Delegation for relations with South Africa : History

The Delegation for South Africa (D-ZA) 

The European Parliament has been actively engaged with South Africa politics for decades. However, it was not until the country formally abolished its policy of apartheid, in 1994, that the Parliament created its Delegation for South Africa (D-ZA).

Apartheid years

Official relations between the European Parliament and South Africa's parliament were frozen during the country's decades of apartheid.

Instead, the European Parliament supported the anti-apartheid struggle and financed non-governmental organisations delivering humanitarian aid to the country.

The Parliament's solidarity with South Africa's protestors was particularly evident in 1989, when the Parliament honoured Nelson Mandela with its Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

At the time, Mr Mandela was still in prison. Soon after he was released, in the spring of 1990, he travelled to Strasbourg to address the European Parliament.

Four years later, in 1994, the Parliament's Vice-President Nicole Pery attended President Mandela's inauguration in Pretoria.

The first delegations

In autumn 1993, when it became clear that apartheid was ending and that the first general democratic elections in South Africa were planned for the following spring, the European Parliament created an ad hoc delegation to observe the elections.

Chaired by MEP Ria Oomen-Ruijten, the delegation contributed to a larger, international election observation team. On 27-28 April 1994, MEPs witnessed South Africans electing their first representatives to the new South African Parliament.

Soon after this arrival of democracy in South Africa, the European Parliament created a Delegation for Relations with South Africa.

The first meeting between the two parliaments took place in late 1994, when parliamentarians from South Africans, led by Speaker of the National Assembly Dr Frene Ginwala, travelled to Brussels.

Six months later, in May 1995, a group of MEPs visited Cape Town and Johannesburg.

Since then, discussions between South African parliamentarians and MEPs have been held regularly, in venues alternating between Europe and South Africa.

EU-South Africa relations

Bilateral relations between the EU and South Africa have entered a new era since the two established a "strategic partnership" in 2006. The Union's interest in the country is linked to its commitment to Africa as a whole, as the EU considers South Africa an "anchor" for the region and "a key player on the Continent".

A "Joint Action Plan" for partnership was developed in 2007 to encourage cooperation in a range of areas.

A third important agreement to have been endorsed recently is the Southern Africa Partnership Agreement, signed in June 2016 by EU and South Africa, as well as Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and Swaziland. With this trade agreement, the EU has fully or partially removed customs duties on 98.7% of imports from South Africa while guaranteeing the other partners full and free access to the EU market.

The Parliament's D-ZA Delegation has followed all of these developments, and has discussed the issues in delegation meetings and in inter-parliamentary meetings with South Africa.

Inter-parliamentary relations since 2004

Since the beginning of the European Parliament's sixth legislative term (2004 -2009), contacts between the two parliaments have increased significantly.

In part, this reflects the importance that both partners attach to political dialogue.

However, it also stems from the fact that EU-South Africa relations are much wider in scope than those the EU has with many of its "traditional development" partners.

The topics that members of the D-ZA delegation have addressed with their South African counterparts include:

  • conflict areas and peace-keeping operations in Africa,
  • the EU Peace Facility, EU enlargement,
  • HIV/Aids,
  • climate change (climate mitigation and adaptation),
  • energy,
  • Zimbabwe,
  • developments within the United Nations,
  • the Sustainable Development Goals,
  • the Middle East peace process, international terrorism,
  • the African Union,
  • WTO trade talks,
  • Economic Partnership Agreements and their implications for regional integration, and
  • the multi-lateral agenda.

A new forum on the horizon?

The inter-parliamentary relationship between South Africa and the EU may evolve in the future.

More than a decade ago, the document that introduced the bilateral "strategic partnership" described the links between the South African parliament and the European Parliament's D-ZA delegation, stating,

"This institutional setup has been considered satisfactory in the past, but needs to be reviewed in the light of the strategic nature of the EU-South Africa partnership."

The 2007 Joint Action Plan went one step further, as the two sides agreed to "encourage the formalisation of SA-EU Parliamentary bilateral relations".

Making parliamentary relations more "formal" usually involves creating a dedicated "Parliamentary Committee" of some sort. This would constitute a dedicated, structured forum with "rules of procedure" that would determine when and how MEPs and South African elected representatives meet and discuss.

Such a committee would presumably oversee the proceedings of the "Cooperation Council", composed of ministers from both sides. This Council is already operational.