A casual look at Europe's and Africa's experiences of integration suggests that they share certain similarities. Their respective institutional frameworks (Commissions, Parliaments and Councils) bear certain similarities and they share a similar policy objective of developing economic communities through the pursuit of market integration (the European Economic Community (EEC) following the 1957 Rome Treaty, and the African Economic Community (AEC) according to the 1991 Abuja Treaty). These noted similarities have generated a debate on whether or not the European experience of integration has diffused to and informed Africa's practice of regional integration by its continental body the African Union (AU). This study brings a contribution to this debate by investigating a number of channels through which the EU experience of integration could have flowed to the AU, drawing from the policy transfer and diffusion literature. It investigates the process leading up to the adoption of the institutions and policy frameworks of the African Union in a bid to establish whether they were created in response to functional problems in Africa and independently from the EU experience or were a mere attempt to mimic and copy from the EU regional integration experience. Such an investigation is important because both the AU's failure to meet its integration milestones and inability to make a meaningful contribution to the continent's development haven often been blamed on failed attempt to replicate the EU's integration success because it settled for a replication of the EU's institutions and policies without paying attention to their applicability in the African Context.
This study thus formulates hypotheses to test for the diffusion of the EU's experience to the AU by testing for evidence of the EU's influence through the provision of incentives and conditionalities attached to financial and technical assistance to the AU. It also tests for lesson drawing and mimicry as possible actions from the AU that would encourage the diffusion of the EU experience. It applies a process tracing methodology to a diffusion analytical framework and proceeds through a consultation of the archives of the African Union Commission and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) both based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. This is complemented by interviews with AU and EU commission staff and other stakeholders identified as potential agents for diffusion.
The study found that notwithstanding recognition of the EU as a successful integration experience, there were no formal avenues of diffusion of institutional norms and practises that were programmed along with EU financial and technical assistance in the lifetime of the OAU/AU before the 2007 adoption of the JAES. It also found that the OAU adopted its institutions of integration as part of an effort to create an African Economic Community informed by the established best practice from around the world and looking to a number of institutional models, particularly that of the UN's Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). It also found that the EU's experience may have only diffused to the AU indirectly through the mechanism of normative emulation. This is due to the fact that the EU integration experience has been dominant within the integration literature and has also significantly defined and informed the global best practice of regional integration. It finds that other factors are responsible for the failure of the AU's integration efforts to attain their milestones or make a significant contribution to the continent's development. This includes the absence of a culture of evidence based (backed by research) adoption of policies at the AU, like the absence of a cost-benefit analysis of the benefits of further integration to AU members states that could contribute to increase their commitment to continental integration project. This would intend push them to transpose continental commitments to national laws and development plans and provide more financial support to the AUC.
These findings point to the fact that the witnessed similarities between some EU and AU institutions and policy frameworks are not the result of the AU attempting to mimic the EU but much more a reflection of their joint subscription to a common orthodoxy of trade liberalisation as a means to prosperity .They share an ideological disposition and belief in the merits of (economic and political) integration for the improvement of the welfare of their citizens and as an avenue to exercise more influence on the global political arena. The EU by its success and experience over the years has significantly influenced the global understanding and practice of regional integration, from which the AU has drawn to determine its own processes. Which led this study to conclude that from this perspective the EU process of integration is both relevant and applicable to the African context.