The EU-ACP negotiations: process of chaos and order

The reality of the world today presents us with a grim, spiralling and unsettling picture. It’s manifestation can be seen in Nigeria in form of the increasing terrorist activities, or the fraudulent EVMs of Botswana in context of the 2019 elections, or rising populism in Italy or even the Spanish struggle over its federal structure and division of power. Colouring international politics in a vicious shade of upheaval, disarray and turbulent transitions.

Source: libraryeuroparl

It is in the backdrop of this state of flux, that 106 countries – making up 60% of the UN General Assembly – from the European Union (EU) and the African, Caribbean, and Pacific Group of Countries (ACP) are beginning the process of renegotiating the basis of their historic partnership. Beyond being a critical juncture in their relationship, it provides us with an opportunity to retrospect, analyse and plan ahead for this unique event of constructive development (concerning more than 50% of the countries in the world) amidst internal and external chaos and confusion.

This historic partnership of the EU and ACP has been an impressive journey, reflective of the changing orientation of world relations.  Emerging from the experience of colonialism, the ACP Group of Countries’ relation with the European Union developed as a mechanism for aid and redressal under the Lomé Convention of 1975. With the end of the Cold War power dynamics, the Lomé Convention was replaced with an updated Cotonou Agreement of 2003. The Lomé Convention and the Cotonou Agreement acted as skeletal frameworks to flesh out the complex relations between the EU and the ACP, and have provided marker for guidance and retrospection. The recent public hearing in March 2018, by the European Parliament Committee on Development on ‘the future of the EU-ACP relations’ marks the next phase in the EU-ACP relation. As we witness the formation of a new and evolved world order, the EU-ACP partnership is being reoriented and the roadmap for next chapter of partnership is being laid out.

Retrospect

Before we delve into the exciting possibilities and potential of the EU-ACP partnership, it is important to step-back and reflect on the development of their relationship and learn from past experiences. Here, considering the large magnitude of impact of the EU-ACP partnership, it is not so surprising to see the wide gamut of areas of mutual interest. However, it is profoundly surprising that despite these extensive areas of mutual interest very little collective action has been taken. The failure of this can be located at three levels.

First, when in 1975 the former French, British, Belgian, Spanish and Portuguese colonies joined forces to form the ACP group that led to the Lomé Agreements, this granted them true legal status as well as a common identity. These States were now able to promote a development model and claim privileged access to the Common Market. Further, the ACP-EU relation was based on their colonial past and acted as a mechanism for the erstwhile colonizers to continue their support for the development and growth of their previously governed territories. It also gave a platform for the ACP countries to voice their opinions and collectively work towards getting aid and support for themselves. However, over time, the relevance of the colonial past of the countries has diminished, and instead alternative regional platforms like the African Union have taken a centre stage.

Second, as a consequence to the pervious point, the European Union has been more proactive in dealing with matters on a bilateral level with the country counterparts instead of approaching the ACP as a whole.

Third, a more pertinent problem for the EU-ACP relation has been the internal complexities in the ACP countries reaching on to a consensus. The countries over time have moved in different directions, politically and economically. For instance the island nation of the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean, for example, has quite different challenges compared to the landlocked African nation of Zambia. The varied geography, access to resources, stages of development and aspirations of the ACP member countries makes it extremely difficult for any initiative or program between EU and ACP to actually take shape. To successful revive the EU-ACP partnership and make progress towards tangible change and development, the first order of business would be get the ACP member states in agreement with one another.

Analysis and Plan Ahead

Taking into account the past shortcoming, a very obvious analysis is the need for reorienting and restructuring the nature of the partners. Here, having a focused and limited area of partnership that caters to the interest of all member states would help revive the relations between EU and ACP.

And with in the limited area, two critical themes can be the game changer – migration and climate change. In the case of migration, particularly from Africa, Europe sees a large number of illegal migrations, trafficking and smuggling. Considering the general experience of the EU with migration issues and their commitment to collectively tackle it, an agreement with ACP would help all countries overcome the complications of bilateral dealing and would instead provide a platform for effectively resolving such problems. Particularly for the EU, an agreement on this theme will go a long way in its agenda of humanitarian help and addressing the migration crisis.

In the case of climate change, the past experience of EU-ACP relations with the Paris Agreement shows the potential of a joint commitment, along with the fact that environment plays a crucial role in the politics of the individual countries of the EU and ACP makes climate change a relevant issued for all. With countries backing out of environmental agreements, EU and ACP can together champion the cause of climate change and bring it back to the global agenda. Rather considering the growing need for energy alternatives by the developing ACP countries, by collaborating on the theme of environment and climate, the EU can achieve its commitment to a healthier planet and the ACP can have access to good practices and green energy technology.

Beyond the direct benefits of healthy multilateral relations, by having a cohesive working relation between 60% of the countries of the world, we would be a step closer to cordial international relations and conflict resolution mechanism. It would boost trust building, and be an effective deterrent to the growing isolationist sentiments.

The commencement of the post-Cotonou negotiation process began with the recent public hearing in March 2018, by the European Parliament Committee on Development on ‘the future of the EU-ACP relations’. This is the perfect opportunity to work on the kinks, and move towards creating a vibrant EU-ACP partnership. In the chaos and disruption of world affairs of the present time, this negotiation process has the potential to reinstate calm, order and stability.

This piece was a joint effort between InPRA and GA  monitoring 

Varya Srivastava

Varya Srivastava

Intern at InPRA
Varya Srivastava is presently pursing her undergraduate degree in Political Science from University of Delhi. Her work with the United Services Institute, Global Youth India and SheSays has nurtured her interest in security studies, international relations, conflict analysis and feminism. As a part of her undergraduate research she is writing on the application Democratic Peace Theory as foreign policy tool and the conception of positive peace.
Varya Srivastava