Opinion October 2, 2015 | 12:19 pm

Europe to consider future of ACP relationship

In amatter of days the European Commission will launch a communication (policy paper)on the options for post-Cotonou arrangements with the ACP; the grouping thatbrings together 79 African, Caribbean and Pacific Nations.

The documentis intended to initiate a public dialogue in Europe and the ACP about whatmight follow the present EU-ACP Cotonou Partnership Agreement which expires in 2020.This is the arrangement that since 2000 has governed Europe’s development, politicaland trade relationship, although this latter aspect has been, for most of the ACP,superseded by regional Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs).

The new communication,when it is published, is expected to raise questions about how Europe should infuture relate to the ACP in a world much changed, that is becoming politicallyand socially unstable, in which economic globalisation has taken root, and inwhich Europe has multiple new priorities.

Senior Europeanofficials make clear that for these and other reasons it will raise fundamentalquestions.

Thepaper will be wide ranging but is likely to focus on whether the once uniquevalue of the European relationship with what were mainly former colonies has nowbeen superseded by an à la carte European approach to other groupings to whichACP member states also belong. It will question whether newer EU agreementswith regions such as Central America have for Europe caused the once specialrelationship with the ACP as a whole to attenuate. It is also likely to seekviews on whether in this light a more rational approach would now be for Europeto seek dialogue on a regional basis, and how best to make Europe’s desire tomake political dialogue more prominent in any future arrangement.

The ACP toohas begun a separate process of deliberation.

The ACPSecretary General, PI Gomes, recognises that not only must the group change andbe alert to broader thinking, but is encouraging with passion the ACP as agroup to begin to identify the areas where a changed organisation could notonly have value in an EU context but also play a greater role on a the globalstage.

Thatsaid, it is concerning that the ACP has not sought to produce a green paper of itsown when it has been publicly clear since last September, when the new EuropeanCommissioner for Development, Neven Mimica – in itself an alternative message asthe Commissioner is a Croatian – took office and announced he would initiate a reviewof the ACP relationship.

Instead,once again, the European Commission has been able to establish the agenda bysetting down in writing first the parameters for the debate, and by encouragingall with an interest to share their views with them.

Unfortunatelyin a world in which diplomats and ministers are no longer always the principalactors, governments have yet to bring the matter to the attention of those inthe Caribbean who represent civil society, key groups for the future such asthe environmentalists, or those also involved in development and wealthcreation, the private sector.

What isrequired in response is a fundamental strategic debate in the region as the Europeancommunication will ask questions that require the Caribbean to first have answersabout how it sees its future relationship with the world.

If theregion is to be able to respond on how its sees future relations with a Europeof 28 nations with little significant interest in the Caribbean other thanshared values, security and change in Cuba, it needs first to determine whatrelative weight, balance and flexibility it will assign to other futurerelationships; with the US, Canada, China, Venezuela, a resurgent Russia, and avariety of new actors with alternative economic interests such as Brazil andthe Gulf States.

Answersare also required about how the region now sees the ACP group itself, and whetherit believes that the grouping has future utility and if it represents, as itwere, value for money. Put another way, aside from emotion, history and rhetoricabout solidarity, where and how in future will this eclipsed grouping add valueand how if it is to continue should it be restructured into a lite, flexible organisationthat has mechanisms that ensure it is genuinely inclusive of the societies thatit speaks for?

Whilethere is a whole column to be written on how to make the institution relevant,and on the nature of future demand for its advocacy, in fairness it is alsoclear that in some areas, such as the concerns of small island developing statesand constructing the building blocks for global coalitions on climate change,the ACP continues to play a crucial role.

However,this does not negate the so far unasked question of whether the Caribbean’svoice could be more effective deployed in future through newer groupings in theAmericas such as the Community of Latin Americanand Caribbean States/Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños (CELAC), or how the new and overlapping relationships somenations have established beyond Caricom might relate to any future form ofpartnership agreement with the EU.

Finding answers will be particularly important as it isclear that Europe, the United States and almost every other country, when itcomes to seeking support or alliances, no longer thinks in terms of turningregularly to one grouping. Rather its Ministers and officials will first ask themselveswhich one or ones are best suited to address the problem at hand.

Another consideration, closely related to the future of theACP-EU relationship, is the so far little discussed implications for theCaribbean of the recent UN decision to endorse seventeen SustainableDevelopment Goals from 2015 to 2030. What is far from clear is how these willin future change all development policy towards the Caribbean by Europe andother nations.

A further contentious issue that will emerge from theCommunication is the EU’s desire to raise the profile of ‘political dialogue’ inany future agreement. This is shorthand for issues to do with having astructured dialogue on human rights, the death penalty, LBGT issues, pressfreedom, the rule of law and all of the related values that Europe believes inand feels that all of its partners should be willing to embrace.

The timetable to respond to Europe’s communication will beshort. It should not be left just to the development professionals, academicsand officials. In particular those in the younger generation in the Caribbean whowant to shape the future need to read the communication and become involved.

DavidJessop is a consultant to the Caribbean Council and can be contacted at

[email protected]

Previouscolumns can be found at www.caribbean-council.org

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