European Integration: A Model for Africa?

, by Elena Montani

European Integration: A Model for Africa?

The elected representatives of the European and African people have stressed the importance of supra-national integration for African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) states, drawing on the experience of the European integration process.

The EU-ACP Joint Parliamentary Assembly was created in the framework of the Lomé Conventions, which replaced the Yaoundé Agreements between the European Economic Community and the former colonies of its Member States in the ’70s. The initial name ’Consultative Assembly’ has been replaced in recent years by the current designation, Joint Parliamentary Assembly (JPA), modified in order to stress the parliamentary character of the assembly.

In fact, the JPA is currently comprised of 78 Members of the European Parliament and 78 representatives of the ACP States who – according to the Cotonou Agreement – must be members of their parliaments. Still mainly a consultative body, the JPA is nonetheless gaining greater importance and remains the only institution of its kind in the world. The JPA brings together elected representatives of citizens from two continents within an institutionalised, regular framework.

no model of regional integration can be laid down since any integration strategy has to be adapted to particular interests and circumstances

At its last meeting held in Ljubljana from 17 to 20 March, the JPA adopted a resolution “on experiences from the European regional integration process relevant to ACP countries” . The resolution is very explicit in giving an answer to the question we laid in the title: “no model of regional integration can be laid down since any integration strategy has to be adapted to particular interests and circumstances”.

Obviously, Africa cannot – and shall not – follow the same path adopted by the Europeans for the creation of an ever closer community. It is a different region, with different characteristics, a different history, and different cultures. The most advanced African sub-regional integration processes (like ECOWAS and EAC) show already their own faces and characteristics, which can even “be instructive and deliver new insights for the EU itself”.

Nevertheless, the main dynamics at the root of the EU, undeniably the most advanced and successful example of economic and political integration among nation-states, are a fundamental inheritance for other integration processes in the rest of world, especially for a continent whose path is historically and geographically intertwined with Europe. Three aspects, mentioned in the Resolution, are particularly worth mentioning for their relevance on integration in Africa.

First, peace has been the major achievement of the European integration, thanks to a framework where conflicts could be solved in a peaceful way, and to an ever closer union between peoples also through education and exchanges.

Second, the European integration has not been based on a purely liberal model, but on a political project, which has complemented the objective of economic development with the goals of sustainable development, democracy, defence of human rights. In this sense, solidarity between countries and societies has been a key recipe for the success of the European integration, which has greatly bridged the gap between richer and poorer regions, thus showing that a similar level of development and prosperity among states is not a necessary pre-condition for regional integration.

Third, the European example shows the importance of strong common institutions, representing regional rather than national interests, although the defence and the mutual respect of national differences must be ensured. The Resolution stresses, in particular, the need for strengthening the parliamentary institutions of regional organisations, as the only way of providing legitimacy to supra-national bodies and securing their stability.

In a continent like Africa, regional integration might be considered a ‘luxury’ which does not deserve to be on the agenda

While neglected by the media, a resolution such as this one shall not be underestimated, especially for its symbolic and political might. In a continent like Africa, regional integration might be considered a ‘luxury’ which does not deserve to be on the agenda yet, compared to more urgent problems such as peace and economic development. On the contrary, regional organisations are developing quickly overall the region and are acquiring an increasing weight. The Resolution stresses the fact that the joint exercise of sovereignty at a supra-national level is not a loss of sovereignty for the member-states, but rather “may lead to an enhanced capacity of governments to protect the interests of their citizens” .

The European experience is showing that the old assumption according to which ’we should solve our own problems at home, and then take care of bigger, regional issues’ can be reversed. Supra-national integration is rather an urgent necessity in regions devastated by chronicle problems such as extreme poverty and conflicts. This is even more manifest today, as globalisation urges African states to join forces in order to overcome problems which – although global in their dimension – have direct catastrophic consequences on everyday life of the African people, who suffer more and more the effects of climate change, war on terrorism, increased trade competition of emerging powers, higher price of food supplies.

The African Nobel Peace Laureate, Desmond Tutu, during the European Development Days in 2006 described the great achievements of the African continent during its history and the big contributions Africa and Africans have given to the entire world: “There is no way in which we can be free, except together”.

Image: the opening plenum of the 11th session of the JPA; source: European Parliament

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