Post-Cotonou Agreement: the EU should not downgrade the ACP, African officials urge

Yesterday, 20 March, the Development Committee (DEVE) of the European Parliament (EP) held a public hearing regarding the negotiations between the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) states and the European Union (EU) for a new comprehensive agreement that will manage their relationship after the Cotonou Agreement expires in 2020. According to the two parties,the post-Cotonou Agreement will have to address the possible gaps of the already existing document and it is expected to renew the relationship between the signatories. However, the exchange showed that the relationship of the two is fragmented, with the EU seeming optimistic and the African Union (AU) feeling left out.

Commission considering the agreement in joint interest of partners
In the hearing, Koen Doens, Deputy Director General in Directorate General DEVCO (Development Cooperation) of the European Commission (EC), discussed the joint interests of both sides and suggested that in a new setting both can be more explicit on where their interests meet. The essence of the new proposal, he said, is “to build a strong foundation of three pillars: Carribean, African and Pacific”, realizing the different needs of each. As for funding, Doens said that, first of all, it has not been yet thoroughly discussed but he suggested that funds from the European Development Fund (EDF) may play a role. Secondly, the EC wants to “pre-identify amounts of money for pre-allocations to safeguard money for specific countries.”

Actors express worries that AU is left out
Mohammed IguehOffleh, Senior Economist of the Permanent Mission of the African Union to the EU,said that the ACP decisions are very important but the cooperation is governed “by others”. The Cotonou Agreement, he said, causes fragmentation between Africa and “its major partner”, the EU, making the integration “much slower”. Along with this, the partnership becomes difficult in terms of geography, Offleh stressed: the African Union (AU) has called on the EU to cooperate with Africa as a whole, for the destinies of Northern and Southern Africa “are united”.  Jean Pierre ElongMbasso, Secretary General of the United Cities and Local Governments of Africa, talked about the importance of taking in consideration the local governments in the new agreement. He said that the local authorities would like to be treated as equal partners and that they need a budgetary instrument that will provide support to Africa. Mbasso presented as a drawback the fact that the EC does not refer to multilevel governance, “even though the EU is the champion of subsidiarity”. The two African speakers, along with others in the room, strongly called for a new EU and AU “honest, respectful and responsible cooperation”.

Ludger Kuehnhardt, Director of the Center for European Integration Studies, suggested that the new proposal of the European Commission (EC) has room for improvements: there should be a common foundation in substance and meaning. He also postulated that the new agreement will be welcomed by the ACP and EU Member States if it presents common interests and that it can be the bridge to realize the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. Kuehnhardt noted the drawbacks of ignoring Brexit, for it is an important factor regarding the limitations it brings to funding.  Lastly, the Director stressed that the relationship of the EU with the ACP countries needs to be broader and he advised the EU not to downgrade the ACP but include them more in their facilities (for instance, by inviting their delegations to monitor the elections of the EP in 2019).