Delegation of the European Union to South Africa

South Africa and the EU

10/05/2016 - 14:58
EU relations with Country

The European Union’s (EU’s) relations with South Africa (SA) focus mainly on respect for human rights, freedom, equality, justice, democracy and the rule of law.

South Africa is one of the European Union's ten strategic partners, globally. The SA–EU Strategic Partnership was established in 2006 and was followed by a Joint Action Plan in 2007 as a forward looking platform that facilitates the wide ranging cooperation between our two parties. A range of dialogues between the EU and South Africa allow us to share experiences in areas of common interest, or where we face common challenges. In addition to the areas of cooperation mentioned in other sections of this website, the following are also covered by the dialogues:

  • Peace & Security
  • Human Rights
  • Good Governance
  • Migration
  • Social Cohesion
  • Energy
  • Innovation

Our partnership is broad and comprehensive and dominated by mutual political, trade and development interests.

Today regular Presidential summits and Ministerial meetings take place. Regular SA-EU Political and Security Committee meetings allow for discussions on issues including peace and security in Africa, the Middle East and Iran, and on positions in the multilateral arena.

Internationally, South Africa has been a long-standing member of the WTO, the UN and its different trade-related bodies like UNCTAD and UNCITRAL.  The country enjoys a special role in the IMF and, while not a member of the OECD, interacts with various subsidiary bodies of the organisation. Regionally, South Africa is a member of SACU, SADC and the AU. Besides its membership of the G20, South Africa is also a member of the development-oriented organisation IBSA (India, Brazil, and South Africa Forum) and, since 2011, it has been a member of the BRICS group (along with Brazil, Russia, India and China).  

As part of the strategic partnership, there is a regular exchange on macroeconomic issues between South Africa and the EU. In addition, there is a formal dialogue between the National Treasury (Economic Policy) and EU's Directorate General for Economic and Financial Affairs (ECFIN).

Since 2004, the European Investment Bank (EIB) has supported development and economic activity in South Africa with loans and equity investment worth over €2.5bn.

South Africa and the EU benefit not only from a strategic partnership but are also preferential trading partners. Since its entry into force in October 2016, the SADC-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) has been the bedrock of a solid Trade and Investment relationship. The EU, as a bloc of 27 Member States as of 1 February 2020, is not only South Africa's biggest trading partner but is also its dominant source of Foreign Direct Investment (40% in 2018). EU-generated investments have created more than 300.000 direct and indirect jobs and hold much potential in areas such as green technologies, manufacturing, energy, digital/automation and services.

The EPA has helped to enhance trade flows (24% of South Africa’s overall trade flows were with the EU in 2019) and close the South African trade deficit gap with the EU, leading to a positive trade balance for agri-food products. In addition, half of South Africa's exports to the EU consist of manufactured goods, which contribute directly to beneficiation and employment and thus to inclusive growth. Both the EU and South Africa are currently engaged in unlocking the full potential of the EPA in terms of further diversification of the export basket as well as the creation of value and supply chains both at bilateral level and at regional/African continental level.

The EPA also promotes sustainable development through asymmetric market access (greater liberalisation for products exported to the EU rather the other way around) and enhanced cooperation, it helps attract investment by providing a stable framework, it ensures protection for local producers and goods, it guarantees labour and environmental standards, and also assists in regionalisation efforts.

As part of the Strategic Partnership on trade and investment matters, there are regular dialogues between South Africa and the EU: the Trade Co-operation Committee at bilateral senior official level, the Trade and Development Committee (under the EU-SADC EPA) at regional senior official level, and the Joint Council at regional ministerial level.

To know more about the requirements in place to export to the EU, the Trade Helpdesk is an online portal providing information on tariffs, rules of origin, SPS, environmental or technical requirements and any other issue that applies to the exports. And, to know more about the preferential agreement in place with SA and the region the SADC EU EPA webpage ( provides useful information.

The European Union is South Africa’s most important development partner. Support provided by the European Investment Bank as well as by the 23 EU Member States in South Africa effectively triples the EU’s development-partner footprint in the country. The broader #TeamEurope, through its public institutions, civil society and private sector continues to work closely with local counterparts to tackle many of South Africa’s most serious and pressing challenges.

Currently, the bilateral EU cooperation programme in South Africa provides support to the value of €281 million with additional funding being channelled for thematic focus areas in the form of grants.

Most recently, the Multiannual Indicative Programme (MIP) for South Africa (2014-2020), drawn up jointly with the South African government, focused primarily on job creation and economic development, improved service delivery and governance, education and skills development, as well as human rights and gender-related issues. Notably,  the total official support of the EU to sustainable development in South Africa includes programmes such as Erasmus+, and joint EU-South Africa Science and Innovation cooperation through the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 Programme. The European Investment Bank makes available some €462 million in long-term loans and, as mentioned above, there are significant bilateral cooperation programmes between EU Member States and South Africa. Consultations with a wide range of South African stakeholders to jointly define priority areas of collaboration for the period 2021-2027 took place in late 2020.

Although in South Africa the government has been the EU’s main programme partner from 1994 onwards, civil society has always remained a crucial counterpart and recipient of EU support. Over the last decade, the EU has provided over €80 million to civil society programmes in South Africa. Funding is regularly allocated through open calls for proposals, covering a wide range of intervention areas including culture, youth, gender, health, education, local governance, environment and accountability. A roadmap for engagement with civil society serves as a broad strategic framework that addresses face capacity issues of CSOs.

South Africa is the most industrialised country in Africa and with its heavy reliance on coal is responsible for more than half of Africa’s greenhouse gas emissions. Southern Africa is one of 10 climate hot-spots, making South Africa particularly vulnerable to Climate Change. The country is also one of 17 mega biodiverse countries in the world. South Africa is committed to "an environmentally sustainable and equitable transition to a low carbon economy", as expressed in the National Development Plan 2030. If supported by an enabling environment, green sectors have the potential to foster growth and employment as well as to shift the country’s economy – once the current Covid-19 crisis passes – onto a more sustainable development path.

EU-South Africa cooperation in green economy initiatives dates back to the establishment in 2007 of the EU-SA Forum on Environment and Sustainable Development. The forum was revived in 2016 to include further cooperation topics and therefore changed its name to Joint Forum on Environment, Climate Change, Sustainable Development and Water. Areas of green cooperation have included climate change, waste management, sustainable consumption and production, biodiversity, circular economy, water resources management environmental governance and North-South and multilateral cooperation. The climate diplomacy week, undertaken in collaboration with various EU Member States present in South Africa, is an annual highlight for the EU Delegation.

EU funded/supported projects include policy dialogues linking South African institutions with European and Member State entities on issues such as Natural Resource Management; Valuation of Ecosystems, Food Waste, Circular Economy and Natural Capital Accounting. In 2020, the EU launched a €3 million call for proposals for ‘Climate Change Champions’ to strengthen the role of civil society in climate change adaptation and mitigation.

At a regional level, South Africa is one of the EU’s main partners in green economy. The country is a member of several EU-funded regional initiatives such as SWITCH Africa and the UN Partnership for Action on Green Economy (PAGE). The SWITCH Africa Green programme includes support to policy development, support to green businesses (through grants to civil society) and a networking facility aimed at increasing exchanges and cross learning among all participating African countries.

Job creation and sustainable growth are key EU development cooperation objectives in South Africa as well as throughout the continent under the Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investments and Jobs. The EU and South Africa work together to boost strategic public and private investment, through investment programmes and operations that blend both grants and loans.

EU support seeks to foster youth employability by matching skills development to available and needed jobs. In addition, it provides support to relevant government departments for institutional strengthening and/or capacity building to address key areas of employment promotion, e.g. the EU supported the 2018 Jobs Summit and more recently the design and piloting of a Basic Package of Support for Youth in line with the European Youth Guarantee model.

The latter includes ensuring private sector participation and job creation through support to small, micro and medium enterprises (SMME) ecosystem development that    

i)    facilitates their access to finance (with the EU providing grants to de-risk or reduce the cost of borrowing for small business thanks to innovative finance models);

ii)    facilitates their access to markets or business development services, leveraging existing policies;

iii)    strengthens the business environment/climate by addressing the administrative and regulatory burden for small businesses.

The support to employability and growth goes hand in hand with the EU support to the government’s investment in education and skills development. Education has been a focal sector of EU cooperation with South Africa for more than 15 years, and covers the entire education spectrum, from Early Childhood Development to Higher Education and Training. It includes the Erasmus+ academic mobility programme as well as capacity development. The current focus lies in promoting a quality education system that is more inclusive and equitable. More than €370 million have been channelled by the EU to the education sector in South Africa to date.

The support also aims at ensuring that South Africa is able to take full advantage of the potential of regional integration of trade and increase the developmental potential of the SADC-EU Economic Partnership Agreement.

Digital technology is bringing us closer together and altering the way we work, interact and learn. The report of the New Africa-Europe Digital Economy Partnership highlights the opportunities the digital economy in Africa provides for job creation, to collect data, but also as a platform for strengthening human rights, accelerating access to quality basic services, improving transparency and accountability of governments, and enhancing democracy.

Digital tools are being developed and integrated across various EU cooperation programmes in South Africa. The support programme to the National School of Government includes the development of e-learning courses for public servants, for example. In terms of grants, an ongoing project by the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) developed a data collection app for the local government sector. Another grant project uses digital mobile technology in the agricultural sector to support smallholder vegetable farmers to access high value markets.

The EU-South Africa policy dialogue and regular exchange on the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) had significant involvement from EU Member States and resulted in a framework proposal for policy options. The dialogue facilitated the exchange of ideas about key 4IR topics, leading to the identification of pathways for further engagement between the EU and South Africa regarding joint cooperation in identified science, technology and innovation areas, with the ultimate aim of leveraging the 4IR for the public good. Additional policy dialogues targeted EU-South Africa peer exchanges in the area of cyber security and open data, which are respectively a challenge and an opportunity in Europe and South Africa alike.

The cooperation between the EU and South Africa is unique in the context of Sub-Saharan Africa: there are no major migratory flows or challenges between the two countries – rather, the EU and South Africa share a similar migration profile. Both are destinations for migrants from the same pool of countries on the continent.

In 2018 President Ramaphosa announced a reform to the South African visa policy in order to increase investment, trade, tourism, research and academic exchange. All these elements are strong points of cooperation between Europe and South Africa, given that the majority of investment (close to 75%), tourists (57% of overseas presences in 2017) and foreign academics come from Europe. In addition, it is estimated that well over 1 million European passport holders reside in South Africa. As partners we have agreed to develop a migration dialogue in line with the EU Global Approach to Migration and Mobility.

Recent cooperation projects linked to migration include the development of the South African National Action Plan to Combat Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance; support to put the Prevention of and Combating of Trafficking in Person Act into operation; assisting the Department of Justice with the draft bill on Smuggling of Migrants; and countering organised crime through facilitating a strategy to counter drug trafficking on the Southern Route (South Africa, Tanzania and Mozambique).

South Africa’s story is one of a struggle for freedom, of challenge and of change. The country is recognised globally for its progressive Constitution, and plays a leading role in Africa and in multilateral forums. 25 years after its first democratic elections and the subsequent adoption of a new Constitution and its Bill of Rights, and in spite of important progress made, South Africa continues its struggle to make socio-economic rights accessible to its entire population.

Focussed on consolidating democracy, EU support in these area of governance, peace and security has focused on human rights, good governance and support to civil society. For the past two decades, access to, and the promotion of, constitutional rights (incl. socio-economic justice) through the Foundation for Human Rights has been a key element in EU-South Africa relations. Today this relationship is managed through the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development.

Several ongoing programmes contribute to the countries’ constitutional and legal commitments to democracy and good governance and the institutional capacities required to develop and uphold them. As the longest-running support programme (dating back to 1996), the total EU funding to South African national and provincial legislatures amounts to €55 million. It currently focuses on strengthening oversight and public participation, particularly at the provincial level and is complemented with supplementary EU support to civil society organisations active in the sector. Similarly, the ongoing Socio-economic Justice for all Programme (€25 million) supports the South African Constitution’s ambitious rights-based approach framework. Further, a current €10 million capacity-building programme allows the recently established National School of Government to develop improved public service training, including on governance issues in South Africa and the continent.

Gender Equality is a core value of the European Union and is therefore mainstreamed in our cooperation with South Africa. In addition, the EU and South Africa have recently signed a dedicated €10 million programme to specifically support women and girls, as a population group that is systematically targeted and economically disadvantaged.

As noted above, support to civil society has remained an important component of our cooperation with South Africa, including but not limited to the governance and justice sectors. Civil society organisations working in areas such as women’s rights, fighting gender-based violence; rights of people with disabilities; LGBTIQ rights; refugee and migrant rights; access to land, water and housing; access to justice; access to health; transparency and accountability; children’s rights and right to education benefit from financial support.

Contact the Human Rights focal points at the EU Delegation to South Africa:

Mr. I. Febrel

Ms. A. Voix

Email address which they can be contacted on is:

The EU and South Africa share an interest in cultural exchanges for improved mutual understanding, the protection of cultural heritage and the creation/promotion of socio-economic development. It is an important element of the EU's external relations as developed in the joint communication of 2016 entitled “Strategy for international cultural relations”. Beyond supporting its intrinsic value, especially when it comes to cultural and creative industries, the EU Delegation to South Africa promotes culture as a vector to support youth empowerment, human rights and democracy, diversity and multilingualism. The partners share the motto of “united in diversity” which celebrates and embraces diversity and the need for mutual respect and understanding of each other’s cultures and differences.

Cooperation in the cultural sector began in 1998 with a programme on music, film and dance festivals. Since then, support for initiatives also included the area of sports at the time of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. More recently, there has been support to South Africa’s creative industries, and there have been exchanges with Europe on community arts centre policy development and cultural mapping, planning and impact assessment in an urban development context.

The Delegation also collaborates closely with the EU Member States in South Africa to present the annual European Film Festival.


The EU Delegation’s Focal Point for Culture:

Ms. T. Clarke -


Science, technology and innovation can support growth and job creation, which are central to addressing the challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment, especially for youth. The EU and South Africa enjoy close to 25 years of fruitful and successful cooperation in science, technology and innovation. Scientific collaboration between the two was established under the historic Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement, the first agreement that the EU signed with South Africa after the advent of democracy (concluded in 1996, entry into force in late 1997). The country is also the only one in sub-Saharan Africa to have signed a Science and Technology Cooperation agreement with the EU.

The EU bilateral cooperation with South Africa in the area of science and innovation links to one of the three key priorities of the National Development Plan 2030, which focuses on education, training and innovation. A significant element of EU cooperation with South Africa in the sector is the bilateral sector budget support programme, supporting the National System of Innovation. The €15 million programme follows from the recommendations of the completed Innovation for Poverty Alleviation Programme and is implemented by the Department of Science and Innovation.

Our scientific cooperation also covers a range of EU-South Africa policy dialogues that have taken place over recent years, including: Inputs to a Research Infrastructure Road Map for South Africa; an Exchange on best practices regarding various aspects of innovation policy; Space Cooperation EGNOS Satellite System & Cooperation and promotion of investment in Research & Development & Innovation (with the European Business Chambers and Associations). More recently, extensive dialogues were carried out in the areas of Open Source Science Policy, the 4IR and Circular Economy.

Apart from direct cooperation with South Africa, the EU funds several initiatives which have significant science, technology and innovation components. Several entities also benefit from the support by the Horizon 2020 programme, the biggest EU Research and Innovation programme to date, which is targeted at driving economic growth and creating jobs. To date, the Horizon 2020 programme has channelled €49 million to South Africa. Additionally, the previous programme (7th Framework Programme) channelled €34.7 million to the country.

South Africa is one of the main recipients of EU funding for health research due to the burden of disease caused by HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis as well as non-communicable conditions such as diabetes and hypertension, as well as due to its diverse population, its excellent research institutions and its well established links with European ones. Some two thirds of EU investment in health research to South Africa is channelled through the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP) Programme, part of Horizon 2020. EDCTP is a public-private partnership that brings together, as equals, the European Union, 16 African and 14 European countries to combat infectious diseases in sub-Saharan Africa. South African institutions participate in 60 EDCTP-financed projects for a total amount of over €212 million. 

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