New beginnings or a last hurrah? The OACPS-EU partnership in 2021-2041

Alfonso Medinilla analyses the new partnership agreement between the EU and the OACPS for 2021-2041, which was formally initialled on 15 April 2021.

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    The European Union (EU) and the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) are moving towards the finalisation and signature of a new partnership agreement. The OACPS and EU chief negotiators formally initialled the new agreement on 15 April, and the hope is that the new agreement would be signed by all parties in Samoa towards the end of 2021.

    This paper argues that while there is a high degree of continuity on paper between the ACP-EU Cotonou Partnership Agreement (CPA) and the new agreement, the partnership relationship that underpins it has been irreversibly altered, not least with the discontinuation of the dedicated off-budget European Development Fund.

    While the substance of the post-Cotonou agreement has become less relevant – trade and aid, which for a long time were the lifeblood of the partnership, have to a large extent been moved out of the partnership – its institutional framework with an ACP-EU foundation and three regional protocols risks becoming even heavier by the replication of joint institutions at the regional level.

    The main reason for renewing the OACPS-EU partnership in 2021 is largely pragmatic, namely to have a framework in place for the EU’s bilateral relations with a large group of states. The text, however, reads as a highly aspirational attempt to reconcile the new regional and strategic priorities of the EU’s external action, with the more institutionally and aid-driven approach of the Lomé-Cotonou family of partnership agreements. The EU and the OACPS agreed on a duration of 20 years for the new agreement, but it is unlikely that it will set the tone for relations between the EU and OACPS countries in the coming decades, let alone in 2041 when it is set to expire.

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