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Policy Management Reports (series)

The future of ACP-EU relations: A political economy analysis

Policy Management Report 21

January 2016

Bossuyt, J., Keijzer, N., Medinilla, A., Tollenaere, M. De. 2016. The future of ACP-EU relations: A political economy analysis. (Policy Management Report 21). Maastricht: ECDPM.

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11 March 2016 – The future of ACP-EU relations: A political economy analysis.

Repenser le partenariat ACP-UE : le temps d’une approche nouvelle (résumé) 

Rethinking the ACP-EU partnership and going beyond ‘business as usual’.

The Cotonou Partnership Agreement (CPA) links the EU to 79 countries in Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) and mobilises a large development budget of 30,5 billion euros for the period 2014-2020. It expires in 2020 and all parties are preparing their future positions.

The discussion on the future of ACP-EU cooperation picked up pace in 2015, with both the EU and the ACP engaging in a soul-searching exercise and preparing their future positions.

ECDPM initiated this study to promote an open and well-informed discussion on this important partnership. A political economy analysis can help to address this gap, as it does not look at what is desirable, but on understanding how things work out in practice and why.

In the review process the parties to the Cotonou Partnership Agreement – led by governments but including parliamentarians, civil society, private sector operators and local authorities – will need to address existential questions that have arisen from the past fifteen years of CPA implementation and from important changes in the international context.

Key messages

This report finds that the Cotonou Partnership agreement has a limited track record in delivering on several of its core objectives and the framework is ill-suited to deliver the aims of the recently agreed 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

  • The ACP-EU partnership has lost political traction and 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 major implementation gaps between the laudable ambitions of the Cotonou Partnership Agreement and actual practices.
  • Current 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 CPA vis-a-vis other key players (like the African Union and Regional Economic Communities) and political partnerships is increasingly unclear. ACP countries have tended to ‘go regional’ to defend their core interests. The A, the C and the P are very different regions which cannot be easily and effectively accommodated in a tri-continental structure.
  • The ACP-EU framework (focused on aid and largely reserved to central governments) is not suitable to effectively and efficiently address the universal 2030 Agenda of the UN which is focused on addressing global development challenges through multi-actor partnerships.

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More information

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 the past 28 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 was based on evidence and interviews with EU and ACP stakeholders.

See also our dossier, summarising all ECDPM publications on ACP-EU relations from recent years:


Media contact

The authors are available for comment. Please contact our Press Officer Emily Barker at or call +32 (0)2 237 43 81.

A press release for this report is available here.

Institutional support

In addition to the structural support by ECDPM’s institutional partners Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden and Switzerland this publication also benefits from funding from the Department of International Development (DFID), United Kingdom.

Photo courtesy of the Embassy of Equatorial Guinea

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Cross-cutting TopicsEU foreign and development policyPolicy Management Reports (series)ACP Group of StatesCotonou AgreementEuropean Development Fund (EDF)Post CotonouAfricaCaribbeanEuropePacific