Eminent and other persons: asking the right questions to the right people
In recent years, various studies and stakeholders have reflected, both formally and informally on the scope for, and configuration of, the ACP Group and its future cooperation with the European Union- meaning after 2020 when the current Partnership Agreement, signed in 2000 in Cotonou, expires.
Mostly focusing on the Brussels-based ACP and EU stakeholders who manage and shape ACP-EU cooperation, reflection processes on both sides have failed so far, to reach out to their respective constituencies. A joint research project by the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM) and the German Development Institute (DIE) identified strikingly low levels of awareness and support for the ACP and the Cotonou Agreement in ACP countries.
For the ACP Group in particular, linking back to its member states and their people will be crucial for any reform process to gain credibility and traction. In doing so, special attention should go to engaging with the youth and with civil society organisations. As such, the usefulness of the Eminent Persons Group’s (EPG) regional consultations, arguably an exercise to break through the “Brussels-bubble” will to a large extent depend on who is consulted. Local voices echoing the Brussels’ narrative of their respective ambassadors will not result in the critical input required to future proof the Group, let alone its cooperation with the EU.
Whereas former studies and discussions understandably departed from the current set up, focussing on institutional aspects and valuable elements that are deemed worth preserving, the EPG’s mandate to “provide guidance for the future” offers a welcome opportunity to take the reflection process to a deeper level of more fundamental questions regarding the ACP’s value-added as a Group and likely areas for intra-ACP cooperation. Taking a substance-over-format approach could enable the identification of a niche area where the Group can act as a valuable player in the global patchwork of international bodies and governance frameworks. One vital consideration to bear in mind when discussing such questions is to assess to what extent ACP Member States are willing to reform the Group into a financially independent institution.
Finally, with regard to its future cooperation modalities with the EU, the EPG’s regional consultations should provide input for a joint reflection. So far, reflections on a post-Cotonou era have followed a parallel process with little to no inter-organisational consultation between EU and ACP officials. While next year’s change of Commission is likely to reinvigorate sleeping initiatives on the EU-side, (like the Informal Working Group on the future of ACP-EU cooperation, established in 2010 an jointly chaired by the EEAS and the Commission’s DG DEVCO), the outcome and findings of the regional consultation rounds should provide credible and useful input for both the rationale and design of a new cooperation framework.
In conclusion, the EPG consultation rounds should be perceived and conducted as a bold soul-searching exercise. While such an undertaking might not necessarily be undividedly pleasant, facing up to new realities and emerging global dynamics will prove key in whether the ACP succeeds in future-proofing itself and its historic relation to the EU.*
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.