Cotonou Partnership Agreement
 ACP-EU Relations in a Changing World


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

ACP-EU Cooperation - Cautious optimism, ownership deficit?

Maastricht, 19 December. Participants in the ECDPM Seminar on "The Cotonou Partnership Agreement: What role in a changing world?" today debated the outputs of their discussions on whether the Cotonou Partnership Agreement (CPA) has delivered on the innovations and improvements it promised.

Four main topics were discussed: Has the increased political focus contributed to development? Has it effectively included non-state actors and local governments? Are the EPAs instruments for development? How effective has Cotonou been in delivering more, faster and better aid?

The group is generally optimistic on progress so far, except regarding the ongoing EPA negotiations which pose many challenges. This optimism is qualified however by a lack of concrete evidence and a sense that not enough is being learned to guide future policies and actions.

Group discussions indicate that non-state actors are slowly becoming more involved in different aspects of the Agreement – dialogue, negotiations, implementation. What is visible however is the 'tip of an iceberg' that still needs to be fully understood. Calling for actions leading to 'more and better' participation, it was argued that "we know what we need to do, but we have not yet made the fundamental shift to involve these actors."

While the EPA negotiations are all about creating an enabling environment and 'policy spaces' for economic and social development, participants notice a significant lack of ownership of EPAs inside ACP countries, and that the EPAs seem to be disconnected from national policy processes. At the same time, it is important that discussions on EPAs are effectively re-connected with other development issues in the ACP-EU partnership – such as effectiveness, participation of non-state actors, and governance. At the wider level, the move to sub-regional negotiations has led to less 'all-ACP cohesiveness' and capacity to negotiate – at a time when the European Commission itself is taking an increasingly strong and unifying role from the EU side.

EC aid is getting better managed and more effective. Despite "rather shallow" evidence, it is moving in a good direction - with signs of more ACP ownership and certainly much higher levels of disbursement. However, the principle of 'co-management' is getting lost in special 'vertical funds' that are managed (more efficiently) by the EC, but with less ACP ownership and involvement that raises questions on their ultimate effectiveness. These tensions between increasing quantities of disbursement (desirable) and enhanced effectiveness (also desirable) seem to put pressure on co-management processes designed to guarantee ACP ownership.

A question mark was also put against the amount of learning taking place through the CPA. For the partnership to stay innovative and relevant, it needs to have continuous learning processes and mechanisms in place. It seems that current review mechanisms are used more to account, report on, and punish instead of to properly learn.

Despite this cautious optimism, there are many doubts in the group about ownership and recognition that there is something of an 'ownership deficit'.

Starting with political dialogue, it was argued that it is critical to be clear who shapes and forms agendas and thus decides (and owns) what is discussed. This gets complicated when there are more and more potential 'owners' – still the CPA probably offers a lot more possibilities if the partners can get themselves to 'think enough out of the box.' From a non-state actor point of view, ownership needs to be increased by encouraging participation from the beginning. Otherwise, the result is consultation on someone else's agenda.

It was suggested that ownership is a function of power relations – ownership follows where the power is. The fundamental issue is that whoever sets the agenda has the ownership. Thus, it was argued, the currently emerging ACP-EU trade framework will never be strongly owned by the ACP as it is an EU 'product.' This, and other provocative questions generated much frank dialogue that revealed how important it
is to provide spaces where multiple perspective can come together.

Post your comments on the issue.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home