A unique framework of North-South cooperation - but needs update
ACP-EU relations are undoubtedly at a crossroads. The stalemate in the negotiations of Economic Partnership Agreements and the lack of prospects for the period after the expiry of the ACP-EC Cotonou Agreement leads one to wonder about the future of the ACP-EU partnership and the survival of the ACP as a group. In light of the important contributions of this partnership to the general framework of development assistance and North-South cooperation, it is useful to consider its future. This unique framework in international relations is facing many challenges closely related to the evolution of international society.
The first issue of concern is development assistance. Considering its limited impact on the development of ACP countries and developing countries in general, more and more voices have risen to highlight the fact that it is an outdated recipe. The pattern to replace it should be a mechanism to give the ACP countries financial and economic tools to develop trade and exchange amongst themselves through the Regional Economic Communities. This support for regional integration will effectively strengthen the economic fabric of ACP and prepare its true integration into the world economy. It is mainly a question of redirecting aid flows to the private sector, which increasingly needs funding. Africa is seeing for example, the development of private equity investments as a solution to the lack of credit and finance.
Secondly, the rise of emerging countries is not without effect on the outlooks of the current special partnership between the EU and ACP countries. Both parties observe with great interest the opportunities that the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, China, India, South Africa) are likely to create. Beyond BRICS, the EU enlargement process tends to diminish the interest in the ACP. On the one hand the new member countries of the Community do not share historical relations with the ACP countries and furthermore, they tend to draw the interest of the Union to the countries of Eastern Europe instead. The absence of any reference to cooperation with the ACP countries in the Treaty of Lisbon can be seen as a reduction of the EU’s interest in ACP countries.
The economic crisis and budgetary constraints has also led European leaders and public to question the need to maintain such an aid system, where the results still remain to be seen.
Moreover, it is obvious that in terms of the political dialogue that the Cotonou Agreement was supposed to reinforce has number of shortcomings: the ACP-EU partnership is not the main forum in which partners discuss issues security, human rights and democracy. At this level also, regional organisations seem to have taken over. For example, in the case of the crisis in Mali, ECOWAS played an important role before the debut of France. On the other hand, ACP-EU relations still seem to be dominated by the economic and commercial aspects.
In a context that is both shifting and specific, how can one envision the future of the ACP-EU partnership? Will the ACP, in its current form, disappear after 2020 ? Can one keep the gains of ad38 year olf partnership? The answers to these questions are not the most obvious. However, one can put forward a number of hypotheses that could help identify prospects.
The first requirement is that of adaptation of partners to current fluctuations. Partners must abandon the logic of aid based on historical relationships inherited from colonisation, and consider a relationship aware of their capacities to engage in a mutually beneficial relationship with partners. This requires a strategy that does not lock the players in a kind of "exclusive relationship" - there are potential new partners out there, and this must be taken into account. The question that arises here is one of internal consistency of the ACP, as individual countries and as a group. Can one imagine an ACP Group outside the cooperation and financial support of the European Union?
In the current state of international relations, the ACP Group appears to be a major partner to engage with in terms of multilateral negotiations. One can imagine the ACP Group building relationships with partners other than the European Union. This would be an important step in the direction of strengthening the group's presence on the international scene, but also its ability to influence policy in favor of developing countries . From this perspective , it would strengthen the internal coherence of ACP countries as a group. Marked by economic, geographical and cultural differences, ACP countries face the challenge of cohesion. This last factor is not to be overlooked in discussions on this entity as a whole: The group brings together three major geographical areas - the construction of a "ACP identity" is not an easy task.
However, the ACP Group can also be thought of as the meeting hub for the various regional groups to reflect on common issues. Such an approach has the advantage of fostering the exchange of experiences and good practices in regional integration, as well as management problems inherent in the process of sustainable development. If maintaining the partnership with the EU is the choice made, it must be accompanied by a widening of areas covered by the partnership. Climate change and migration issues are areas that directly affect the parties. These can truly advance the reflection process at the international level on these fundamental issues.
Beyond these issues, the future of the ACP group depends primarily on its ability to break the traditional architecture of international cooperation organisations: this would involve a truly participatory approach, taking into account the proposals of non-state actors. The private sector and civil society must have a real influence on the definition of policies and actions. Engaging national parliaments can also broaden the discussion on fundamental issues.*
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.