The prospects of European Union presence and influence in the Sahel region of Western and North-central Africa seems grim to non-existent.
Or so assembled MEPs were told at meeting of the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs on January 23.
The region, covering African nations on the southern edge of the Sahara desert, has experienced a wave of coups and civil wars, often curtailing Western influence and introducing increased Russian influence.
“Let’s face it, the Sahel is lost”, said Ulf Laessing, an regional expert from the German Konrad Adenauer Foundation.
The Parliament discussion was focused on “policy failings” made by the EU and its Member States, specifically France.
A major issue was what was described as the “tone-deaf” approach of Europeans to African nations and their leaders.
Laessing said Sahel-based officials do not appreciate being “lectured to” by EU representatives on issues such as human rights, rule of law and democratic processes.
Regarding the meeting itself, the absence of any African experts or advisors was noted by MEPs present.
“When will he have policy talking to African and not just white experts?,” asked Javier Nart, a Spanish MEP for the Liberal Renew Group.
Nacho Sánchez Amor a Spanish MEP for the centre-Left Group S&D Group, went further: “Our specialists appear to have been locked in their hotel rooms while [governments] collapsed around them.”
Repeated references by those present to the EU “not understanding or being willing to understand” the “reality on the ground”, included such from MEP Herzberger-Fofana.
“We’ve sent the Sahel countries into the welcoming arms of Russia and China” she said.
Irish MEP Mick Wallace took the opportunity to make a “told you so” statement, highlighting the fact he had advocated non-intervention some years ago.
“Military interventions will always be counter-productive in the long-term … Four years later, and it certainly looks like the EU’s strategy, if you could even call it that, has been shown to be useless,” he said.
“The external actions service has barrelled ahead with a train-and-equip approach that provides a prefect fodder for repeated armed takeovers.”
Wallace’s points echoed claims made last August to Brussels Signal by sources close to the French military, that the vanguard troops in the anti-French Niger coup had actually been French-trained.
Yet, while those present at the Parliament debate noted the how “honest” the conversation was in dundertaking a “post-mortem” of the EU’s Sahel presence, many present refused to embrace a “realpolitik” of maintaining pragmatic relations towards authoritarian regimes.
France withdrew its 1,400 troops based in Niger in October last year, following an agreement with the ruling junta in Niamey, marking yet another Sahel nation to turn against the EU heavyweight and the West more generally.
The military-backed coup in July effectively killed-off relations between Paris and the Niger junta, with other Sahel nations rallying in support of Niamey.
Many MEPs at the Parliament debate concluded the EU would now need to double down in supporting and building relations with the nations of the West African Coast.