Peace and security have been a key component of AU-EU cooperation in the past two decades and are likely to continue to play a significant role in the foreseeable future. The EU is the AU’s second most important financial partner on peace and security after the United Nations (UN). Compared to other topics, such as migration or even trade, overall objectives on peace and security converge in joint interests and priorities.1Volker Hauck and Lidet Tadesse Shiferaw, “Continuity and Change in European Union-Africa Relations on Peace and Security,” ACCORD Analysis, March 24, 2021, Addis Ababa and Brussels can both benefit from a common approach towards dealing with armed conflicts and violent extremism.

In the past, relations between the two continents were based on economic and development dimensions, but issues of peace and security have progressively grown in importance since the early to mid-1990s.2Fernanda Faria, “Crisis Management in Sub-Saharan Africa. The Role of the European Union,” EUISS Occasional Papers, no. 51 (2004), Peace and security gained relevance in the framework of the Joint Africa-EU Strategy (JAES) adopted at the Lisbon Summit in December 2007. The JAES was designed to address issues of common concern,3Including “peace, security, democratic governance and human rights, fundamental freedoms, gender equality, sustainable economic development, including industrialisation, and regional and continental integration in Africa,” as detailed in: EU–Africa Summit, The Africa-EU Strategic Partnership. A Joint Africa-EU Strategy, 2nd EU–Africa Summit, Lisbon, December 8-9, 2007, point 8(ii), and to “jointly promote and sustain a system of effective multilateralism”—mentioning, in particular, “the reform of the United Nations (UN) system and of other key international institutions.”4Ibid., point 8(iii).

Yet, the modus operandi, mutual perceptions, and the EU’s new financial architecture could increase divergencies in the coming years. The direction which sectoral cooperation will take will depend on the political and financial developments linked to the European Peace Facility (EPF), the new extra-budgetary instrument whose governance holds significant implications and risks for the future partnership on peace and security.

With the adoption of the EPF by the Foreign Affairs Council of the EU on March 22, 2021,5Council Decision (CFSP) 2021/509 of 22 March 2021 establishing a European Peace Facility, and repealing Decision (CFSP) 2015/528, ST/5212/2021/INIT, Brussels will no longer have a dedicated financial tool for Africa, as the new instrument does not have a specific target area and can operate beyond African borders. This new setup could increase the degree of unpredictability of the EU’s financial support to Africa’s peace and security budget and operations, compounding the political and financial asymmetries currently hindering the smooth implementation of AU-EU cooperation.

Another change is that the EPF, as extra-budgetary, can finance security means—including lethal arms. This turn could have various effects, and the way in which the fund will be implemented remains crucial. The EU’s leadership, including its High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell suggested that, if the EU wants to play a global role, it should be ready to contemplate the use of hard power, including military intervention.6See for instance: “EU Pushes for More Defence Autonomy amid Afghanistan Fallout,” Al Jazeera, September 2, 2021, Yet, providing security-sector assistance in fragile contexts is not a guarantee of stability in the long term. For instance, a country like Mali could potentially be eligible for these funds (it has already received EU training, vehicles, and equipment), but it has not really led to enduring peace in the troubled West African country. This is paradoxical if the endemic instability of the country over the last decade is considered, not least the two coups d’état in August 2020 and May 2021 which suggest the possible misuse of such sensitive resources.

Since the EPF does not limit its partnership to countries who are “champions of democracy,” but extends it to include contexts in which the legitimacy of security actors is questioned (i.e. Mali, Chad, Central African Republic), the EU risks playing a destabilizing (indirect) role in the national politics of these countries, fuelling the escalation of violence and instability while hindering the negotiation of political settlements among national elites and stakeholders. Furthermore, examples from the Sahel show how a significant part of the armed vehicles supplied by the EU to the G5 Sahel countries has within a few months fallen into the hands of irregular groups and militias.7 These instances negatively affect the EU’s global role and the credibility of its peace and security partnership with the AU. A broader and actionable focus on human security in Africa should therefore be part of the new EPF.

There is another point in the EPF framework that could affect the AU’s legitimacy on the continent. Within the EPF framework, the EU can operate in peace and security in Africa without the approval of the AU or African Regional Economic Communities (RECs). This could potentially destabilize the partnership and undermine the AU’s coordinating role. According to EU insiders, Brussels will seek to maintain established cooperation principles with the AU—yet this attitude could change in the next few years if divergences or practical difficulties were to emerge (e.g., on administrative and financial issues).8IAI interview, EEAS (1) and EEAS (2), September 2021. The EU might play a greater role in peace and security in Africa at the bilateral level, partially sidelining multilateral cooperation with the AU.

Moreover, the EPF could undermine conflict prevention, dialogue, negotiation, and mediation efforts on the continent.9Meressa Kahsu Dessu and Dawit Yohannes, “EU-Africa Relations: Refocusing the Peace and Security Cooperation,” PeaceLab, June 15, 2021, Notably, instruments such as early warning and preventive mediation have been supported by the AU, while African governments often push for more military cooperation and some member states also directly benefit from existing direct-funding arrangements from the EU.10Medinilla and Teevan, “Beyond Good Intentions.” With the new EPF instruments on the one hand (to finance military cooperation) and the possibility of bypassing the AU on the other, the risk could arise of the African continental organization being progressively sidelined by increasing bilateral cooperation between the EU and African states.

Although peace and security are likely to remain a priority in AU-EU cooperation given the magnitude of related challenges linking the two continents and the need for concerted action, the new financial architecture embodied by the EPF has significant implications for the future of the partnership. As mentioned earlier, these could increase the unpredictability of EU financial support, downplay the importance of human security, and trigger a crisis of legitimacy for the AU in the oversight and coordination of peace and security on the continent. To ensure that this new financial architecture and related channels of AU-EU cooperation facilitate “a partnership of equals” in the area of peace and security, the following recommendations are made:

For the AU-EU Partnership

  • The partnership will be strengthened by committing significant resources to mediation, structural conflict prevention, and peacebuilding. Future AU-EU cooperation needs to maintain and strengthen mediation and conflict-prevention strategies and programs. In practice, enhanced cooperation on conflict prevention can be achieved through joint plans and assessments, strengthening inter- and intra-institutional cooperation and early warning mechanisms, and improving information flows and capacity-building for middle- and lower-level peacebuilding officials.

For the AU

  • Develop a more coordinated and cohesive strategy with the EU on peace and security. African leaders should spell out the fourth aspiration mentioned in AU’s Agenda 2063 on “A peaceful and secure Africa.” The AU should leverage on lessons learned so far from its work dedicated to “silencing the guns” in 2020, now extended to 2030. The development of an effective AU strategy on peace and security will facilitate mutual understanding during the AU-EU Summit and the development of a renewed and more equitable joint strategy.

For the EU

  • Maintain a mechanism for co-decision-making with the AU on peace and security policies and operations in the continent. For instance, the EU should avoid playing a stronger role in peace and security in Africa at the bilateral level, bypassing the AU or RECs. Against this backdrop, the EU should also avoid making funding for peace and security priorities more unpredictable in the long term and it should convey the EPF’s support for the AU through its Peace Fund.
  • Avoid over-militarized responses to African conflicts. Before even considering any EPF assistance measure, the EU should develop a broad political strategy designed to prevent future crises, increase human security, and address the root causes of violent conflicts.
  • Ensure coherence with the rest of EU external action. Peace and security policies should be fully coherent with all other areas of Africa-EU cooperation, from addressing the global climate crisis to human development. Coordination between the thematic, regional, and national aspects of the Neighborhood Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI) must be ensured. Coherence is crucial in the support provided for reforms of the security sectors and governance programs aimed at addressing the root causes of violent conflict

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