Towards a new and improved ACP-EU for today's world
Both the ACP and the EU have to reinvent themselves and continue their longstanding relationship based within a new relevance that speaks to today's world. The ACP plays a pivotal role in bringing together a large group of developing countries, which are spread over three continents. They represent interests that are not just regionally defined, but are defined by the nature of their level of development. This is not static, and I believe that the ACP has a tremendous capacity to grow in the coming decades, but at this point it represents special development interests linked to the availability of natural resources, coupled with challenges of extreme poverty, inequalities and social challenges.
A power broker for developing countries
The ACP does not replace other existing groups such as the African Union or the G77. With regards to the AU, the difference is that the ACP is not geographically defined and therefore it has a much greater potential to represent interests of developing countries at global level. With regards to the G77 - this group includes the BRICS [emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa], so it is often divided on development issues. Therefore, the ACP can play a constructive role to organise the representation of the developing countries within the context of the G77.
International affairs is very layered. If you look at the EU, we have the EU 28, then we have the Monetary Union, we have Schengen, etc. We have some member states who are members of the UN Security Council. We have members organised in different groupings in the World Bank. So international relations are inherently messy, in that they represent historic realities and they represent multi-layered interests. Thus, if the EU has varied representations at so many levels why should other groupings be denied multiple representative fora? To me where efficiency comes in, is in the question whether the ACP Group can do something that other groups cannot do, or are not set up to do.
I see the future relevance of the ACP Group in really being a power broker for developing countries, working with BRICS, with Europe and with the international community on issues of common interest for the future of this planet.
EU needs stable friendships
The EU's long term interests are served by reliable and profound relations with a group of countries. Bilateral relations are inherently unstable, while collaboration between groups gives a much greater stability. The EU has always been vulnerable for its lack of natural resources. In the coming three decades we are also going to suffer from demographic effects, with double ageing (number and age) and reduced labour force. We are facing huge challenges within increased global competition.
So we really need stable friends. Friends are sustained based on mutual interests, on shared history and on tradition. The EU and the ACP have worked together since the EC's inception. It is to me obvious that the EU would be much weaker without its relationship with the ACP as a whole. No other regional partnership can boast such institutional capacity and historic relationship with the EU.
Model partnership for sustainable development
The United Nations High Level Panel (HLP) has very clearly set out the challenges up to 2030:
1. Leave no one behind
2. Put sustainable development at the core
3. Transform economies for jobs and inclusive growth
4. Build peace and effective, open and accountable institutions for all; and
5. Forge a new global partnership
I see this conform with the ACP - EU partnership. The EU and the ACP have the global partnership that the HLP is recommending! Why would anyone want to abolish that to then build it up again?
The HLP provides an agenda that is universal and inclusive and which has the future of the planet at its core. It looks at how economies can adapt to these priorities and how natural resources become engines for development for all. It identifies how stable institutions can become the core of creating societies that are safe and which provide predictable environments for economic activity and growth.
It also says that we need each other to this in partnership, to share markets, share innovation, share resources. The ACP - EU partnership should adopt this agenda and provide leadership on this internationally. Such leadership can increase the visibility and leadership role of both the ACP and the EU and benefit both.
Vision is crucial, but archaic habits need to go
A re-invented independent ACP Group is very feasible, it really just requires vision. The representations in Brussels are there, as well as in Geneva and in New York and in places such as Addis Ababa. It just requires really the wish to jointly give visibility and build platforms for sharing. Today is a very different world. There is M-negotiation and twitter diplomacy; you don’t need heavy offices to support a common objective.
I think what I found striking is that the mandate of the ACP Committee of Ambassadors has remained unchanged throughout all this time, and has remained limited in scope to ACP - EU cooperation. This is the first thing that should be changed, as it is archaic and not adapted to current day reality. This group of ambassadors should concern itself with ACP interests in key areas, such as climate change and international development as well as trade.
I was also surprised to find the limited scope of the Secretary General. This a key asset of the ACP - its trump card if you like - but a leader is only worth as much as the confidence and trust it gets from those he represents.
Finally, I see a new generation coming up in ACP and in EU countries with totally different perspectives on international relations. Members of this generation are simultaneously part of different worlds, they have studied together, they speak on Skype and Whatsapp, they play and speak on the internet across boundaries and continents, they share the same games and watch the same films, they travel and holiday together and they share common concerns around climate change, innovation and on the economy. This ACP and EU generation has a global outlook. Hence it is necessary to adapt the international structures that have historically proven to advance humanity to these realities of today.*
Prof. Mirjam van Reisen is the author of Window of Opportunity. The EU development policy after the Cold War (2008: Africa World Press), which includes a section on ACP – EU relations. In 2012 she was commissioned by the ACP Group to conduct a UNDP-funded study on the future perspectives of the ACP. Download the report here.
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.