Briefing to AU and ACP Ambassadors on the European Commission's proposal to elevate South Africa-European Union relations to a strategic partnership, 31 July 2006

Excellencies, Ambassadors,

Welcome and thank you for joining us.

As you know, the European Commission (EC) has submitted a proposal to South Africa and the European Council (the European Union Member States) for the elevation of South Africa - European Union (EU) relations to that of a strategic partnership. The European Commission adopted its communication to this affect on 28 June 2006.

What is this proposal and where does South Africa stand on it? It is because of these questions that we, as South Africa, find it of the utmost importance that we share our thoughts on the proposal with you, in a transparent manner.

Africa and the EU share many common interests and values, and are concurrently committed to achieving peace, security and stability on the African continent and within the global sphere at large. Amongst these imperative objectives, both Parties strive towards achieving the Millenium Development Goals (MDG’s), the implementation of a joint Africa-EU Strategy for Africa, the eradication of poverty and the reform of the UN.

A new framework for the EU-SA relationship was developed after 1994 and culminated in the signing of the SA-EU Trade, Development and Co-operation Agreement (TDCA) in 1999. The TDCA affords for Political Dialogue, Trade and Economic Co-operation, Development Co-operation and Co-operation in Other Areas. The TDCA was provisionally implemented from 1999 and fully entered into force in May 2004. A Ministerial Joint Co-operation Council (JCC) was established to oversee the implementation of the TDCA. In addition to the TDCA, South Africa and the EU have agreements on Science and Technology and the Wines and Spirits.

South Africa has undergone significant political, economical and societal development and transformation in the past 12 years into a democratic country. As a result, the EU is re-appraising its relations with South Africa and is aspiring to elevate relations beyond the current level of interactions, as provided by the TDCA.

The possibility of elevating the relations was discussed during the annual SA-EU Ministerial Joint Co-operation Council Meeting (JCC) held in Brussels on 7 November 2005, where both South Africa and the EU agreed to consider consolidating their relations further. The JCC decided that “South Africa and the EU therefore, need to strengthen and broaden their existing relationship through a holistic and innovative approach beyond 2006”. South Africa and the EU further agreed “…to broaden the scope of SA-EU relations and work towards a truly strategic partnership based on political, trade, development and economic co-operation”. The European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, Mr. Louis Michel, presented a non-paper entitled A possible EU-SA strategic partnership, during his visit to the country in February this year.

According to the EU, the Strategic Partnership proposals seek to:

  • Bring the Member States, the Community and South Africa together in a single and coherent framework, with clearly and jointly defined objectives, covering all areas of cooperation and associating all stakeholders;
  • Move from political dialogue to strategic political cooperation and shared objectives on regional, African and global issues;
  • Enhance existing cooperation, developing stronger and sustainable economic cooperation, fully implementing the TDCA provisions on trade-related areas and extending cooperation to the social, cultural and environmental fields.

In addition the Strategic Partnership must build on the “MDG Package”, the “ The European Consensus on Development “ and the “ EU Strategy for Africa “ by putting at the heart of political dialogue the progress towards attaining the MDGs along with governance issues and peace and security at both domestic and international level.

Through the strategic partnership, South Africa’s relations with the EU would have similar footing to countries that include the USA, Canada, China, Russia and India, which also have strategic partnerships with the EU.

South Africa has agreed, in principle, to discussing the elevation of its relations with the EU to that of a strategic partnership. Although South Africa welcomes the proposal, it upholds and affirms its continuing and utmost commitment to its SADC, AU, ACP and South -South partners. South Africa is mindful of these priorities when entering into any negotiations and the proposed strategic partnership with the EU is no exception.

According to the Proposal, “Political and diplomatic cooperation on African issues must become an area of stronger entente between South Africa and the EU. Cooperation should not be limited to financing the AU and funding peace-keeping missions, but should become an element of a strengthened partnership. The EU must explore ways with South Africa to define a common African agenda and to support each other’s objectives in Africa.“

“Such an entente does not diminish existing EU relations with other African countries, nor does it affect cooperation with the African Union and the Regional Economic Communities. On the contrary, it is intended to bring the Africa strategy down to national level with a view to involving other countries in stronger links with the EU.”

Excellencies, South Africa would like to assure your countries, as our partners, that we will only enter into a strategic partnership with the EU on condition that, the partnership enhances South Africa’s national, regional and African responsibilities.
South Africa is conducting intensive internal consultations on the proposal and still studying the various implications thereof. We anticipate that formal discussions regarding the strategic partnership could commence once the European Commission has tabled their proposed strategic partnership before the European Council, which is expected to happen in late September this year. The proposal will be one of the issues discussed at the SA-EU Ministerial Joint Co-operation Council to be held in November this year.

South Africa views the European Commission’s proposal as an important step which presents an opportunity for African developmental challenges to be placed higher on the agenda of the European Union.

The timing of this is also very important since South Africa will be a non-permanent member of the Security Council 2007-2008 and the responsibility placed on it will be greater. We will then be in better position to deal with some of our challenges.

South Africa will however, have to actively engage the EC on the proposed partnership in order to obtain clarity on specific elements thereof. In discussions with the EC it was unequivocally stated by the latter that the proposed strategic partnership would not replace the TDCA but represent a strengthening of the existing Agreement. The TDCA has thusfar provided an effective framework within which to operate and has served South Africa’s interests well.

The Commission has invited the Council, the European Parliament and the European Economic and Social Committee to endorse the main thrust of this proposal. On the basis of these broad principles, the Commission will draft an action plan for implementing the proposal, which will be submitted to the Joint EU-South Africa Cooperation Council in November this year, and should lead to a Joint Declaration by the partners.

Depending on the discussion in the Council, the European Parliament and the Economic and Social Committee as well as on the South African views, such an action plan could focus on:

  • Strengthened political dialogue, leading to common political positions and joint action
  • Active joint involvement in regional and global issues
  • Implementation of a jointly drafted Country Strategy Paper in line with this proposal
  • Revision and full implementation of the TDCA according to the above priorities.

As we embark on our internal consultations re the EU Proposals, we would highly appreciate receiving your governments’ thoughts on this matter.

Thank you.

Issued by Department of Foreign Affairs
Private Bag X152

31 July 2006


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