Since 2000, the relations between the European Union (EU) and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries have been largely governed by the Cotonou Agreement. This agreement aims at reducing and eventually eradicating poverty as well as contributing to sustainable development and promoting the gradual integration of ACP countries in the world economy. With the Agreement set to expire in 2020, the EU institutions have initiated discussions on how to formulate a post-Cotonou Agreement that will address the possible gaps of the already existing document and that will renew the relationship between the signatories.
On 24 and 25 January, the European Parliament Committee for Development (DEVE) had its monthly sittings where Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and other stakeholders discussed the outcomes of the 5th African Union (AU)–EU Summit and the Commission’s proposal for negotiating directives for a post-2020 Partnership Agreement between the EU and ACP countries.
The Outcomes of the 5th AU–EU Summit: determination and interdependence
European Commission (EC) representatives reported that in the summit there was a deep sense of interdependence on both sides and a determination to create a more equal relationship by overcoming the so-called donor-recipient relationship. It was said that during the summit, the AU showed its determination to be a player and not the subject of other shareholders. One EC representative underlined that in order to build a sense of partnership, the EU has to start considering that the African Union has its own agenda.
Some MEPs asked for more women to attend these meetings in order to keep the gender balance, arguing that the discussions are too male-dominated. Other MEPs urged the EU to start giving Africa a voice to talk about the countries’ problems and to deal with these with more consistency.
The EC highlighted two points of concern; many African countries are still politically unbalanced and not yet prepared for a dialogue on peace and security, something which delays proceeding the talks to the next steps, the EC said. Furthermore, the two parties had agreed that a forum will take place in Brussels every year between the institutions, Member States and civil society; however the EC said that Africa was not prepared to commit to this, so this will be re-examined.
The EC proposal for negotiating a post-2020 Agreement: a partnership of equals
Neven Mimica, European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, stressed that sustainable development should be the centre of the new agreement. In order to build a new relationship based on a genuine partnership of equals, the political dialogue has to be strengthened and shared challenges and interests should be thoroughly discussed. The main characteristics of a new agreement should take the shape of a legally binding framework, highlighting multilateralism, taking various governance structures into consideration.
Importantly, there was agreement that the EU has not successfully implemented Article 8 of the Cotonou Agreement which lays out the common obligation of the parties to be involved in political dialogue. In the new agreement this should be strongly reinforced.
The MEPs added that the agreement should be formulated in a way that applies to all ACP Countries, for each one has its own characteristics. Furthermore, conditions should be introduced if the countries in question do not respect fundamental values important to the EU. It has to be clear that if there are human rights violated, no funds will be allocated to the respective violating actors, they stated, or repayment of allocated funds should be demanded if severe violation of human rights is established.
A number of MEPs criticized the fact that the EU does not use the full amount of funds it has available for development, as there is no structure on the ground to use them properly. The MEPs used the European Development Fund to demonstrate this. One MEP raised the parameter of Brexit due to which there will be less money for development funding.
The MEPs also criticized the European Parliament processes, stating that they often make many promises but put little into action when it comes to democratic development. They stated that this is unacceptable and called for coordination among MEPs.