the ‘geopolitical awakening of the EU’, while Commission President von der Leyen described it as a ‘watershed moment’ in the history of the Union.
Within the span of twenty days, we have indeed witnessed EU unity and action, covering the full range from expressions of solidarity to strong sanctions. The actions taken also involved leaving behind old taboos: the Union decided to use the European Peace Facility (EPF) to procure and distribute lethal military equipment to Ukraine. This is the first time ever the EU provides weapons to another country, with a first €500 million agreed on 28 February and EU foreign ministers reaching political agreement to an additional EPF contribution of the same size during their meeting on 21 March.
Ramifications beyond Ukraine
Significant questions remain both on if and how the AU and EU may jointly respond to the conflict, and how their cooperation on peace and security will be affected – both intentionally and unintentionally – by the war in Ukraine.
Supporting peace and security in Africa has been a key priority of the EU’s foreign and security policy since the first Africa-EU summit in 2000. The EU has currently deployed eleven military operations and civilian missions under the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) to African conflict contexts. These include two maritime operations at the Horn of Africa and the Mediterranean, four military training missions deployed in Mali, Somalia, Central African Republic, and Mozambique, and five civilian missions in Libya, Central African Republic, Somalia, Mali and Niger. Recent months have shown some tensions between the EU’s engagement and the involvement of Russian private military corporation Wagner as requested by some of these states.
European funding for African security efforts
In addition to its own military and civilian missions, the EU has made important and predominantly financial contributions to the long-term strengthening of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA). Under the motto „African solutions to African problems,“ the EU has since 2004 provided nearly €3 billion under the African Peace Facility (APF) for AU-mandated African peace support operations, capacity building of APSA structures, and short-term crisis prevention and peace mediation. A substantial portion of the APF funds were dedicated to the African Union peacekeeping mission AMISOM in Somalia.
On 21 March 2021, around a year ago, EU foreign ministers agreed to create a European Peace Facility that replaced the APF. This was part of a larger reform in the EU’s legal basis for the financing of its external action, specifically the integration of the European Development Fund through which the APF was funded into the EU’s general budget. By remaining outside the EU’s budget as an intergovernmental fund, the EPF can finance assistance measures to support the military aspects of peace support operations led by a regional or international organisation. In addition, the EPF can also fund the provision of lethal military equipment to partner countries’ armed forces, which was not possible through the APF. To pursue these objectives, the EPF was equipped with a financial ceiling of €5.692 billion in current prices (€5 billion in 2018 prices) for the period 2021-2027, with an annual ceiling that increases from €420 million in 2021 to €1.132 billion in 2027. While the EPF will also provide financial support to peace operations in Africa in the same way the APF has, it does not require an AU mandate to do so. Moreover, the ‘demand-driven’ nature of the EPF means that no funds are earmarked or otherwise reserved for countries or regions, including Africa.
An ambitious agenda for EU-Africa cooperation
In view of this track record, the February summit in Brussels provided the first occasion for a political ‚continent-to-continent‘ dialogue on peace and security since the previous Abidjan Summit of December 2017. The resulting outcome document did not include very specific statements on next steps, but confirmed key thematic areas for future cooperation. These commitments include the strengthening of cooperation in the area of military capacity building and the provision of training and equipment, the continued support of African-led peace support operations and a stronger integration with EU military and civilian missions as well as enhanced cooperation on cybersecurity. The text also includes a general commitment to intensify cooperation in the field of civilian crisis prevention, but overall there is clear focus on intensifying military-related domains of cooperation.
The invasion of Ukraine: three implications for EU-Africa relations
The war in Ukraine already challenges the realisation of the peace and security agenda agreed at the AU-EU summit, with the EU facing its financial implications for the EPF, the political implications for the EU member states, and the credibility related to the design and added value of the EPF.
Financial implications. With an annual ceiling of €540 million for 2022, the two assistance measures for Ukraine adopted on 28 February worth €500 million already account for 90 percent of the planned budget for 2022. On 21 March, foreign affairs ministers reached a political agreement on an additional €500 million to be mobilised under the EPF, which will necessitate re-negotiations of the EPF annual ceilings. But it will also require member states to have a more strategic discussion about how the assistance to Ukraine affects (planned) EPF engagements in other countries and regions. An open dialogue with the African Union about what the war in Ukraine and the EPF expenses means for the implementation of the priorities agreed at the AU-EU summit is warranted, as well as for the planned and continued EU financial contributions to African peace operations through the EPF.
Political implications. The immediate focus of European foreign and security policy will be on Eastern Europe. The measures adopted at the EU level to provide military and economic support to Ukraine, the strengthening of NATO’s military presence in the Baltic and Eastern European states, and the bilateral support provided to Ukraine by many European states demonstrate this shift of priorities. It may also lead EU member states to put a stronger focus on tasks of territorial and collective defence, which may decrease their willingness to contribute troops to peacekeeping missions abroad. The EU’s engagement in the Sahel could be seriously affected, as the Ukraine war may make EU-wide debates about how to compensate for the French military withdrawal from Mali even more complex. Again, this may lead to a (partial) winding down of the EU’s military presence in Africa, the implications of which are hard to predict at this point. At least it is clear that the EU will need to seriously engage with its African partners to ensure that any decisions on withdrawals or adjustments are well coordinated with them.
Credibility challenges. The use of the European Peace Facility in Ukraine to provide lethal equipment to a country facing a full-scale military invasion by another country along the EU’s external borders is a dramatically new situation. Assistance measures were primarily intended to support military capacity building and train and equip efforts of the EU in partner countries that face armed conflict within their territory and that need long-term support in strengthening their security forces.
Given the urgency of the situation in Ukraine, it is hard to imagine that the EU could follow its integrated methodological framework for EPF assistance measures. As per this framework, the EU would be required to conduct rigorous conflict risk analyses and impact assessments for the first-ever provision of lethal equipment to a third country. Their relevance notwithstanding, the EU officials who negotiated the legal basis of the EPF may not have anticipated the use of the instrument in an ongoing war where monitoring and evaluating the measures would however be close to impossible. The current situation in Ukraine indeed makes it impossible for the EU to send in personnel to monitor how the equipment was used and if compliance rules have been followed. In view of the exceptional nature of the situation under which the assistance measures for Ukraine were adopted, the EU should ensure that the decisions made are well-communicated, well-understood and accepted by its African partners.
The need for dialogue
Communicating the exceptional nature of this war along the EU’s borders – and the pressure it puts on its new European Peace Facility – should be the starting point of the AU-EU dialogue on peace and security, as opposed to an impediment to it. Many African states chose not to support the recent UN General Assembly resolution on Ukraine, which shows that this dialogue will not always be easy. Yet, it is also a crucial case where both continents are challenged to show that their commitment to international cooperation goes beyond the words expressed in their summit document. To this end, the EU needs to engage in serious and open dialogue with African partners on the possible implications of the Ukraine war for EU-Africa cooperation and to identify possible areas for cooperation and a joint response.