Global Gateway and the Perils of the EU’s Green Africa Policy

By James Robert Balzer, Policy Brief Writer

As the EU has sought to expand its decarbonisation drive beyond Europe and into Africa, it has often been charged with hypocrisy and disregard for the conditions and interests of the nations concerned. Initiatives such as the Global Gateway and the Just Energy Transition (JET) Partnership, while ambitious in their scope, are indicative of a conceptual divide between the EU and its African counterparts, as well as of a broader policy incoherence.

The Global Gateway, for instance, intends to provide €150 billion of funding for projects connecting Africa’s mineral wealth to the global market and promoting the continent’s clean energy electrification. However, countries such as Nigeria, Mozambique and Senegal, known for their large natural gas reserves, have expressed concern over a potential discontinuation of financing for new African gas projects. The EU sees natural gas as a last resort to replace its ageing (and much dirtier) coal infrastructure. By contrast, African countries want to use their natural gas to accelerate industrialisation and economic development.

This could pose a challenge to the solvency of many African nations given their reliance on fossil fuel revenues for debt servicing. For example, between 2011 and 2020, Ghana used 74% of its petroleum revenue to pay off debt. Moreover, this issue has been exacerbated by high interest rates charged to African nations due to their low credit ratings. Consequently, the EU has often been accused of thrusting a costly decarbonisation on Africa and denying it the fossil fuel-powered economic growth that it itself enjoyed (and still does).

Such policy incoherence has been dubbed by one observer ‘colonialism in green’. Decarbonisation cannot provide an energy solution for Africa in the short term, despite EU aid and assertions to the contrary. Moreover, Africa does not yet have appropriate regulatory mechanisms for sustained green energy upscaling or storage and transmission infrastructure to reach remote and impoverished communities. As Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni stated, pushing an excessive green transition agenda “stands to forestall Africa’s attempts to rise out of poverty”.

Meanwhile, European leaders worry that Africa’s ambivalence could compromise the formers’ decarbonisation ambitions. Africa possesses some 85–95% of global chromium and platinum metal reserves, more than 50% of cobalt reserves and a third of bauxite reserves, all of which are crucial inputs in low emissions technology. The continent will therefore be a key node in any European green transition strategy, and Africa’s buy-in to EU climate diplomacy is important to this end.

To help assuage African countries’ concerns, a Just Energy Transition (JET) Partnership was announced at the AU-EU Summit in February 2022. This aims to promote Africa’s green industrialisation while minimising adverse social consequences. Part of this involves developing green hydrogen investments and exports connected to Europe’s own decarbonisation.

Yet, JET cannot change the fact that such green industries are deemed too expensive and complex to effectively transition Africa in the short-to-medium term. This will especially be the case if Africa is denied the investments needed for fossil fuel-backups, which are vital to energy security.

In sum, EU climate geopolitics must make greater allowances for Africa’s priorities. This is important not only for strategic reasons, as Africa stands to become an increasingly vital part of Europe’s energy supply networks, but also from a moral and political standpoint. The international response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has exposed the divisions between the Global North and South in their respective visions of the world order. Western calls on African countries to condemn Russia’s actions have prodded at historical wounds and generated claims of Western hypocrisy. If the EU is to succeed in its climate ambitions both domestically and abroad, and in winning the Global South over to its side, it must engage more closely with its African partners. As equals.

In case you missed it (June 8th — 22nd)…

  • June 15th: EU began legal proceedings against the UK over the latter’s tabling of a law that would suspend parts of the Northern Ireland protocol in contravention of earlier agreements with the EU.
  • June 16th: Italian PM Mario Draghi, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, French President Emmanuel Macron, and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visit Kyiv.
  • June 17: The European Commission recommends that Ukraine and Moldova be given EU candidate status, while Georgia still has work to do.

Keep a look-out for (June 22nd— July 6th)…

  • June 22nd: Decisive vote on reform of the EU’s emissions trading scheme in European Parliamentary plenary (environment).
  • June 23rd-24th: The European Council will hold a summit where a vote will be held on Ukraine and Moldova’s EU candidate status. The summit will also address economic issues and the Conference on the Future of Europe.
  • July 1st: The Czech Republic will assume the Presidency of the Council of the European Union (the Council of Ministers) until December. Its priorities will include (among other things) Ukraine and energy security.

Our Reading Picks:

  1. “The Brief — Back to 1945” by Georgi Gotev.
  2. “The Ukraine war is giving Europe a chance to reset ties with Africa” by Amb. Rama Yade.
  3. “AU-EU Partnership to Promote Sustainable Energy Transitions” by Maximilian Högl and Gabriela Iacobuta.
  4. “How Nordic wind and wealth can wean Europe off Putin’s Gas” by András Simonyi and Morten Svendstorp.
  5. Valentin Deleniv, Policy Brief Coordinator: I just finished reading Mark Galeotti’s The Weaponisation of Everything, which focuses on how war has crept and could continue to creep into a growing number of areas of our lives — from trade and law to our culture and information spaces. If you have a background in international relations or security, then you might already know about a lot of what it discusses. Nonetheless, the book is relatively short, to the point, and witty (and I’ve always been a bit of a Mark Galeotti fan anyway), so I think it’s definitely worth the read!

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