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Time to fundamentally rethink ACP-EU relations


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The partnership between the European Union (EU) and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group needs to change to remain relevant after 2020.

The European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM) has today released an independent political economy analysis study looking at the partnership that links 79 ACP countries with the EU, and mobilizes a large development budget of 30.5 billion euros.

The current partnership is over 40 years old, and is underpinned by the legally binding Cotonou Partnership Agreement (CPA), which will expire in 2020.

“Discussions on the future of the EU-ACP partnership beyond 2020 are currently in full swing, and the stakes are high. However, the relevance and the effectiveness of the partnership is being questioned,” explained Ewald Wermuth, Director at ECDPM.

ECDPM initiated this study with a view to promote an open and well-informed discussion.

The study found the current Cotonou Partnership Agreement’s framework is not well suited to cope with the new global development agenda, and has a limited track record on delivering on several of its core commitments.

“Rethinking the ACP-EU partnership is no time for business as usual. When this partnership was set up 40 years ago, it was groundbreaking. However, the real challenge now is to be as innovative as they were then, and find new arrangements that generate benefits for all parties that can hold for the next 20 years,” added Wermuth.

“What is lacking in this debate is solid evidence on the concrete practice of ACP-EU cooperation. A political economy analysis can help to address this gap, as it does not look at what is desirable, but at how things work out in practice and why,” explained Geert Laporte, Deputy Director of ECDPM.

The political economy analysis found:

  • The ACP-EU Partnership has over time lost traction and the Cotonou Partnership Agreement (CPA) is now primarily an aid delivery mechanism with limited political and trade value.
  • The overall performance of the ACP-EU partnership (beyond aid) has remained below expectations, and subsequent revisions have not been able to address a major implementation gap between the laudable ambitions and actual practices.
  • Globalisation and regionalisation dynamics have severely affected the scope and capacity for collective action between the ACP and the EU.
  • The added value of the ACP Group and the Cotonou Agreement vis-à-vis other key players (African Union and Regional Economic Communities) and political partnerships is increasingly unclear. ACP countries tend to ‘go regional’ to address their most pressing challenges.
  • The ACP-EU framework is not suitable to effectively and efficiently address the universal 2030 Agenda: the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

As a result, it is doubtful that technical fixes, aimed at improving the implementation of the Cotonou Partnership Agreement, will suffice to revitalise ACP-EU cooperation. The relevance of the framework itself is the core issue – geographically, politically and institutionally.

Rather than following the path of least resistance and focusing on a limited reformulation of the existing agreement, the ECDPM study suggests that it might be in the interest of all parties in the EU and the ACP to jointly explore alternative options.

This could lead to more legitimate and solid arrangements, aligned to regionalisation dynamics and adapted to the international cooperation challenges of the 21st century.


Experts available to interview:

All interviewees can speak English, Dutch and French.

For more information or to set up an interview get in touch with Emily Barker at or on +32474123473

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Notes to editors

ECDPM as an independent think and do tank was created in 1986, primarily with a view to promote effective cooperation between the ACP and the EU. Over nearly 30 years, the Centre has worked closely with institutional partners and other stakeholders on a wide range of ACP-EU topics, including trade, development cooperation and political dialogue.

The Centre has produced substantial analysis on various aspects of the ACP-EU partnership and has been an open platform for dialogue on the periodic renewal of the Partnership.

The study is based on analytical evidence and interviews with EU and ACP stakeholders.

Cross-cutting TopicsACP Group of StatesCotonou AgreementAfricaCaribbeanEuropePacific