Bridging the credibility gap: Challenges for ACP-EU relations in 2011


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    Relations between the European Union and its partners in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP) are in a parlous state. The Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA) negotiations are blocked. Key Messages In the ACP, the new Secretary General of the ACP Secretariat, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, has direct experience leading a regional grouping (ECOWAS). Chambas has promised to rejuvenate the ACP. The effects of the global financial and economic crisis of 2008 and 2009 continue to deeply affect the international economy. For Europe in particular, many analysts predict that more trouble may be ahead. Africa is growing in confidence, and it is building pan-African and regional institutions step by step to provide a strengthened platform from which the continent can effectively project itself. Yet inevitably this poses a challenge for the ACP Group. Though some countries in Africa have indicated a desire to conclude the EPAs in the course of 2011, the risk of stalled negotiations remains real. Both sides in the negotiations have failed to outline ways forward to allow for movement on key contentious issues. On the EU side, the Commission and the trade and development ministers of EU member states, who met, respectively, in September and October 2010, have continued to lament the lack of enthusiasm from African and Pacific actors for a comprehensive EPA agenda. The EU has reluctantly accepted that it may have to lower its ambitions if EPAs are to be concluded at all. Conclusion These new individuals and new institutional configurations bring modest opportunities. It is therefore critical to seize the moment and take advantage of openings. Bold leadership is now required in the ACP as much as in the EU, backed by a willingness of governments and other actors in both of these complex groups of countries to accept the need for new thinking and allow themselves to be led down paths that may perhaps be unfamiliar. The first window of opportunity is of an institutional nature. In the EU, the European External Action Service (EEAS) is being established and there is new political leadership. The EEAS is intended to give the EU the tools it needs to become a more coherent actor externally. The second window of opportunity comes from major changes in the global context for international cooperation, which will continue to affect the very nature of the ACP-EU partnership. The third window of opportunity relates to the ongoing search for a new international development agenda, which moves beyond the traditional aid debates and fully embraces the global agenda for international cooperation. The opportunities reside in building on the groundwork laid in 2010. The new leadership in both the EU and the ACP are settled in and have had time to find their feet and set out their ideas internally. In these increasingly difficult times it is hard to be optimistic about ACP-EU relations.
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