EU, AU: Different Trauma For Similar Union

British Prime Minister David Cameron making a case against British exit from EU

British Prime Minister David Cameron making a case against British exit from EU

Both are supra-national associations of sovereign member-states. Membership is also voluntary. But that is where the similarities end. Indeed, the relationship existing between the two bears close resemblance to a peonage affair; while one is the donor, the other is a recipient. But while the donor, the European Union (EU), is in trouble waters as member-states are beginning to question membership, the other, African Union (AU), appears stranded.

Founded in 1947 from the ashes of World War II, it is unlikely that the EU had faced a bigger threat to its continuous existence as unified body as brought about Great Britain’s current review of her membership. A number of other equally restless member-countries are beginning to show signs of fatigue.

Events of the World War II may have directly informed the creation of the EU, which started off to foster economic cooperation among member-states. The idea was ‘countries which trade together are more likely to avoid going to war with each other. Today, the EU is an economic and political partnership involving 28 European countries. It morphed into a single market allowing free movement of goods and persons across borders; almost like one country, with its own currency, the euro. Though, nine member-countries have remained outside the ‘euro zone’. The EU, however, has its own parliament and legislate in a wide range of areas, including environment, transport, consumer rights, as well as, other minor details.

Though, British Prime Minister is a staunch advocate of the country retaining its membership, a number of Britons want an out. They claim the EU has become a drag on their country, especially through imposition of too many rules on business. They accuse the EU of charging billions of pounds a year in membership fees for little in return. They also want Britain to take back full control of its borders and reduce the number of people coming into the country to work. One of the main principles of EU membership is free movement, which means you don’t need to get a visa to go and live in another EU country. The British EU antagonists also object to the idea of ever-closer union and any ultimate goal to create a United States of Europe. There are many pointers that Britain may join major western European countries that that do not hold EU membership. Others include, Norway, Iceland and Switzerland.

Beyond the internal wrangling, the EU has set the pace for many other intra-regional arrangements in terms of free market, a model the African countries sought to emulate by phasing out the Organisation for African Unity (OAU) through the Constitutive Act of 2001, in Sirte, Libya, which birthed the AU. The emphasis is to stress more on ‘union’ as against ‘unity.’ A movement from political to supposedly Common Market, as the EU used to be known.

But in the actual sense of the transition, the AU has failed. It remained more political than economic. It is a transition merely in nomenclature. Intra-African trade traditionally remains almost negligible. Talks of a common currency was quickly dismissed. Crucially, the AU has been significantly useless financially to needing member states. Though, Morocco is the only mainland African country not holding membership of the AU, yet most member states only have flimsy and emotional attachment to the union; as long as the union behaves to the satisfaction individual member state.

This point was recently driven home when Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza bluntly told the Union not to step foot in Bujumbura. “We (AU) meet often, we talk too much, we always write a lot, but we don’t do enough, and sometimes nothing all,” AU new chairperson, Chad’s President Idriss Deby, said upon ascension. Even that soon proved just another talk.

There was considerable interest when in December 2015, the AU announced it would send troops to stabilise Burundi, where fears of genocide have swirled since President Nkurunziza planned and executed a successful third term.

The AU initially spoke tough. Its Peace and Security Council (PSC), which functions, not unlike the UN’s Security Council, while announcing the decision said it would not allow another genocide. The AU said it would, for the first time, invoke Chapter Four of its founding charter, which gives it the right to intervene in a member state “in respect of grave circumstances, namely: war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.”

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