The ACP Group - has it got a future? Vision, strategy, reform
If one accepts the claim that the only entity capable of breaking up the ACP Group are the member states themselves then the answer to the above question also lies squarely with individual ACP countries. In such circumstance, the first principle that needs to be confirmed is the commitment and desire of the member states to stay together as the ACP family. The proclamations made by the current Chairpersons of the African Union, CARIFORUM and the Pacific ACP Leaders Meeting during the 7th Summit of ACP Heads of State and Government held in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea reconfirmed their solidarity to remain as the ACP Group post-2020. By so declaring their strong support for the ACP Group, Heads have also reaffirmed the value-added of their individual membership of the Group and provide a solid foundation for the Group to begin discussion on its future.
During the last 37 years of ACP-EU cooperation and partnership what have been the real and concrete benefits to both sides. In financial terms, the ACP side received €78.649 billion between 1975 and 2013 from the EDF. This is a substantial volume of development assistance but it begs one question: were these resources utilised effectively on activities central and pivotal to the development priorities of ACP countries? I am of the view that things could have been much better.
Partnership - an honest assessment
From the EU perspective, there is a feeling that ACP-EU relations need an honest and deep assessment both in direction and content. Clearly as in any donor-donee relationship, and here lies the fundamental flaw in ACP-EU relations as well as in other aid programmes, reference to partnership and hence the assumption of equal partners being involved in the decision making process, is a myth.
The EU gives aid to the ACP Group because they perceive benefits accruing to them whether such benefits emerge from the political, security or economic spheres. In other words they have "expectations" of what their aid should deliver in the spheres of their personal interest. This is not to deny the humanitarian side of aid-giving which is present but it is not the key motivation. On the donee side, they accept EU assistance because they believe that their development aspirations would be achieved as a result. But expectations and reality, as has often been the case in aid giving, can be miles apart.
The perspectives from the EU and those articulated by the ACP Group on the mutual benefits of the ACP-EU Partnership would therefore need to be reconciled and the key challenge is to maximize the overlaps between these viewpoints. Ultimately, concrete results and outcomes on the ground are the best measure of whether ACP-EU cooperation has achieved their objectives.
What is the value added and benefits of ACP-EU relations beyond 2020? Here, the response is not only dependent on the ACP but more importantly on the EU as well. Both must be convinced that their relationship and engagement past 2020 would be mutually beneficial and will endure the test of time. Whatever forms this new post-Cotonou relationship and engagement would take, there must be complete commitment and acceptance by both sides of the "equality” of such a partnership. The challenge therefore is to find common grounds for post-Cotonou relations that would live up to the challenges and opportunities of another cycle of ACP-EU engagement and partnership.
By 2020 the ACP would have reached its 45th year of existence. By all account, the Group should be mature and be able to demonstrate its independence and political commitment to the cause. This maturity must emerge in primarily two forms: resources to support the bulk of the Secretariat work programme; and the bestowing on the appropriate organs of the Group, by member states, the “sovereignty” to act on behalf of the Group on issues of global import and essential to the achievement of the Group’s vision and objectives.
Focus areas, "sovereignty", partners
Active engagement and participation of all relevant ACP actors is essential if the Group is to arrive at a collective vision of what the organization should be beyond 2020. This vision and mission must be informed and driven by past experience and future aspirations solidly framed around a number of guiding principles. The first of these is the obvious and glaring fact that the Group cannot and should not try to do everything. In such circumstances, the Group needs to thoroughly analyze and agree on those key strategic areas where an All-ACP approach is the most effective. Other issues that are better undertaken and negotiated at the regional and national levels should remain in the jurisdiction of the countries and organizations concerned.
Second, having identified and agreed on those all-ACP strategic areas for focus, the Group must then decide on which of these, if any, they are prepared to hand over their “sovereignty” to the organization. This is a critical point and must not be taken lightly. Clearly, it cannot be business as usual. The Group must adapt and reinvent itself so that it can deliver on its vision, promise and core functions to its constituents. Experience of the EU in this sphere would be a useful guide for the Group.
Third, and in line with its overall vision and mission, the Group would then need to identify and decide on those countries and organizations besides the EU framework that would assist it achieve its declared and stated objectives as equal partners. This is a challenging and urgent matter for it would also involve the establishment of new processes to manage and govern new relations and engagement. For ACP-EU relations, the agreed post-2020 content and form would also need to be agreed taking into account a number of scenarios and options. The process affecting ACP-EU relations could begin as early as 2014 when the review of the Cotonou Agreement commences.
Boosting the Secretariat
Once the vision, mission and goals of the Group have been agreed, the next stage will then involve the restructuring of the General Secretariat to ensure that it has the optimal structure and calibre of staff to assist the Organization deliver on its promise and vision. This exercise is critical and must be undertaken in an objective and realistic manner.
A restructured and lean ACP Group would thus focus on a limited number of key global issues central to the achievement of its stated vision with national governments and regional integration organizations concentrating on those areas best undertaken at the national and regional levels. The Group must also demonstrate its commitment to itself by agreeing to fund the bulk of the resources required to support its agreed programme of work. The EU would remain a major partner in this new vision whilst other countries and organizations could also be persuaded to be new partners.
It is anticipated that whilst the core issues emerging from the Pacific conference would probably be consistent with the perceptions of other ACP regions, it is very possible that there would be issues that are of specific interest and concern to Pacific ACP countries. The issue of ownership cannot be overstated and as such the real and active participation of all stakeholders in the consultation process is considered critical and essential.
The views expressed are entirely those of the author. They do not necessarily represent the views of the ACP Group or any of its member states, the ACP Secretariat or the ACP Eminent Persons Group.