Written by Raphale Rifflet (external contributor)


Amidst Ethiopia’s ongoing internal strife, the European Union’s commitment to its values is in question. Despite calls for accountability from French and German ministers, European nations are swiftly re-engaging with Addis Ababa, overlooking issues like press restrictions and ethnic tensions. Geopolitical concerns and competition with China and Russia seem to be prioritising economic interests over EU values. This expedited re-engagement risks compromising the EU’s reputation as a reliable African partner, ignoring Ethiopia’s unreliable peace process and human rights abuses.



When the French and German foreign ministers last visited Ethiopia in January 2023, both placed accountability for the crimes committed by the Ethiopian federal government as a precondition for the normalisation of relations between their countries and Ethiopia (AP News, 2023). These declarations were meant to set the requirements for European re-engagement with the country following the Pretoria Cessation of Hostilities Agreement signed in November 2022, that ended the latest bout of hostilities in Tigray.

However, despite the Ethiopian juridical system falling short of holding perpetrators accountable, European nations have been rushing to re-engage with Addis-Ababa. Issues such as the restrictions of press freedom (Addis Standard, 2023), the disappearance of thousands of Tigrayan war prisoners (Al Jazeera, 2023a), and the introduction of Ethiopia’s new biometric ID system that will identify citizens based on ethnicity in a country deeply divided by ethnic tensions,  continue to be largely ignored (Zelalem, 2023).

Brussels views the Horn of Africa region asstrategically important” (European Commission, 2022) and competition for influence with Russia and China is eroding The European Union’s (EU) values-based approach to international relations. It appears that, in the face of geopolitical competition in the region, prioritisation of economic interests and realpolitik seem to be the name of the game.

Ethiopia’s internal situation

Despite being the largest ongoing conflict at the time (Hjelmgaard et al., 2022), the civil war in Ethiopia was largely overshadowed by the war in Ukraine (Borrell Fontelles, 2022b). The  Ethiopian Human Rights Commission found that both sides were guilty of war crimes (EHRC-OHCHR, 2023) and the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE) concluded that federal forces committed such crimes in a deliberate campaign of terror against Tigryan civilians (United Nations Human Rights Committee, 2022). Concerns were raised over the risks of genocide (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2022).

The Pretoria Peace Agreement has far from signalled the end of violence in Ethiopia. The country remains in a state of civil war as fighting continues in the Oromia region (Gouache, 2023) and the integration of militias allied to the federal government into the Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) resulted in violence (Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2023a).

The continued presence of Eritrean forces in Tigray remains a threat to lasting peace, proving to be a thorn in the side of the African Union’s (AU) team charged with evaluating the implementation of the Pretoria agreement (EEPA, 2023b). This volatile situation has directly contributed to continued violence against Tigrayan civilians, who are left without protection (Tigrai Television, 2023).

The Ethiopian government has proven itself time and time again to be an unreliable partner in the peace process. It has a history of using humanitarian donations to fund its military campaigns, as well as hindering the work of the ICHREE, the only independent body investigating war crimes committed during the conflict (Weldemichel et al., 2022).

The ICHREE has faced numerous attempts by the Ethiopian authorities to de-fund its activities and terminate its mandate (admin, 2022), has been refused access to crime scenes (Bloomberg, 2023), and suffers continued restrictions on internet access in certain regions (Bekele, 2023). In the meantime, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali’s  administration has been denying the ICHREE’s findings (Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2023b), while providing the international community with erroneous reports (United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, 2023).

European re-engagement

Yet, the current state of affairs has not dissuaded European states from seeking business and political ties with Addis-Ababa. At Union level, European Council President Charles Michel met with the Ethiopian President Sahle-Work Zewde and the Prime Minister, to discuss bilateral ties and development relations (The Ethiopian Herald, 2023b). The EU special representative to the Horn of Africa later confirmed that Brussels is ready to further strengthen its diplomatic relations with Ethiopia (The Ethiopian Herald, 2023a).

At the Member State level, a meeting between Abiy and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni resulted in a financial collaboration agreement and a statement of intention to increase Italian investments in Ethiopia (Agenzia Nova, 2023). Meloni later visited Ethiopia to hold discussions with Abiy to increase bilateral cooperation (EEPA, 2023a).

A meeting between Ethiopian finance minister Ahmed Shide and Danish development cooperation and global climate affairs minister Dan Jurgen resulted in a promised influx of Danish investments, with other Nordic countries showing similar interest (Ethiopian News Agency, 2023). With the Benelux countries also pledging full support to the creation of economic partnerships (EEPA, 2022).

French President Emmanuel Macron also met Abyi to discuss bilateral issues and increased cooperation and investment opportunities (Fana Broadcasting Media, 2023). The French Ambassador to Ethiopia, Rémi Maréchaux, went as far as stating that Parisis willing to resume military cooperation with Ethiopia “sooner rather than later” (Capital, 2022).

Realpolitik over moral stance?

European countries are seemingly turning a blind eye to the tainted record of Abiy’s government. This is largely in response to the increasing presence of China and Russia in the region. Ethiopia is a key member of Beijing’s Oceanic Belt and Road Initiative, and has intensified strategic cooperation in trade and investment with the East Asian giant. Ethiopian goods have even been granted a “free-tarifftreatment by Beijing (Tilahun, 2023).

Russia has also stepped up its presence in the region, setting up trade missions to Ethiopia and making significant moves in  neighbouring countries, such as of Sudan (Al Jazeera, 2023b) and Eritrea (Miriri, 2023) as well as Djibouti (TASS, 2023).

According to Martin Plaut, Horn of Africa expert and journalist, these developments have played a major role in motivating Germany and France to exert influence on the European External Action Service (EEAS) to create a road map for the normalisation of relations with Ethiopia (Plaut, 2023).


The EU’s hastened re-engagement in Ethiopia represents the latest iteration of a pattern of opportunistic behaviour that has severely damaged the image of the Union as a reliable partner to Africa. The EU was not invited to be an observer in Pretoria despite it being the most consistent funder of the AU commission, standing by them through controversy (Dewaal, 2022) and being vocal in its support of a peace deal (Borrell Fontelles, 2022a).

It has now lost the image of a consistent and reliable partner, an image that could have overcome the burden of the European colonial legacy and set itself apart from China’s economic weight and Russia’s willingness to engage deeper in security agreements.



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