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African perceptions of the EU as an effective and influential international actor

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Until recently, literature on EU external relations had failed to integrate other actors’ perceptions, of the EU into the context of analyzing the EU’s effectiveness and impact as a foreign policy actor and its international identity. Considering the ever-expanding foreign policy role of the EU, this analytical gap is in crucial need of being filled by empirical studies that more closely consider ‘outsiders’ views of the EU. This paper explores the perceptions African actors hold of the EU, by focusing on whether the EU is seen as an effective and influential foreign policy actor on the continent. It concentrates on perceptions held of the EU in three main policy-areas of significant relevance in EU-Africa relations: development cooperation, trade, and political dialogue. It shows that although most African governments see the EU as possessing a large potential for influence, there are three ways in which the EU’s effectiveness is negatively affected: financial and human resource constraints; incoherence between the Commission and the Member States; and policy incoherence. In demonstrating that the perceptions, strategies and actions of so-called ‘weaker’ actors often challenge notions of the EU’s power or leadership, this would imply a necessity to re-examine common notions of both the EU’s international identity and of power asymmetry between the EU and weaker actors. In looking at African perceptions of the EU, one can also more closely consider whether the EU is beginning or not to be seen as an international actor with an identity separate from the Member States. In other words, Africa offers a context in which to examine whether the EU as such, has or has not been able to establish itself as a power and a leader in its own right, or whether Member States’ foreign policies continue to overshadow its multilateral efforts.

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