Africa: Our Shared Ocean Must Sit at Heart of the Africa-Europe Partnership

Ahead of the upcoming European elections and amidst a litany of geopolitical shifts, the European Union (EU) must pay due diligence to its partnerships – particularly in undervalued sectors of cooperation such as the blue economy. Fostering partnerships, such as a strengthened Africa-Europe Ocean Partnership, presents significant opportunities both for Europe and Africa to reach climate neutrality and sustainable development goals, with benefits extending far beyond the Mediterranean Sea.

The EU finds itself at a critical juncture. The geopolitical context has shifted, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine refocusing EU policy on defence issues. Rising energy costs and dependencies on critical raw materials highlight Africa and Europe’s co-dependent economic model. Additionally, waning support from the United States (US) for multilateral institutions, and growing US-China tensions, signal further challenges for the EU on a global level.

Under these precarious circumstances, the EU must reassess its international partnerships and adapt its foreign policy strategy. While security and strategic autonomy remain important priorities, the EU should follow a comprehensive approach to its partnerships, encompassing economic, social and environmental aspects.

The link between geopolitics and the low-carbon transition will be crucial in the upcoming EU mandate. Investing in strategic partnerships, including with Africa, is vital to secure critical raw materials and green energy to achieve the EU’s climate neutrality objectives, while supporting Africa’s socio-economic transformation and industrialisation.

Strengthening an Africa-Europe Ocean Partnership is undoubtedly in the EU’s interest, particularly given the current geopolitical context and the emergence of Africa on the global scene, highlighted by the African Union’s inclusion in the G20. Ocean governance and the blue economy are of huge strategic importance for this renewed cooperation. With upcoming leadership changes in the EU in 2024 and the African Union Commission in 2025, decision-makers have a pivotal opportunity to forge innovative and resilient partnerships between the two continents.

The ocean holds immense potential for Africa and Europe’s respective coastal economies and climate and biodiversity goals. However, less than 1% of Official Development Assistance (ODA) funding goes to ocean development internationally, making SDG 14: ‘Life Below Water’ the most underfunded of all the SDGs.

Both continents should invest more in the blue economy, particularly in the Mediterranean given Africa and Europe’s historical and environmental ties to the region. The economy and environment of the Mediterranean region would benefit from the development of fisheries compliance and monitoring systems, investments in renewable marine energy, plastic de-pollution, and the creation of cooperation networks, inspired by the successful networks of Mediterranean coastal cities.

The possibilities of a blue economy partnership extend beyond the Mediterranean and to the entire African continent. Untapped opportunities, such as offshore renewable energy, the rise of blue bioeconomy, maritime infrastructure development, and sustainable coastal tourism offer avenues for economic and social development.

African states show remarkable innovation and dynamism in the maritime sector

Investing in sustainable fishing practices and enhancing the capacities of African coastal communities can enhance food security and preserve marine ecosystems in Africa. EU support could also help stimulate aquaculture growth and facilitate market access in the EU. With technology transfer and capacity-building, such as expertise in maritime surveillance, resource management, and the incubation of clean technologies, the EU can support African nations leverage their maritime potential in a sustainable, responsible way.

African states show remarkable innovation and dynamism in the maritime sector, offering insights for the EU. For example, fishing communities in western coastal Africa have improved traditional fishing tools and diversified fishing methods to adapt to changing fish stocks and prevent bycatch. Such adaptive solutions provide valuable knowledge for enhancing sustainability in small-scale fisheries across European waters.

The EU has a unique opportunity to drive innovation and research in Africa’s blue economy for a mutually beneficial partnership. By providing financial and technical support, through bilateral agreements and dedicated programmes, the EU can work jointly with African countries in addressing specific blue economy challenges. Several African countries are developing tools to generate electricity from waves and ocean currents, which the EU could scale up with its financial capacity. This strategy could extend to other areas, such as marine conservation measures and strengthening coastal communities’ resilience.

Concrete efforts between the EU and Africa

As the EU prepares for its next mandate, decision-makers must keep Africa high on the political agenda and prioritise untapped Africa-Europe partnerships’ opportunities, including in relation to ocean governance and the blue economy. The African Union has identified the blue economy as a priority for the next decade in its Second Ten-Year Implementation Plan of Agenda 2063. Concrete efforts between the EU and Africa in this space can advance economic and environmental prosperity, fostering enduring transcontinental partnerships for a prosperous, equitable and sustainable future.

Pascal Lamy, Co-chair of the Africa-Europe Strategy Group on Ocean Governance, Vice-President of the Paris Peace Forum, Former Director-General of the World Trade Organisation, Former European Commissioner on Trade Commissioner; and Nancy Karigithu, Co-chair of the Africa-Europe Strategy Group on Ocean Governance, Kenya’s Ambassador and Special Envoy to the President for Maritime and Blue Economy, and former Principal Secretary for Shipping and Maritime Affairs for the Government of Kenya.