Thursday | 28 Sep 2023

Time for the African Union to have a seat at G20

Positive steps are being taken towards the African Union gaining a permanent seat at the G20 – with eyes now turning towards the upcoming European Council for further clues, as reported in CNBC Africa.
Currently, the grouping is made up of 19 major states – with the European Union being the final member. But whilst 20% of the world’s population live across Africa, only South Africa currently sits at the G20 table. In contrast, half that number of people live in Europe, yet five nations – France, the UK, Germany, Russia and Italy, plus the broader EU – are all represented on the G20.
The idea of an AU seat was proposed last year by Senegal and has subsequently been endorsed by the US and French governments, along with Charles Michel, the President of the European Council. This May, Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz added his support with Brazil, China, Indonesia and even the G7 making favourable noises.
With the G20 leaders’ summit in India scheduled for September, there is the possibility of a consensus emerging ahead of the gathering. Here, the EU could have an important role to play. As the only intergovernmental organisation – similar to the AU – it could act as a powerful, coordinating European voice on the AU’s behalf.
The forthcoming European Council summit on June 29th-30th may well prove to be a catalyst, although there isn’t unity across the EU bloc, as things currently stand.
Firstly, some European member states have reservations – with fears that making an AU seat available may encourage a flurry of new membership applications. There is also concern that a number of African governments are ambivalent towards the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which doesn’t sit well in certain circles.
But are these issues significant?  It could be argued that AU G20 admission would provide a welcome balance to the EU – providing two influential intergovernmental groupings, outside the scope of individual nation states.  Besides, should the conflict in Ukraine stand in the way of the entire continent of Africa (bar South Africa) being excluded from representation on the global stage?  Is this equitable or short-sighted?
At EMEA, with our unique insight into the nature of the relationship between the EU and the African continent – its ebb and flow – we see this as a tremendous opportunity for the EU to play a pivotal role in shaping how this plays out.
The EU can help restore trust between the two continents, which is currently in short supply. Many low- and middle-income countries across Africa perceive the West as having double standards over the Covid-19 vaccines, the Ukraine war and, perhaps most significantly over the worsening debt crises affecting lower-income states.
The world is becoming a smaller place, with isolationism in decline. We face a barrage of economic, geo-political, humanitarian and climate-related crises, from which no part of the world is immune – and that includes Africa.
The world order is shifting, with tension between the US and China a gathering storm. At the same time, Europe has an ageing population, arguably shrinking in global terms – especially in view of the on-going power struggle between Beijing and Washington. Strengthening ties with the AU, with all the demographic and industrial advantages that this could unleash, could help underpin the EU’s position on the global stage.
Indeed, it seems myopic to keep the AU on the G20 periphery. As a whole, the AU represents the world’s ninth largest economy, rich in highly sought after raw materials. By the middle of this century, it will account for 25% of the entire world population and be one of the few places on earth with a rising birth rate, not to mention half the global workforce.
The relationship between the EU and AU could do with rebuilding and would, at the same time, add balance to the polarised global order.
All eyes will now turn to this month’s Summit, to see how far the EU is prepared to go on Africa’s behalf, in respect of that much coveted AU seat at the G20.