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

This policy brief 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.

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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.

    Building on this reality check, it appears that the EU is not prepared to cross the Rubicon in its longstanding relationship 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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