Ethiopia- EU: 40+ years of cemented partnership, overcoming challenges

The relations between Ethiopia and the European Union (EU) are founded on the Cotonou Agreement, which aims to reduce and eventually eradicate poverty, and contribute to the gradual integration of the African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) countries into the world economy. Articles 8 to 13 of the agreement define the bilateral political dialogue between the two parties, as well as a set of other conventions and political commitments.

Ethiopia and the EU look back on 42 years of constructive bilateral relations in areas as diverse as development cooperation, trade and economic development, consolidation of democratic institutions, regional peace and security, and migration. Ethiopia is one of the EU’s important partners on the African continent, active in regional peace and security as well as on thematic international debates such as climate change.

According to an EU report, the two parties decided to enhance the level of their partnership. On June 14, 2016, the then Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Hailemariam Desalegn, and the former European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, signed a Joint Declaration towards an Ethiopia-EU Strategic Engagement. This committed both sides to an annual ministerial meeting and six sectorial dialogues: governance and human rights; regional peace and security; countering terrorism and violent radicalization; migration; social and economic development, investment and trade; and climate change and environmental cooperation.

In this engagement, the two sides also affirmed their commitment to the fundamental principles of sustainable development, democracy, human rights, good governance, and the rule of law, as well as regional cooperation and integration. Moreover, the two sides intend to enhance their cooperation to maintain Ethiopia’s dynamic economic growth and the country’s ambition to join the group of middle-income countries, based on green and inclusive economic growth.

In a recent media briefing, Roland Kobia, the EU Ambassador to Ethiopia, addressed questions from local journalists on different issues based on relations between Ethiopia and the bloc. Ambassador Kobia confirmed the interest from member states of the Union to foster the cooperation during the press briefing. He stated, “We have enjoyed a strategic partnership with Ethiopia in health, economy, education, infrastructure, trade, migration, people-to-people ties, and other arenas, and it is in the interest of the union to advance the collaboration.”

The EU has also been trying to help Ethiopia’s digitalization process and its efforts to connect with the East African region as well as at a continental level. Moreover, the EU has been facilitating political and development activities in Addis Ababa. According to the ambassador, the EU is the second-largest trade destination for Ethiopian exports, and as part of the economy and trade, the union has made different agreements to promote the private sector of the latter. Kobia added that 180 EU companies are operating in Ethiopia and export 20% of its goods, worth a total of 130 billion birr, to Europe – creating job opportunities for thousands of Ethiopian citizens.

Ethiopia is one of the EU’s strategic partners globally, and the two sides have established strong political and economic cooperation. The union is also committed to elevating the collaboration in different fields of significant importance.

Addressing the conflicts in different parts of Ethiopia, Kobia stated, “We don’t make any distinctions between wars, whether it is in Amhara, Tigray, Oromia, or elsewhere. The EU always takes a stance of principle in terms of condemning wars and trying to contribute to solutions.” The ambassador expressed his concern over the targeting and victimization of civilians during the conflicts, stating, “We felt, during the war on Tigray but also now in Amhara and Oromia, that sometimes the civilians are the targets and are the victims of these wars.”

Kobia emphasized the EU’s advocacy for political settlements and negotiations, rather than military solutions. “We believe that a political settlement, a politically negotiated solution, is the best,” adding, the EU has expressed its concerns through statements from the High Representative, Josep Borrell.

Regarding the EU’s involvement in mediating the conflict in Amhara region, Kobia explained that the bloc has not been invited to participate in the process, despite its willingness to contribute. “We proposed ourselves. We said, look, we can help. We are ready to take our responsibilities. We are ready to contribute. But we have not been invited.”

In the meantime, the EU continues to provide support directly to the population through non-governmental organizations and the United Nations, ensuring that the overall funding envelope for Ethiopia remains unchanged.

Similarly, it also recalled that before three years, the EU suspended Ethiopia’s budget support worth around 107 million dollars due to the conflict in the Tigray region. As the ambassador stated, the EU is continuing support for Ethiopia despite the budget suspension, and the bloc has pledged 650 million euros in assistance to the country. According to reports, the aid package to Ethiopia, announced half a year before, is the first since the conflict in the Tigray region was ended.

Commenting on the deforestation regulation, Ambassador Kobia stated that Ethiopia has a real interest in fighting and mitigating climate change and adopting the regulation as its integral law.

Recently, The EU Deforestation-Free Regulation (EUDR) declared aims to combat deforestation caused by forestry and agricultural activities on a global scale and mitigate its negative consequences. The new Regulation (EUDR) states that coffee growing process should not involve the clearing of forest or any related activities. For this to take effect, the union has given a grace period that ends at end of this year, 2024. As Ethiopia is the high coffee exporter country to EU, some express their assumption that the law may harm the country’s coffee export.

However, Speaking with The Ethiopian Herald, Kabtamu Girma, Chief Executive Officer of Ethiopian Forestry Development’s Natural Forestry Division, argued that the EUDR legislation is correct and that Europe will be putting it into effect before the end of the year. He claims that Ethiopia has made a concerted effort to lower carbon emissions in accordance with the several climate change accords it has already joined. Additionally, it has helped to replenish deforested areas, floodplains, and droughts.

According to Kabtamu, Ethiopia will not have too much trouble if the new EUDR legislation is to be effective. He also mentioned the green legacy initiative, specifically Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) and other programs, which have been the main emphasis of the country during the previous five years. But he underlined how critical it is to assess and enhance the nation’s current green economy policies and strategies.

Gizat Worku, General Manager of the Ethiopian Coffee Association, on his part stated that no unlawful activities, including child labor, were included in Ethiopia’s coffee production. It is not that much difficult for the government to produce proof and documentation of its inspection on everything. Since we do not grow coffee on deforested farmland, even EUDR would not be such a daunting task especially for Ethiopia.

Overall, the relationship between Ethiopia and the European Union is characterized by mutual respect, cooperation, and shared values. Both sides benefit from their partnership in various economic, political, and social ways – making it a vital component of their foreign policy agendas. As they continue to work together on common challenges and opportunities, it is clear that their bond will only grow stronger in the years to come.



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