EU cooperation with African countries and the African Union (AU) is based on two distinct frameworks: namely (a) the Partnership Agreement(s) with African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) states and (b) the Joint Africa-EU strategy. The Cotonou Agreement, signed in 2000 between the EU and the ACP states and which has formed the legal foundation of the political, economic and development dimensions of the partnership for over 20 years, has been replaced by a completely new agreement that was signed in Apia, Samoa on 15 November 2023. Originally, the Cotonou Agreement was due to expire at the end of 2020, but it was extended several times, most recently until December 2023, as the signing of a new agreement, negotiated to modernise and upgrade the partnership, was blocked in the Council of the EU for several years.
The Joint Africa-EU strategy has been implemented through multiannual roadmaps and action plans adopted at each Africa-EU summit. At the last EU-AU summit held in February 2022 in Brussels, EU and African leaders agreed on a joint vision for a renewed partnership based on solidarity, security, peace, sustainable development and shared prosperity.
The EU is Africa’s most important donor of official development assistance mainly funded by the EU’s general budget through the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI) – Global Europe.

Legal basis

  • Articles 217 and 218 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU);
  • the Partnership Agreement between the EU and its Member States, and the members of the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS); on 4 April 2024 the Samoa Partnership Agreement received Parliament’s consent; since its provisional application from 1 January 2024 it replaces the Cotonou Agreement;
  • regulation (EU) 2021/947 establishing the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument – Global Europe.

The ACP-EU partnership

Over the past two decades, relations between the EU and sub-Saharan Africa were underpinned in particular by the Cotonou Agreement, which had set out the basis for relations between the EU and 78 countries forming the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS).

Originally, the Cotonou Agreement was due to expire at the end of 2020, but it was extended several times, most recently until December 2023, as the signing of a new agreement, negotiated to modernise and upgrade the partnership, was blocked in the Council of the EU for several years. The Cotonou Agreement’s key objective was to contribute to the eradication of poverty and to promote the integration of ACP countries into the world economy. The agreement was structured in three pillars (political, development, economic and trade cooperation) and was implemented by joint ACP-EU institutions, including a Council of Ministers, a Committee of Ambassadors and a Joint Parliamentary Assembly.

The negotiations on the ‘post-Cotonou agreement’ between the EU and the OACPS were concluded in December 2020, but signature of the new agreement only took place in November 2023, due to internal EU disagreements on the nature of the new agreement and reservations from two EU Member States.

The new Samoa Agreement sets out six strategic priority areas for cooperation:

  • Human rights, democracy and governance;
  • Peace and security;
  • Human and social development;
  • Inclusive sustainable economic growth and development;
  • Environmental sustainability and climate change;
  • Migration and mobility.

The new agreement also stresses the relevance of cooperation between the parties in international forums, and of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Cooperation is structured in three regional protocols reflecting the different priorities of the ACP regions. The EU-Africa Protocol has become the key legal framework for relations between the EU and sub-Saharan Africa. The regional priority areas encompass inclusive and sustainable economic growth; human and social development; the environment and natural resources; peace and security; the rule of law, justice, democracy and governance; human rights and gender equality; and migration and mobility. This new protocol assigns a greater role to dialogue and cooperation with the AU than the Cotonou Agreement.

The Samoa Agreement provides for joint institutions, in particular an OACPS-EU Council of Ministers and four interparliamentary assemblies, comprising an umbrella OACPS-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly and three regional parliamentary assemblies (PAs): the Africa-EU PA, the Caribbean-EU PA and the Pacific-EU PA (see the briefing by the European Parliamentary Research Service entitled ‘After Cotonou: towards a new agreement with the African, Caribbean and Pacific states’). These four parliamentary assemblies were formally constituted in February 2024, when they met for the first time in Luanda, Angola and adopted their Rules of Procedure. Each of the four assemblies will hold one ordinary annual meeting, which will rotate between an EU and an ACP venue. The regional assemblies may also hold additional meetings in conjunction with the annual OACPS-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly.

The EU’s Africa strategy and partnership with Africa

The initial joint Africa-EU strategy was adopted by European and African leaders at the second EU-Africa summit in Lisbon in 2007 and defined the political vision for the Africa-EU partnership. Its goals are:

  • To move beyond donor-recipient cooperation, opening Africa-EU relations to issues of joint political concern;
  • To expand cooperation by addressing global common challenges such as migration, climate change, peace and security and to reinforce cooperation in international forums;
  • To support Africa’s aspirations to encourage trans-regional and continental responses to these significant challenges;
  • To work towards a people-centred partnership, ensuring better participation of African and European citizens.

In 2020, before the sixth EU-AU summit, the Commission and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy issued a joint communication entitled ‘Towards a comprehensive Strategy with Africa’. It proposed enhanced cooperation revolving around five pillars: the green transition and energy access; the digital transformation; sustainable growth and jobs; peace and governance; and migration and mobility.

On 25 March 2021, Parliament adopted a ‘resolution on a new EU-Africa Strategy – a partnership for sustainable and inclusive development’. Parliament’s resolution echoed and reinforced parts of the proposed strategy, such as sustainable and inclusive growth, while calling for increased focus on others, such as human development, social inclusion, human rights, the empowerment of women and young people, and resilient agriculture. On migration, the resolution considered that the success of the partnership would depend on significant improvements in mobility opportunities and called for legal migration channels to be further developed.

At the sixth EU-AU summit (Brussels, 17-18 February 2022) EU and AU heads of state and government agreed on a declaration entitled ‘A joint vision for 2030’, ‘promoting our common priorities, shared values, international law, and preserving together our interests and common public goods. This includes inter alia: the security and prosperity of our citizens, the protection of human rights for all, gender equality and women’s empowerment in all spheres of life, respect for democratic principles, good governance and the rule of law, actions to preserve the climate, environment and biodiversity, sustainable and inclusive economic growth, the fight against inequalities, support for children’s rights, and the inclusion of women, young people and the most disadvantaged’. At the summit, an Africa-Europe Investment Package aiming to provide EUR 150 billion of investments was agreed in order to promote diversified, sustainable and resilient economies on the African continent. The summit was followed up by a joint meeting of the AU and the EU’s College of Commissioners on 28 November 2022. A joint meeting of foreign affairs ministers from both continents is expected to take place in 2024, to take stock of the progress made against the commitments expressed in the Joint Vision declaration.

Development cooperation

The EU and its Member States remain Africa’s most significant donor of official development assistance.

As a result of the negotiations on the new 2021-2027 multiannual financial framework (see separate fact sheet 1.4.3 ‘Multiannual financial framework’), development cooperation is covered by the comprehensive NDICI – Global Europe, fully incorporated into the EU budget. Previously, most of development assistance to African countries was provided from the European Development Fund, which was separate from the EU budget.

The NDICI – Global Europe brings together 10 separate instruments and funds from the 2014-2020 multiannual financial framework, as well as the European Development Fund. It has an overall budget of EUR 79.5 billion (in 2020 prices) and is made up of three main components: geographical, thematic and rapid response. The geographical component was allocated EUR 60.4 billion (in 2020 prices) and almost half of it was earmarked for Africa.

Trade relations

The Cotonou Agreement allowed the EU and ACP countries negotiate development-oriented trade agreements called Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs). Trade between the EU and African countries – together with regional and continental economic integration – is considered a fundamental element to promote sustainable development in Africa. In addition, unilateral schemes allow preferential market access to the EU for most sub-Saharan countries (see separate fact sheet 5.2.3 ‘Trade regimes applicable to developing countries’). The principal instruments promoting trade between the EU and African regions are the EPAs, which are considered to be fully compatible with World Trade Organization rules. However, the negotiation of these EPAs, which started in 2002, has proven more difficult than expected and has been met with considerable resistance from some African governments, local civil society groups and trade unions. Therefore several EPAs, which were meant to cover entire African regions, are only being provisionally applied with countries willing to do so, such as Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Cameroon, and Kenya (for more information, see the European Parliamentary Research Service briefing entitled ‘EU economic partnership agreements with ACP countries’).

Role of the European Parliament

As with other international agreements, the conclusion of the Samoa Agreement legally requires the consent of Parliament (Article 218 TFEU), although the agreement can be partially and provisionally applied before consent is given and before all EU and OACPS member states have ratified it. Parliament contributed to the negotiations by adopting resolutions before and during the process and by setting up a monitoring group led by its Committee on Development. Following the negotiations and the signing of the agreement, Parliament gave its consent on 10 April 2024.

Parliament’s consent is also required for any EPA concluded with ACP countries. In addition, Parliament has actively contributed to shaping the new NDICI – Global Europe financial instrument and is overseeing its implementation.

Parliament has several standing interparliamentary delegations for relations with African countries and institutions. The principal body in which Parliament cooperates on such matters has been the ACP–EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly, composed of Members of the European Parliament and members of parliament from the ACP States, which plays a fundamental role in strengthening parliamentary relations between the EU and its ACP partners under Article 14 of the Cotonou Agreement. Besides the new regional parliamentary assemblies, one of Parliament’s key demands during the negotiations was maintaining a Joint Parliamentary Assembly in the new agreement, which it considered to be a conditio sine qua non for its consent. Delegations for each of the new PAs were formally set up in December 2023, including a delegation to the Africa-EU PA. This delegation will consist of 48 MEPs, each of whom will also be a member of the new OACPS-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly.

Parliament has also developed forms of parliamentary cooperation with the AU through its Delegation for Relations with the Pan-African Parliament, established in 2009. Parliamentary summits typically accompany the intergovernmental ones, with parliamentary summits issuing a joint declaration directly to the heads of state or government at the beginning of each intergovernmental summit.

The EU also has privileged parliamentary relations with South Africa, which were strengthened in 2007 by the EU-South Africa Strategic Partnership - the EU’s only bilateral strategic partnership with an African country. This is also reflected by Parliament’s dedicated standing Delegation for relations with South Africa.


Christian Meseth