The Future of ACP-EU Relations

Published on 29th March 2016

The acquired achievements of Lomé and Cotonou constitute a good foundation for the continuation and strengthening of the ACP-EU relationship. In an increasingly interdependent world there is need to strengthen, rather than diminish, the modes of structured cooperation that have served us well, and the ACP-EU partnership has proven its worth over the past 40 years. One of its unheralded strengths is the spirit of partnership embedded in its working methods at national and regional levels and at all-ACP level. For instance, the implementation of EDF funded actions follows negotiated procedures according to priorities identified by ACP authorities for national and regional indicative programmes as well as the intra-ACP strategy. This is what infuses the ACP-EU relationship with its unique character of partnership and joint ownership.

There is a vibrant debate in EU circles about the future of the ACP Group. Some of the apparent skepticism is clearly misplaced. Part of the reason of course, is conflating the future of ACP-EU relations, given the imminent expiry of the Cotonou Agreement in 2020.

At every opportunity that I have had to discuss these issues, I have striven to emphasise that there is no question about the continuation of the ACP Group as a single entity. Our Constitutive Act, the Georgetown Agreement, has no timeframes. The question of the future of the ACP Group, if ever there was one, was emphatically answered by the Declaration of the 7th ACP Summit held at Sipopo in Equatorial Guinea, in which it was resolutely stated that the ACP Group is determined to stay united as a Group.

This is important to bear in mind in all our interactions with our partners because of the threat of fragmentation along the lines of what has occurred with the EPAs in which regionalisation appears to have been the ultimate aim. We should not dilute the power of the ACP Group, held up by the numerical strength of its 79 Member States, having a common voice and expressing their solidarity on major issues related to global trade, political engagement, governance and mutually beneficial development cooperation.

Our attachment to continuing and strengthening relations with the EU, and reaching to other partners, should not be construed as anxiety or a preoccupation to ensure continued flows of aid; rather, we are desirous to see how development financing can be more supportive and conducive to the attainment of the goals that the international community has committed itself to in Agenda 2030.

However, we would also like to see trade much more as an instrument that will help to transform our economies. We do that much better by learning from each other in the South, and we do that much more by looking at the ways and means of common approaches to policy instruments of developed and developing countries.  To make Agenda 2030 meaningful in each of our societies, the gains made by any of our societies on food security, health and nutrition, fighting aids or empowering women, for example, must be lessons that benefit all out societies.

There is still untapped potential for governments and donors to explore ways of scaling up their engagement in the pursuit of more peaceful, just, inclusive and successful societies. We acknowledge that we cannot pursue these lofty ideals without considering other social and political issues that could hinder or promote the vibrancy of cooperation instruments such as the Cotonou Agreement.

The fundamental challenge is to craft policies that will enable the rich and those less privileged to act in the best interest of society. The core issues come down to whether we can envision and promote economic systems that generate jobs, ensure food security and lead to rising living standards for all inhabitants of this planet in a more sustainable and ethical way.

In discussions on the future perspectives of the ACP Group, the Committee of Ambassadors and the Eminent Persons Group have emphasized the need for the ACP Group to explore partnerships with other entities. The Secretariat is already undertaking some activities to explore common grounds of action with other organisations as precursors for building on South-South and Triangular Cooperation.

In February, the ACP Secretariat, the OIF and the FAO with the support of the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Community of Portuguese-speaking countries (CPLP) organised a symposium which focused on operational aspects of South-South and Triangular Cooperation and concrete actions that can be scaled up and enhanced for the benefit of marginalised populations.

Participants examined key areas including the development of skills, enhancing institutional capacities, improving access to technology, land and efficient business services.  These areas portrayed a special focus on how the mechanisms of South-South and Triangular Cooperation can help bring about change in developing countries across the ACP region and beyond.

In the same spirit, the Secretariat shall be convening a special post COP 21 meeting as a follow-up to the successful conclusion of the Climate Conference in Paris in December 2015. The goal of the two-day meeting is to facilitate dialogue and discuss follow-up actions to implement the Paris Agreement in collaboration with our partners and to specifically focus on key issues affecting the ACP Group.

We shall follow this seminar with another convocation at the end of this month, bringing together representatives of regional integration organisations to see how we can enhance inter-regional cooperation for the attainment of Agenda 2030.

In all such activities, the message the Secretariat is projecting is that ACP countries have a long history of collaboration in various fields in addition to what we have achieved under the ACP-EU partnership. We are excited to share these experiences with other organisations, and to highlight the added value of South-South and Triangular Cooperation in enhancing inclusiveness, diversity, innovation and genuine partnerships.  The outcomes of all such meetings inform our own design of programmes and strategic objectives for the future perspectives of the ACP Group.

In conclusion, I would like to add that whatever is done at multilateral level merely sets the groundwork. The real work of implementation is at national level. All our endeavors in terms of development interventions in ACP countries depend on maintaining peace and political stability in our Member States. The stability of our political systems rests on the ability of public officials and institutions especially parliamentary institutions to engender trust and confidence on the part of our people, and to apply the highest level of integrity in their political decisions.

By Dr. Patrick I. Gomes
Secretary General, ACP.

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