ACP-EU relations beyond 2020: Engaging the future or perpetuating the past?

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September 2017

Bossuyt, J., Keijzer, N., Medinilla, A., Sherriff, A., Laporte, G., Tollenaere, M. de. 2017. ACP-EU relations beyond 2020: Engaging the future or perpetuating the past? Maastricht: ECDPM.

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In September 2018, negotiations are due to start between the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) States as to what should organise their relations after the expiration of the Cotonou Partnership Agreement (CPA). The EU’s draft negotiation position is currently under preparation and builds on the 22 November 2016 Joint Communication in which DEVCO and EEAS unveiled a preferred option for the future. From the outset, the EU insisted that a simple rollover of the Cotonou Agreement -which has governed ACP-EU relations since 2000- would be inadequate to deliver on the multiple challenges of today’s world. The review of this specific partnership could therefore be seen as a litmus test of the EU institutions and Member States overall ability to fundamentally adapt its external action and development cooperation approaches.

This policy brief assesses the prospects and conditions for such a change. It starts with a short context analysis explaining how the ACP-EU partnership gradually lost its prominence within EU external action and what this means for negotiating a new deal beyond 2020. It then looks at the main building blocks of the preferred ‘umbrella’ option that is now on the table. This is followed by an assessment of how this proposal lives up to the EU’s stated ambition to build a rejuvenated political partnership that addresses global and regional challenges, responds to EU interests and provides more effective development support.

Building on this reality check, it appears that the EU is not prepared to cross the Rubicon in its longstanding relation with Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. Much-needed innovations are proposed including deepening regionalisation, shifting decision-making and implementation to the most relevant levels and actors, reaching out beyond the ACP and embracing new means of implementation.

Yet, all these positive changes remain attached to and dependent on the preservation of an overarching ACP framework, institutions and related set of rules, whose relevance, legitimacy, effectiveness and sustainability have been seriously challenged by practice in the past decade. Hence, the preferred option, as presently tabled, is more about putting old wine in new bottles rather than engaging on the bumpy road of openly exploring how best to modernise the partnership –particularly regarding Africa- in line with 21st century geopolitical realities, new global agendas and the evolving practice of EU external action .

The brief concludes by hinting at possible alternatives based on unambiguously shifting the centre of gravity to the regions, fundamentally rethinking the role and set-up of the overarching ACP-EU framework, making the link with the debate on future EU financing instruments, reviewing the governance systems for greater inclusivity and unlocking the debate (including by using the next Africa-EU Summit to openly discuss this future of this partnership).

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2017-09-07 14:42:02

An industrial Marshall Plan with Sub-Sahara Africa leading to deeply rejuvenated Africa-EU relations for mutual benefit. The ultimate goal of all partnerships is to generate well-being in the partnering countries or regions. Therefore it may be indicated to concentrate in the short term on the execution of an inclusive and sustainable industrial Marshall Plan with Sub-Saharan Africa. Broad awareness creation of the highly educated African demographic dividend will stimulate private enterprises to increase their investments in Africa forgoing the need for large public financing. The massive creation of decent jobs in labour intensive agro-food and manufacturing industries will lead to the emergence of a large educated African middle class and to its associated buying power (for EU niche products). It is the ultimate dream of all African citizens to live in a kind of a socially inclusive democratic society similar to the one in their neighbouring continent (their old colonial powers). Unfortunately Europe is not aware of the strengths of this new Sub-Saharan middle class. Therefore the need for an awareness creation campaign. This middle class can be instrumental to contribute and rethink an Africa-EU partnership for mutual benefit, in line with 21th century global challenges (climate), the African demographic dividend, the economic globalisation, the fourth industrial revolution, governance and geopolitical realities. Instead of concentrating on relationships this comment suggests giving priority to the industrialisation of Sub-Saharan Africa, leading sui generis to a an effective, lean and innovative partnership for mutual benefit beyond ‘old wine in new bottles’.

European external affairsResearchACP Group of StatesCotonou AgreementLomé AgreementPost Cotonou