The European Union’s relations with SADC are political, economic, commercial and environmental. Regional integration is in the European Union’s DNA and over the last decades the EU and its member states have given strong support to SADC’s efforts to deepen the integration of its sixteen constituent states. The EU’s relations with SADC historically focused on promoting regional economic integration and infrastructure and later expanded to cover peace and security, environmental stewardship, institutional strengthening, natural resource management, and trade and transport facilitation. The EU stands with Southern Africa in its efforts to become a more competitive and effective player in international relations and the world economy. This EU-SADC partnership ultimately rests on the shared belief in the benefits of regional integration to the citizens of Southern Africa.

Political relations

In recognition of SADC's political mandate as adopted in its 1992 Windhoek Summit and South Africa’s accession to the organisation two years later, the EU and SADC launched a political dialogue with a first ministerial meeting in 1994 in Berlin - the Berlin Initiative. The Initiative created a structure for enhanced and comprehensive political dialogue between the two parties with a view to contribute to peace, democracy and sustainable development in the SADC region.

The EU and SADC collaborate in addressing global, continental and regional challenges to peace and security, striving towards gender equality and women economic empowerment, and achieving good governance and democratic progresses through the promotion of inclusive, credible and transparent elections. We are also committed to deepen cooperation in the fight against organised crime, and coordination in relevant international fora. The latest ministerial meeting took place virtually in June 2021.

Economic relations, trade and investments

Partnerships for Prosperity

Since 2016, the EU has had an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with six SADC countries: Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa. Angola has also applied to join the EPA and another five members of the SADC region (Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles and Zimbabwe) are implementing an EPA with the EU as part of the Eastern & Southern Africa regional grouping. The development-oriented EPAs aim to promote sustainable development, poverty reduction and regional integration. They also support the region’s commitment to the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

The SADC-EU EPA guarantees duty and quota free access to the EU market for all goods originating in the SADC EPA countries, except for South Africa, which also benefits from a very generous tariff treatment. The SADC EPA countries do not need to reciprocate the market access offered by the EU; instead, they can shield their sensitive products from full liberalisation. The EU is the 16 SADC countries’ most important source of imports, accounting for 20% of their imports in 2020 (ahead of 17% from China). With a 16% share of the SADC region’s total exports, the EU is the second largest export destination after China (19%).  Germany is the biggest EU trading partner for the SADC region, with 30% of the EU’s trade with the region on both the export and the import side. Total trade (exports and imports) between the EU27 and the 16 SADC EPA states amounted to €51.5 billion in 2020, with a €1.3 billion trade balance in SADC’s favour. The EU’s foreign direct investment (FDI) in the region amounted to a total stock of €85 billion in 2019, concentrated in South Africa (€45 billion), Mauritius (€15 billion) and Angola (€14 billion). The EU’s FDI stock in SADC is roughly 30% of all FDI in the region.

Transport & Transit

Lifting Barriers from Cape Town to Cairo

The East and Southern African region lacks an integrated and liberalised road transport network. This poses numerous obstacles to trade by causing severe delays and increased transport costs, as well as challenges to road safety and durability. The Tripartite formed by COMESA, EAC and SADC, which represents more than half the GDP of the continent of Africa, has prioritised infrastructure development in the region as part of a holistic effort to develop transport and infrastructure in a coordinated manner. The EU supports these efforts to speed up the movement of goods across borders in half the continent through the Tripartite Transport and Transit Facilitation Programme.

Peace, Security and Good Governance

The EU has been supporting SADC for over two decades in fostering peace, regional stability, democratic governance and accountability across the region as elements underpinning regional integration and socio-economic development. Our support is in line with SADC’s principles, namely sovereignty, equality, solidarity, peace, security, human rights, democracy, the rule of law, equity, balance, mutual benefit and the peaceful settlement of disputes. The EU is allocating €35 million to strengthening SADC’s peace and security architecture through a programme to enhance democratic governance, conflict prevention, citizen security and the fight against gender-based violence in the region. The EU is also helping strengthen institutional mechanisms for migration management that facilitates legal labour migration and prevents irregular migration and trafficking within the Southern Africa, Eastern Africa and Indian Ocean region. This programme addresses the development-security-migration nexus, and identifies positive spill over effects of labour migration on regional integration and regional economic development.

Institutional Capacity Building

As a crosscutting priority, the EU is committed to help strengthen the capacity of the SADC Secretariat to ensure it can perform its mandate and role in advancing the regional integration agenda.

The EU is financing several programmes to this effect:

  • The IICB programme improves national and regional linkages between SADC’s Secretariat and its member states on one hand, and between the SADC institutions and national-level stakeholders and citizenry, on the other hand;
  • The Technical Cooperation Facility provides ad hoc assistance to support and address SADC Secretariat priorities, facilitate studies and address capacity constraints;
  • The EU-SADC Enhanced Policy Dialogue Facility is facilitating peer-to-peer exchanges and fostering inter- and intra-regional and cross-sectoral dialogues between SADC institutions and institutions from Europe and other regions.

Social and Human Capital Development

Increasing Southern Africans’ Access to Quality Education and Skills

Social and human capital development is the third pillar in SADC medium term strategy.

Within this pillar, there is a closer engagement between the EU and SADC in the area of education and skills development. The EU is supporting SADC’s regional Qualifications Framework to facilitate legal labour migration within the Southern Africa, Eastern Africa and Indian Ocean region. There is also a close follow up on the developments of SADC frameworks on technical and vocational education and training; open and distance learning; digital skills; and teaching and learning.  Further engagements are foreseen under the next programming phase (2021-2027), which will include science and technology, jobs and youth.

Environment and climate change

Cooperation between SADC and the EU recognises that climate action is of critical importance.  One area of focus of the Regional Strategic Development Plan is climate change adaptation and mitigation. The EU is supporting SADC to increase the capabilities of its member states to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change and to have their voice better heard in international climate change negotiations.  The EU is providing €30 million for programme implementation to support actions on climate change, food and nutrition security, and disaster risk reduction to increase the capacity of SADC to address the effects of climate change.