Exploring scenarios for the future of ACP-EU cooperation: An analytical tool for informed choices

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September 2016

Bossuyt, J., Keijzer, N., Laporte, G., Medinilla, A., Tollenaere, M. De. 2016. Exploring scenarios for the future of ACP-EU cooperation: An analytical tool for informed choices. Maastricht: ECDPM.

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The debate on the future of the ACP-EU partnership is gaining prominence as key actors reflect on past experiences with the Cotonou Agreement (CPA) and explore options for a future arrangement beyond 2020. It is a complex review process considering the drastic changes in international relations as well as in the European Union and the ACP countries and regions. Furthermore, several institutional and political factors may constrain an open, well informed and result-oriented discussion. These relate to:

  • the weakened political status of the partnership in both EU and ACP countries;
  • the limited knowledge of and interest in the CPA (beyond the Brussels arena), leading to an ‘information asymmetry’ that may serve particular vested interests
  • the scant evidence on the actual performance of the ACP-EU partnership beyond development cooperation interventions financed through the European Development Fund (EDF).

In 2015, ECDPM conducted a ‘political economy analysis’ (PEA) of the ACP-EU partnership. As an independent, non-partisan broker, the Centre has a longstanding involvement in ACP-EU cooperation, both at the policy and operational levels. Building on this experience, the PEA study sought to inject a dose of realism and evidence into the review process of the ACP-EU partnership.

Consistent with the Centre’s mandate, our main motivation is to promote a truly open, inclusive and evidence-based driven debate on the future of this important partnership. This is in line with official declarations by the EU and the ACP that stress the need to go beyond ‘business as usual’. The current migration and refugee crisis is transforming EU development cooperation and the ‘Brexit process’ will inevitably impact on ACP-EU relations in ways that are not easy to predict. All this confirms that recipes of the past will be of little use beyond 2020. The June 2016 EU Global Strategy provides another reality-check. The EU now clearly opts for a pragmatic, interest-driven approach to international cooperation, focused on specific regions. There is no mention of the ACP configuration.

This scenario paper complements the PEA study. It seeks to provide additional food for thought for policy stakeholders so as to allow them to make their own informed choices. It introduces, explores and critically interrogates four possible scenarios for the future of the ACP-EU partnership. Each of these options is examined according to a single analytical grid aimed at confronting policy-makers with the implications of the scenario they may opt for. The focus is first on the main assumptions and the interests
that can potentially be pursued through each scenario. Then a reality check looks at how solid these assumptions/interests are in light of the actual practice of the CPA, followed by a set of thorny questions proponents of each scenario will need to address. Finally, we draw up a balance sheet that spells out major advantages and disadvantages of each of the scenarios.

As a non-partisan Centre we believe such a tool can help actors across the board (in the EU and in the ACP) to make their own assessment of the relevance and feasibility of the various scenarios in light of the new world of international cooperation that is unfolding before our eyes. Yet this paper also shows that there are no simple recipes for revitalising EU-ACP relations. Whatever scenario policy-makers choose, difficult political choices will have to made in order to ensure that future cooperation arrangements result in “win-win” situations for the various state and non-state actors involved.

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