“Eurafrica” is Dead: In Fact, It Never Existed

This is part of our special feature, Beyond Eurafrica: Encounters in a Globalized World.


The term “Eurafrica” invokes a global panregion that has long and pervasively been a fantasy of imperialistic geopolitics, yet that has never existed. It is questionable for several reasons. First, the spatial construction of panregions is in itself problematic as it describes a “large functional area linking core states to resource peripheries and cutting across latitudinal distributed environmental zones” (O’Loughlin and Van der Wusten 1990, 1-2) and is thus inherently exploitative and imperial. Second, it is superficial, incomplete, and possibly essentializing as it suggests a homogeneity that has never existed. Neither Africa nor Europe are coherent actors or imaginations – both are equally diverse and rich; inspiring, appealing and frightening; strong and weak. There is no such one thing as “Africa,” neither is there one “Europe.” As such, there is also clearly not one such thing as “Eurafrica.” Any engagement with the “African-European relationship” is thus always flawed with generalizations that brutally brush over and conceal the richness of interactions between people of the two continents. Nevertheless, there is a long history, to which the term “Eurafrica” is testimony, which is interested in the relations between the two continents – as much as such broad-brushed accounts are characterized by shortcomings. These opening remarks are intended as critical reflections of such shortcomings that I have reproduced in my previous work and that I will partially reproduce in the following as I will engage with collective European relations with “Africa.” Emphasizing that such engagement cannot be exhaustive, the focus will be on the external relations of the EU with its African partners as one part of the rich diversity of African-European relations.


Panregional Fantasies as an Early European Integration Project

First articulations on a possible Eurafrican panregion emerged in the context of calls for the Paneuropean Union in the interwar period of the 1920s (Coudenhove-Kalergi 1923, 1931). During the economic crisis, advocates for a Paneuropean Union around the Austrian Count Richard Nikolaus Coudenhove-Kalergi proposed sustainable and deep integration in Europe as the only way to avoid another war (Coudenhove-Kalergi 1934). Despite the focus on Europe, already these early integration visions included an imperial role for the newly-to-be-created political construct in the form of a “collective exploitation of resources” in Africa. Following the idea of panregions as functional units on a sub-global scale, Coudenhove-Kalergi’s paneuropean visions included Africa as “a natural or necessary part of Europe’s geopolitical sphere, a part that needed to be more strongly connected to Europe, and one that needed to be exploited by united European forces in order to be properly and adequately used” (Hansen and Jonsson 2011, 448). The very idea of “Eurafrica was [thus] part of a global vision based on order through dominance and balance of power on a panregional scale” (O’Loughlin and Van der Wusten 1990, 18) at a time when such megalomaniac spatial fantasies were en vogue amongst “dominant intellectuals, institutions, and practitioners of statecraft” (Ó Tuathail 1996, 185). In light of a still booming European imperialism, Eurafrica thus became a part of first European integration visions. Ideas for collective European relation with Africa, or at this time rather of Africa as “an appendage of Europe that was necessary for procuring raw materials” (O’Loughlin and Van der Wusten 1990, 9), thus predate the formal beginning steps of European integration during the 1950s.

As such, the EU’s (and its predecessor organizations’) preference for collective interaction with Africa was taken up from prior paneuropean visions during the interwar period and revived during the 1950s in the leading up to the Treaty of Rome. Mainly due to French and Belgium pressure, the treaty included clauses demanding contributions of other European Economic Community members to financial provisions towards the (former) colonies (Dialer 2007, 45). Holden (2009, 126) observes that “as the French Union faded France promoted a structural relationship between its ex-colonies and the EU as a part (and only one part) of its continued influence.” In 1949, the French Minister for Reconstruction claimed that “Europe can only regain its prosperity if it dedicates all its material and cultural efforts to Africa. Jointly Europe has to develop and supply this continent” (Author translation, quoted from Zischka 1951, 60). With respect to the European, in particular German, focus on Eastern Europe during the war, the French Resident-General to Morocco argued similarly: “For us, for the French Union, for the European Union, the Atlas mountains have to be the Urals and Africa Siberia” (Author translation, quoted from Zischka 1951, 60). Both quotes are taken from a book by the Austrian geopolitical writer Anton Zischka that appeared in 1951 under the title: Afrika – Europas Gemeinschaftsaufgabe Nr. 1[1]. Zischka, clearly frustrated by Europe’s, in particular Germany’s, diminished global role behind the superpowers, was captivated by the vision of a joint European future; independent and freed from both Anglo-American “Westernization” and Sovietization. In his view, and in the light of the superpower rivalry, Europe should orient itself as a collective and the only possibility for a neutral, prosperous, and peaceful Europe was its orientation to Africa. He used the German version of the term: Eurafrika, referring to it as “the most centrally located third of the earth” (see Figure 1). Zischka’s Eurocentric and imperial vision thus replicated the relationship with Africa proposed by Coudenhove-Kalergi’s Paneuropean Union as well as what Nazi-Germany’s lead geopolitician Karl Haushofer (1938) had roughly described as a Eurafrican panregion (see also O’Loughlin and Van der Wusten 1990). Figure 1 shows how Zischka cartographically emphasised Eurafrika as a “naturally” given unity; conveniently also including the resource rich parts of Western Asia. Whilst Zischka did not occupy any political position and there is no evidence that his work had any significant political impact, his journalistic books enjoyed great popularity and illustrated popular imaginations about European racial superiority and its collective role towards Africa at the time collective development policy and African-European relations started to emerge.

Figure 1: Zischka’s Eurafrika: The most centrally located third of the Earth

Source: Zischka (1951, 2)


The Formation of Collective European Relations With Africa

The early agreements in the Treaty of Rome resulted in the signing of the first European Development Fund (EDF) in 1958 as the “first attempt to communitise aid” (Carbone 2007, 51). The following “association agreement” eventually led to the signing of the Yaoundé Convention between the six countries of the European Economic Community and the 18 countries of the group of Associated African States and Madagascar (AASM)[2] in 1963. The Yaoundé Convention was reworked and renewed in 1969 (Yaoundé II), however, with the accession of the United Kingdom to the European Community in 1973, a modification of collective European development policy became necessary to include former British colonies. During the accompanying discussions on the future shape of European relations with developing countries, two opposing views emerged. On the one hand, the “regionalists” (mainly France) favored a continuation of the contractual association of former colonies to Europe and to extend this to former British colonies. On the other hand, the “globalists” (mainly Germany and the Netherlands) preferred to replace the existing association agreements with an approach to global development policy (Dialer 2007, 45-50). After a long debate, the Council eventually adopted recommendations to the Member States to engage in more comprehensive information exchange without any binding commitments. For Grilli (1993, 82), the debate “must have been so negative that no further action in the field of aid harmonization and co-ordination was proposed in any of the subsequent documents on development policies” (see also Carbone 2007, 52). In 1973, however, negotiations commenced in Brussels for a new agreement between the EC and the 43 countries of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group (ACP), which had just been consolidated under Nigerian leadership. These negotiations led to the signing of the first Lomé Convention in 1975 that was praised at a turning point in global South-North relations in a sense that it moved EC-ACP relations away from dependent “association agreements” to “partnership” and “cooperation” (Dialer 2007, 50-51).

The subsequent Lomé Conventions (Lomé I-IV), as well as the Cotonou Agreements of 2000 and 2005, reproduced this rhetoric of partnership. During the British EU presidency in 2005, Africa moved into the focus of collective EU policy and The European Consensus on Development (EPCC 2006) as well as the EU-Africa strategy, named The EU and Africa: Towards a Strategic Partnership (EC 2006), were adopted. Both documents, one even in the title, invoked notions of “partnership,” yet the process of formulating the strategies was far from being inclusive. Even within the Commission, the shortcomings of the document were obvious, as an official of the Directorate-General for Development recounted:

The EU-Africa strategy was not impressive, it had been developed fairly quickly under British presidency and basically just expressed the consensus at the time. It came in 2005, a time of ‘Africa-hype’. The problem was that it was a unilateral strategy with very little consultations with Africans and little dialogue with the civil society. But it provided a context for the development of the joint strategy. (Author interview, July 2008)

Ironically, the strategy, entitled Strategic Partnership, lacked African partners. It was replaced within less than two years. When the preparations for the 2007 Africa-EU Lisbon summit began, there was a consensus that a new strategy for African-European relations would have to be jointly formulated. Another European official involved in the process recalled that the “previous (EU developed-) EU-Africa strategy was thrown out in order to make it possible to develop a joint strategy on a truly equal basis. Both sides were very serious and engaged very thoroughly with the process and the other side’s position” (Author interview, February 2008). And indeed, the tone of the entire document purposely omits references to unequal donor-recipient relations or specific flows of Official Development Assistance (ODA), instead highlighting areas of possible collaboration and constructive partnership. However, it was not the first time that such rhetoric of partnership has been employed and not lived up to. Also the Lomé and Cotonou conventions had been announced as frameworks for entering into a new era of partnership. In hindsight, however, both have been regularly criticized for failing in this respect. According to Hurt (2003, 173) the “entire history of the official discourse of EU-ACP development cooperation can be dismissed as, to a large degree, false rhetoric that is subsumed by the realities and power relations of the international political economy.” Clearly, such false rhetoric and power relations can be traced through the history of African-European relations. Nevertheless, the process leading up to the Joint Africa-EU Strategy sparked hopes for a de-hierarchization as an African negotiator explained: “the partnership is between a strong and a weak partner, but they realized that they need each other and therefore the partnership is being put increasingly on a more equal basis” (Author interview, March 2008).


Contemporary Perceptions and Expectations of African-European “Partnership”

Now, a decade later, the Joint Africa-EU Strategy remains the guiding document for African-European interaction on a political level. Yet a balanced partnership is still far from being realized, even though the past decade has witnessed a substantial emancipatory moment for African actors due to two closely interrelated aspects: a loss of appeal of the EU as a cooperation partner, and with it European influence in Africa, in light of the financial crisis in the Eurozone and the rapid rise of China and other emerging economies and their increasing roles in Africa. Both factors are closely interdependent and part of a more general process of increasingly questioning the European development “model” of regional integration as a basis for peace and prosperity – both within the Union and amongst its African cooperation partners (see Bachmann 2016, 2017). During focus group discussions in Nairobi in March 2012, the participants remarked how a combination of factors, paring the uncertain economic situation in the Eurozone with European aid conditionalities and the Chinese alternative of non-interference, essentially forced African countries to “Look East.” Also in light of the “stringent conditions put by EU countries,” a participant explained, this “leaves us with no option but also to look East, where it is easier to get the access and all those things without much conditions” (Author interviews, March 2012). Similarly, a Kenyan official laid out how “Europe still is a significant partner for us. But it needs to realize that the Africa of 2012 is not the Africa of the 50s, 60s or 80s” (Author interview, December 2012). Neither is Europe, nor the world around it.

These quotes illustrate how the European role as a model for development through regional integration is increasingly loosing appeal and how the role as cooperation partner for Africa is doubted, but still to some extent expected (see also Figure 2). In addition, the EU’s restrictive border regime and migration policies as well as reports of racism and xenophobia against Africa and Africans in Europe, diminish the appeal of “Europe” as cooperation partner. At the same time, the Chinese influence, both in Africa and in the world, is expanding rapidly. China’s state-led autocratic capitalism offers a different development model, one the delivers quick wins in terms of economic growth and visible development in form of large infrastructure projects. Chinese engagement in Africa is free of conditionalities, such as human rights, press freedom, good governance, etc., generally attached to European development cooperation. In times of a Europe in crisis, with negative growth rates, increasing xenophobia and internal tensions, the “Chinese way” offers an increasingly attractive model for many African countries – a model that is highly appealing, not only for its quick and visible gains in terms of “development” and infrastructure, but also because it ascribes much power and little accountability to political elites and limits “concerns” with good governance and human rights. Taken together and in light of power hierarchies in African-European relations, the decline of European appeal and influence in Africa coupled with the rise of Chinese (and other Asian actors’) appeal and influence, the past decade has witnessed a decisively emancipatory moment for African countries and societies in their relations with “Europe.” European, or more generally, Western cooperation partners and the development models prescribed by them are no longer the only alternative for external cooperation. However, this does not entail an end to African-European relations or a complete re-orientation to Asian partners; rather it illustrates a more general diversification of possibly cooperation partners for African actors on different scales.

Even though the European role as a “partner” for Africa has thus clearly diminished, it has not vanished completely. Based on a case study in Kenya (Bachmann 2016), Figure 2 shows a summary of what key individuals involved in Kenyan-European interaction perceive as the main functions that the EU should fulfil as a global actor.[3] As can be seen, most of the responses given by Kenyan informants expect the EU to function as a partner for “Africa” and to influence world politics towards a “fairer” and “more just” world order. Economically, these responses express expectations that the EU facilitates the integration of African countries into the world economy to “fair” conditions; politically, the EU is expected to function as a balancing actor between the global powers, mostly the USA and China. Closely related to this are expectations of the EU in the area of good governance and its function as a peace-builder and security provider. The expectation for the EU to promote regional integration remains high amongst European informants but has decreased significantly amongst Kenyan informants since the outbreak of the financial crisis for the reasons outlined above (see Bachmann 2013).


Figure 2: Expectations of the EU’s global role

Source: Bachmann (2016, 141)



Future Outlook: Afro-European Cooperation Instead of “Eurafrica”

As regards the future relations between different actors on the two continents, I will briefly lay out two closely interrelated orientations that could, in my opinion, usefully serve as guidelines. Firstly, development cooperation continues to play a major role in African-European relations. However, the institutionalization of permanent development missions in African countries is a key factor for reproducing inequalities and hierarchies. This applies of course not only to European actors, but to all external “helpers,” including Chinese and Asian partners as well as multilateral actors, such as the UN system and the World Bank. My argument here does not call for a complete end of European “development” engagement in Africa. Rather it calls for ending permanently institutionalized European development structures in Africa. Cooperation should only come on demand and on an ad-hoc basis. Initiative and responsibility have to be in local hands. Clearly, given the colonial past and continued imperial present of European actors in Africa, “Europe” has a responsibility towards African people, but not “Europe” is responsible for development and the future of Africa. African countries, societies, institutions, people are. The permanent institutionalization of European development aid missions in Africa externalizes this responsibility and, simultaneously, reproduces hierarchies and structures of dependency. It has to be replaced by “cooperation on demand” and refocused away from the interests of European geo-economics or African elites to the interests of African societies and people.

Secondly and relatedly, African-European relations, and our engagement with these relations should focus on identifying areas of cooperation beyond “development.” Much of the political dialogue tends to focus on questions of how to generate development in Africa. Even though the Joint Africa-EU Strategy contains eight partnerships, those focus almost exclusively on Africa, thereby reproducing a paternalistic relationship of European assistance to Africa. African and European researchers, politicians and NGOs alike should identify areas of joint geopolitical interest that go beyond questions of development in Africa – areas of cooperation that are more distanced to both partners, but where also a more equal cooperation is possible because they are of less immediate concern to either side. Examples of such areas of mutual geopolitical interest could be the current situation in the Middle East including the growing geopolitical rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran (and, more widely, the struggle for the privilege of interpretation of a more international Islam), possibilities to deal with an erratic and mentally deficient American president, possibilities for addressing climate change and for a socially and environmentally sustainable exploitation of natural resources (combining economic growth and environmental protection), the resolution of the financial crisis in Europe (which directly affects development aid and whereby European countries, too, find themselves in conditions of “dependency”) and, of course, wider shifts in the geopolitical power structure and both Africa’s and Europe’s role in the world.

Finally, I would like to close with an observation taken from an insightful volume that traces the complex, and often troubled, relationship between the two continents. Adebajo and Whiteman (2012) propose a historical shift from Eurafrique to Afro-Europa: a trajectory from Eurafrica as a “hangover from the colonial past” (Whiteman 2012, 2), “a formula for putting Africa’s resources at the disposal of Europe’s industries” (ibid, 1) towards African-European relations characterized by “genuine equality, partnership, and mutual self-interest between both continents” (ibid, 19). In addition to its colonial baggage, the term Eurafrica appears indeed of limited use as it continues to invoke panregional fantasies and a homogeneity that does not exist in any country, let alone on any continents. The term Afro-Europa reproduces this invocation of a large panregion. As such, it is also questionable. I therefore suggest to rid our engagement with African-European relations from such panregional terminologies and instead use terms such as relations, interactions, cooperation, spaces of interaction, etc., as they allow for a more diversified approach for capturing the heterogeneity of interactions, and their spatial foundations, between different actors on different scales. However, going beyond this critique on panregional concepts, Adebajo and Whiteman’s Afro-European terminology offers a suitable alternative. It omits the colonial connotation of Eurafrica and describes a more balanced relationship between countries, actors, institutions, and above all people on the two continents. In any case, any attempt to characterize African-European relations should go beyond broadbrushed characterizations of “Africa,” “Europe” and the relation between the two and account for the rich heterogeneity of both continents, their people and their relations with each other. These relations have clearly never been those of equals, however, in the terminology of Adebajo and Whiteman, the future of Afro-European relations has the potential to be less hierarchical than Eurafrica.


Veit Bachmann is assistant professor in the Department of Human Geography at Goethe-University Frankfurt. He is a political geographer with research interests in geopolitical and geoeconomic transformation processes and their underlying spatialities. Based on these interests, his work engages with European studies and global South-North relations, focussing on the international identity and role of the EU as a global and development actor. After his undergraduate education in geography, international relations and economics at the Universität Trier, Germany, he obtained the degrees of MSc in geography at Texas A&M University, USA (2006) and PhD in geography from the University of Plymouth, UK (2009). As part of his research, he has also held affiliations with the EU Delegation in Nairobi, the EU Energy Initiative (EUEI), the German International Cooperation (GIZ), the Kenyan Foreign Ministry, the University of Nairobi (Kenya), the Université de Sfax (Tunisia) and the University of Oregon (USA). He is the author of European External Action: The Making of EU Diplomacy in Kenya (Routledge, 2016) and the co-editor of Perceptions of the EU in Eastern Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa. Looking in from the Outside (Palgrave, 2015).

Photo: Textured vector map of Africa by Sunny Whale | Shutterstock



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———. 1934. Europa Erwachet! Wien: Paneuropa-Verlag.

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[1] Africa – Europe’s common duty No. 1.

[2] Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, United Republic of Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Congo-Kinshasa, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Somalia, Togo.

[3] The columns separate responses given by European diplomats (the lower darker parts of the column) and their (mostly Kenyan) cooperation partners (the lighter upper parts). The figure is based on interviews with a total of 124 informants (36 European diplomats and 88 Kenyan cooperation partners), conducted mostly in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi between 2012-2014. For more information, please see Bachmann (2016).



Published on March 1, 2018.


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