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The G7 and the partnership with Africa: “I wouldn’t call it inconsequential, but definitely expandable.”

spotlight 2022 10, 27.06.2022

On the occasion of its G7 presidency, the German government is welcoming heads of state and government to a summit at Schloss Elmau from June 26 to 28. Many issues on the agenda – climate, food security, economic recovery after Covid-19, among others – affect African societies and states in particular. Yet, this aspect is rarely part of the discussions at the G7, says Axel Berger, acting deputy director at the German Institute of Development and Sustainability (IDOS). In this Megatrends Afrika Spotlight, we talk with him about the need for G7 debates to be more outward-looking, especially where it concerns its African partners.

AH: Mr Berger, starting on Sunday, the German G7 presidency is hosting state leaders for a three-day summit. What role will African policy issues play in this summit?

AB: The continent does not have top priority at the summit – but nevertheless, it is important. We see that in the invitation offered to Senegal, which holds the presidency of the African Union (AU). This is a symbol that the presidency wants to involve the AU. South Africa is also invited, but it flies more under the G20 flag, as do India, Indonesia and Argentina.

The agenda also includes a number of issues that are strongly related to African challenges and problems, such as food security. The same applies to climate. Here, the German G7 presidency is primarily concerned with the idea of a climate club. It intends to bring together an alliance of the willing for more climate protection. Unfortunately, there is too little discussion of the impact this will have on developing countries, especially in Africa.

On other issues, I have found the decisions taken so far to be insufficient – especially with regard to the debt problem, which is only referenced in the context of the Common Framework of the G20. This is true, of course, because major lenders, such as China, are members there. But the G7 also has major private lenders for whom it is actually responsible and whom it should hold more accountable.

AH: Interesting. The German government has set itself a number of goals for its G7 presidency, particularly in the area of climate policy.

AB: Yes, but the focus is not on the African continent or the developing countries in general. But the idea of a climate club has implications for them as well. This ultimately leads to the question of how it impacts other countries if, for example, a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) is established that taxes CO2 emissions contained in imports from less-regulated countries. At the core of this is the debate on how we can prevent carbon leakage by industries that move to less-regulated economies.

We are seeing that more development policy perspectives need to be brought into this debate. So far, the thinking here has been very European and G7-focussed: First bring together the alliance of the willing.

AH: Is this “too little” amount of attention on or involvement by Africa unusual for the G7? After all, it has a history of putting African policy issues high on the agenda.

AB: I wouldn’t call it little, but inconsequential and definitely expandable. Africa has not completely slipped off the radar. But the G7 has changed its role to a certain extent. There were past summits, such as the 2005 Gleneagles summit, where Africa was big on the agenda. That is different today.

I also don’t see any initiative comparable to, say, the 2017 G20 Compact with Africa initiative, which is designed to encourage private investment in African countries. Perhaps the Just Energy Transition Partnerships to help countries decarbonise their economies could become a flagship project towards developing countries. The partnership exists with South Africa, for example.

In all of this, of course, we have to keep in mind the war in Ukraine, which is the dominant issue at the moment. But here, too, it would be desirable to involve Africa more. After all, cooperation at an equal level could reduce the worrying differences in positions between the G7 and African countries.

AH: To what extent does this situation and the attitude of African countries towards Russia affect relations with the G7?

AB: Many African countries and other developing countries describe themselves as non-aligned. It is interesting that this term is experiencing a renaissance.

Basically, the German presidency is working with this in a quite goal-oriented way. They have realised that, on the one hand, you naturally have to distance yourself from autocratic governments and systems. This consideration also motivates the focus on social resilience and democratic institutions in their programme.

But on the other hand, it is important, especially against this background, to focus more on partnership and to launch joint activities or initiatives at an equal level. Because, of course, you also need cooperation and have to seek it out. That also applies to countries such as China, or other difficult partners such as India. It is a balancing act, but it is also seen as such.

AH: The Russian war of aggression on Ukraine has left its mark on the German G7 presidency. Did some topics receive less attention because of that?

AB: Sure, the G7 was above all also a platform to coordinate the sanctions against Russia. But every G7 or G20 presidency has its own crisis. Not all of them are as big or as consequential as the Ukraine war, of course. Nevertheless, there is a continued attempt to focus on the original G7 agenda.

And I originally found that programme quite convincing when it was published in January. It covers a very broad range of sustainability aspects: It included health issues, economic recovery, avoiding a two-track recovery in which developing countries fall behind, and of course the issue of climate change. The resilience of democratic societies is also an important aspect. I would have liked to see these issues integrated even more: What does this mean for other countries, for developing countries in particular?

So I wouldn’t necessarily say that something is missing. Rather, the question is whether the agenda can be worked through so well that tangible solutions may be found. These should not only address the acute problems, but also promote long-term sustainability.

AH: What do you expect from the summit then?

AB: Well, we already know some things. I found the ministerial meetings on climate and environment encouraging: decarbonised power supply by 2035, coal phase-out, as well as decisions on fossil fuel subsidies. At the summit, the climate club will definitely play the biggest role. Of course, this is also an initiative that Olaf Scholz has taken from the Finance Ministry to the Chancellor’s Office. I would expect even more here: The key is having an open climate club in which anyone can be a member. I would hope that this process will be embedded in a discussion around this year’s COP27 in Egypt.

AH: How do these climate policy ambitions of the G7 fit with the energy policy considerations on both continents? With Angola, we see plans to cooperate in the field of green hydrogen, whereas with South Africa the focus is more on coal.  

AB: The discussion about green hydrogen is interesting. It is also being conducted within the framework of the G7. In any case, it is important that this does not lead to new raw material dependencies for African countries. Raw materials should not simply be extracted, but there should also be productive value creation in the country itself, that is, a certain amount of processing needs to take place locally. African countries should benefit from more than just the mere extraction of resources, as has been the case so far with regards to ores and oil, for example.

AH: Meanwhile, food security is a topic that is on the agenda everywhere. What can we expect here, apart from – to put it a bit bluntly – big words?

AB: There was, of course, the development ministers’ meeting with a focus on the Alliance for Food Security. That is a good and important initiative.

But in principle, we have a conflict of goals here. First of all, we have to solve the short-term problems: blocking exports of Ukrainian grain and creating access to fertilisers. But the challenge then is to pay attention to the long-term nature of the measures. That means not only looking at the supply side by, for example, strengthening production capacities in other countries or establishing sustainable production methods.

Still, we also have to do more on the demand side. And that, of course, is also something for the G7; it has to do more at home. I’m thinking in particular of meat consumption here. We also need to look at how we can decentralise agricultural processes, make them more sustainable and more resilient, so that there is a lower environmental impact. In short, we need to reconcile this short-term agenda with long-term sustainability goals.

And for that, the big words are necessary. The issues need to be kept on the agenda. The G7 is well-suited as a platform for cooperation and dialogue. If no big words came from the group, that would be bad.

AH: You just spoke about the invitations to Senegal and South Africa. A selected number of states are usually invited to such summits. Is the situational invitation a sensible approach? Why aren’t there more permanent cooperation mechanisms?

AB: These invitations are an instrument to make the G7 a bit more inclusive. At the Heiligendamm Summit in 2007, an outreach process was initiated and then five partners were invited: China, Mexico, India, Brazil and South Africa. Now the question is: Do you want to institutionalise this further, or do you continue to give the presidency the flexibility to invite guests? If you further institutionalise the process or even offer permanent memberships, you actually undermine the G20 or create a second one. The latter is actually the more inclusive forum.

We’re talking about the G7 now, of course, because it’s taking place in Germany and because it’s currently one of the few functioning international forums – certainly better than the G20 this year, because with Vladimir Putin at the table, the discussions are very difficult. Nevertheless, we should continue to invest political capital in the G20 so that it remains a forum where solutions to global challenges can be found together with the major emerging economies.

AH: For the German Institute of Development and Sustainability (IDOS), you were involved in the so-called Think7 (T7) in the context of the German G7 presidency. In the resulting Communiqué to the German government, you recommended strengthening multilateralism through closer links between the G7 and the G20. How might that play out in the context of relations with the African continent?

AB: Well, Africa is also underrepresented in the G20. You have to say that very clearly. There’s only South Africa, and of course they have difficulty representing Africa as a whole. That would be difficult for any country. There was once a discussion about offering the African Union a permanent seat. The European Union has one, too. But that is not politically feasible at the moment.

Therefore, it is a sign, a symbol, for the German government to invite the presidency of the African Union. It is already clear that four G20 countries are also present. I would read that as a kind of bridge-building in the direction of the G20.

AH: What was the Think7 process about for you? What was important to you to take back to the federal government as a recommendation?

AB: Think7 is a network of research institutions and think tanks. Think7 existed before, but it worked in more of an ad hoc mode: a workshop here, a conference there. We tried to bring together the relevant research institutes from the G7 and beyond for a structured exchange.

The hope, of course, is that the network will continue under the Japanese presidency. Our aim was not only to write concrete recommendations for action to the German government, but also to enter into an exchange with policy-makers and establish knowledge cooperation processes. In addition to specific policy recommendations, we formulated four key points in our Communiqué: strengthening multilateralism, that is, cooperation with the G20; new ways of measuring economic prosperity; working beyond political silos; and consolidating think tank processes.

For me, it’s about spinning dense networks below the level of governments that we can fall back on in difficult situations. Now we have a president in Washington, Joe Biden, who is more multilateral and cooperative. But it was a completely different situation two years ago with Donald Trump. In such times, these networks have a great impact. But you have to invest in them beforehand and in the long term.

Interview conducted by Anna Hörter, research assistant for external communications at Megatrends Afrika.