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Where are Europe and Africa headed? Looking out to 2030

Megatrends spotlight 31, 05.06.2024

Europe is about to elect a new parliament. Relations with Africa barely played a role in the election campaigns, even though they are crucial for making progress in important policy areas such as climate change and the shortage of skilled labour in Europe. Our strategic foresight process highlights trends that will shape relations between the two continents in the near future. In this Megatrends Afrika Spotlight, Karoline Eickhoff and Denis M. Tull report on where the journey is headed.

Around 400 million Europeans are being called upon to elect a new European Parliament in the first week of June. Relations with Africa barely played a role in the election campaigns; if they were mentioned at all, then mostly in connection with the turning point (“Zeitenwende”) in security policy or with asylum and migration policy. Yet, relations with African states and societies are crucial for making progress in many policy areas, including climate change and the energy transition, Europe’s competitiveness in renewable energies, the shortage of skilled labour in the EU and maintaining rules-based multilateralism.

At the same time, the social protests and political about-turns in several countries in the Sahel show just how strained relations with the European Union and some of its member states are. The outlook for the future is uncertain. Which policy assumptions will still hold? In which areas should governments and societies on the two continents prepare for major upheavals?

Together with experts, we have analysed the near-term future of European-African relations. At three workshops on strategic foresight, we explored the following questions: which trends will have a major impact on relations in 2030? And how can policymakers adapt to the dynamics that are to be expected?

Two closely related trends were of particular interest to us. The first because it has an especially strong influence on other trends; the second because it is strongly driven by other trends.

Trend 1: Political instability in Europe

In European-African relations, signs of political instability – such as violent upheavals, autocratisation and the erosion of state institutions – have long been regarded as phenomena that occur primarily in Africa. The EU member states have seen themselves in a supporting role: development cooperation, stabilisation, support for security sector reforms. This view is currently being called into question – and not just in the Sahel.

At the same time, our strategic foresight process suggests that political crises and upheavals are also to be expected in Europe in the coming years as an expression of political instability in EU member states and, consequently, in European institutions as well. In some member states, democratic systems are coming under increasing pressure. National populist movements are gaining in strength; and in several countries, parties on the right of the political spectrum are assuming government responsibility. The elections in France in 2027 are particularly important for the future of Europe’s cohesion and relations with Africa. What are the prospects for African-European ties if major European countries are governed by right-wing populist parties?

The Italy-Africa summit in February 2024 showed that Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s policy approach in the areas of asylum, migration and energy cooperation with Africa is winning over representatives of many (right-wing) conservative parties in Europe. And the same forces are also very interested in the UK’s visa agreement with Rwanda. Against this backdrop, we expect a stronger focus on the national interests of member states in the areas of migration control and energy supply – areas in which right-wing governments also rely on European institutions and processes.

These developments do not necessarily signal a fundamental shift. However, they are putting pressure on previous EU narratives and policy approaches, according to which Europe, as a normative foreign policy actor, cooperates with African states to their (developmental) advantage (regardless of to what extent this corresponds to reality). A “demographic dividend” for Europe’s ageing societies through migration from Africa is becoming less likely, as a negative stance on asylum and migration has so far been the only common denominator of right-wing parties in Europe.

Political instability is a key factor that has close links to other trends and “drives” them in a negative sense. Fragile governments are less able to deal with the consequences of climate change, promote regional economic integration and assert their sovereignty in negotiations over resources and supply chains.

German and European actors should regard these developments as extremely important. Can the abandonment of European policy approaches be prevented and the public discourse in Europe influenced – for example, by adopting more constructive migration narratives? Will the Green Deal continue to be relevant for European foreign relations or can we expect a shift away from sustainability principles if European institutions increasingly serve the interests of governments on the far right of the political spectrum in the future?

Trend 2: African states contest Eurocentric diplomacy

The world is becoming more multipolar and African states are receiving offers to cooperate from around the world, which is improving their negotiating position vis-à-vis Europe. They are challenging European policy approaches whereby issues considered important by the European side appear on the agenda (e.g., sanctions against Russia), and they are increasingly showing their resentment of European claims to moral sovereignty in international relations. Diplomatic disagreements with Uganda over LGBTIQ+ rights, Namibia’s criticism of Germany’s support for Israel at the International Criminal Court and Botswana’s angry reaction to European conservation policies point to where diplomatic disagreements and escalations will become ever more likely.

The social discourse is changing, too. Post-colonial debates about the restitution of cultural assets and human remains as well as about the recognition of crimes under international law from the colonial era are gaining in importance.

This trend is another key factor, as it is strongly “driven” by other trends. Our strategic foresight process suggests that as African societies come under pressure as a result of political instability and the consequences of climate change, negative reactions to European influence will become more likely. The same applies to the increasing multipolarity (see above). From today’s perspective, this trend appears to be a “one-way street” for Europe: normative and political challenges are growing and Europe has not yet developed any real approach to mitigate the negative consequences for relations with Africa and prevent reputational losses.

When dealing with this trend, questions about the future are raised: is it conceivable that there will be a breakthrough in negotiations on such politically charged issues as colonial continuities, asylum and migration – one that satisfies the interests of both sides? Or is it the case, rather, that support for LGBTIQ+ rights is dwindling in European member states, as suggested by developments in Hungary? And to what extent will Europe’s behaviour in foreign relations be led by norms in 2030? These dynamics are crucial for developing policy approaches.

Our paper on strategic foresight provides impetus for political debates on how to deal with social controversy and political instability on both continents. We also take a look at trends in cooperation in the area of energy-related value chains and at how the implications of a multipolar world differ for Africa and Europe.

Dr Karoline Eickhoff is a researcher in the project Megatrends Afrika and in the research division Africa and Middle East at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP). Dr Denis Tull is the Project Director of Megatrends Afrika and a Senior Associate in the same research division.