AU-EU Summit results from a youth perspective

by Assia Oulkadi

© Youth Plug-In Initiative

Assia Oulkadi is a youth activist and has been involved in formal and non-formal human rights education. She collaborated on different projects on social inclusion and employment at the national and local level. Previously, she worked with the European Network against Racism (ENAR), and also currently she is working on an anti-discrimination program. Assia participated in the AU-EU Summit representing the AU-EU Youth Plug-In Initiative as a youth fellow working on peace and security.

Ten years after signing the Joint Africa-EU Strategy (JAES) the 5th African Union-European Union Summit was held at the end of November in Abidjan under the theme “Investing in Youth for Accelerated Growth and Sustainable Development”. The unequal political relationship between the two continents based on the financial flows, migrating mainly from one side to the other, aiming to contribute to the development and the enhancement of the security of the African continent, the remaining impact of the colonial history, as well as the mistrust between the decision makers and the overall civil society of both continents are still prevalent.
The summit ended by the adoption of a declaration on four common priorities for the AU-EU partnership, namely on economic opportunities for youth, peace and security, mobility and migration, cooperation on governance. In the following three key challenges related to these priorities will be tackled.

Youth and civil society for resilient communities

Africa's youth population, between age 15 and 24, amounts to 20 percent and, more importantly, constitutes 54 percent of the total labor force. By 2050 the African continent population is expected to reach 2.5 billion (UN World Population Prospects, 2017) and 25 percent of the world population, aged between 15 and 24 years, will be African (UN Academic Impact, 2016).
During the opening session of the summit, Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, stressed the mutual goal to invest in youth, by both listening and involving them in projects meeting their priorities. In practical terms, only a few speaking slots (5 minutes for the European Youth Forum, 5 minutes for the Pan-African Youth Union, 2 minutes each for 3 fellows of the Youth-Plug-In Initiative), in total 16 minutes for two-day discussion, were allocated to youth representatives.

© Youth Plug-In Initiative

Worth highlighting here is that the innovative AU-EU Youth Plug-In Initiative gathered 36 youth from both continents who are working on key issues such as business, job creation and entrepreneurship, education and skills, peace and security, governance and political inclusion, climate and environmental preservation, and culture, sports and arts. Recommendations related to these topics, paired with concrete projects promoting change, constitute the Youth Agenda for the head of states.
However, from a civil society perspective the summit was disappointing because Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) were excluded from consultation to the final declaration. Thereby the key role of the youth, civil society and the diaspora for promoting resilience and sustainable development on both continents was largely neglected.

Urgent call for action on migration and mobility

The heated debate on migration and mobility was dominated by the recent shocking incident of ‘auctions of refugees’ in Libya and further fueled by media images of the inhumane conditions in Libyan camps, dead refugees in overloaded boats reaching European shores as well as alarming political rhetoric, which all together corrupt the public opinion making in Europe.
The migration expert Aderanti (UN Academic Impact, 2016) and other experts repeatedly stress that intra-African migration is much more prevalent compared to migration directed towards Europe as the latter constitutes only 25%. Overseas migration requires a certain amount of money and skills. Thus, it’s very unlikely that the poorest reach Europe, without the use of coercion. However, as they are vulnerable, they are easy prey for traffickers, who promise a job and better life in Europe. If they reach Europe alive, the overestimated costs of their journey must be paid back through forced or exploitative labor.
Migration and mobility have always been part of our world and wealthy societies remain highly migratory. The development or the increase in wealth of a society will not curb mobility, on the contrary it will advance migration for the purpose of studies, work or specialization in order to further develop itself (Flahaux and De Haas, 2016).
The focus on funds allocated to secure the external borders of the EU along with the support on strengthening the security forces in certain African regions will not be successful without a global approach on development and mobility. Despite the exorbitantly high investment in border control and security, in 2017 we have witnessed the deaths of 2,754 migrants in the Mediterranean Sea (IOM, 2017).
Apparently the decision makers have not yet understood, that the provision and expansion of legal migration channels would meet the interests of both continents: of the “old” continent that keeps aging and needs a renewal of its work force as well as of the “young” continent that needs to further development the competences of its students and workers and to create jobs for the high numbers of unemployed.

© Youth Plug-In Initiative

Peace and security through local governance

With regard to peace and security there should be a deeper commitment from both, the AU and the EU, to promote good governance in fragile states or areas, resulting in the support of local governments, communities and stakeholders. This would positively contribute to the prevention of conflicts.
First, strengthening local authorities and actors providing access to basic educational, health and social services can help avoiding social erosion, resentments and violence. As the decision makers in local governments are closer to the citizens, they have the ability to effectively respond to their needs. Second, in addition to improving the provision of public services, the projects aiming to counter violent extremism (CVE) undertaken by the states have had little impact because they do not address the fragility of states. Greater support for local actors to enhance social resilience of local communities is critical to CVE. Providing the social and political space for youth living in fragile areas to express their grievance as well as tailored support for the realization of their projects is the best way to avoid them being recruited by terrorist groups who offer a space in which they can violently respond to their grievances (Plos Blogs, 2015). Therefore a global approach on youth, migration and security – as further described in the Youth Agenda – should be developed.
The AU-EU summit happened in a crucial moment for both unions. Beside their efforts to strengthen the cooperation, both are undergoing internal reforms and restructuring. Even if the important role of youth was highlighted by the political leaders of both unions, the words have to be followed by concrete plans of action. The Youth Plug-In Initiative was a first and conclusive experience on moving from political debates to concrete actions but it needs to be followed-up by the implementation of projects with the support of the AU and EU. The reinforcement of the partnership cannot be effective and sustainable if the youth and civil society including the diaspora are not able to fully participate in the political process and solution finding (18 December 2017).

Further reading

AU-EU Youth Plug-In Initiative

AU-EU Summit (2017) Declaration, Investing in Youth for Accelerated Growth and Sustainable Development, AU-EU/Decl.1(V), English version.

European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM) Africa-Europe relations, November 2017.

Proposals for the EU-AU Summit 2017 VIDC, Bruno Kreisky Forum, National Defence Academy, Institute for Peace Support and Conflict Management, November 2017, Vienna.

UN World Population Prospects (2017) The 2017 Revision, Department of Economic and Social Affairs Population Division, New York. 

'Where is the world?': Libya responds to outrage over slave auctions, by Raja Razek and Lauren Said-Moorhouse, CNN, 23 November 2017.

“People for sale: Where lives are auctioned for $400”, by Nima Elbagir, Raja Razek, Alex Platt and Bryony Jones, CNN, 14 November 2017.

“Libya: European governments complicit in horrific abuse of refugees and migrants”, 12 December 2017, Amnesty International.

“Untold suffering in South Sudan as conflict enters 5th year”, December 2017, Amnesty International.

“EU-Africa summit conclusions blocked over forced return of migrants”, by Cécile Barbière,, translated by Paola Tamma, 7 December 2017.

“Mediterranean Migrant Arrivals Reach 140,538 in 2017; Deaths Reach 2,754”, 10 October 2017, Press Release, International Organization for Migration.

Flahaux, Marie-Laurence; De Haas Hein (2016) African Migration: trends, patterns, drivers, Comparative Migration Studies 2016.

UN Academic Impact (2016) Migration Dynamics, Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons in Africa, Academic Impact, by Aderanti Adepoju, Human Resources Development Centre, Lagos, Nigeria.

“Scott Atran on Youth, Violent Extremism and Promoting Peace”, 25 April 2015, posted by gregdowney in Critique, Perception, Society, Plos Blogs, diverse perspectives on science and medicine.