Cotonou Partnership Agreement
 ACP-EU Relations in a Changing World


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Scripting the future ACP-EU partnership

Maastricht, 20 December. Participants in the ECDPM Seminar on the Cotonou Partnership Agreement yesterday concluded their reflections with a panel discussion on the future of the Cotonou Partnership Agreement (CPA). The Panel comprised João Gomes Cravinho, Portugal's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, John Shinkaiye, Chief of Staff in the Bureau of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Mr. Karl Falkenberg, Deputy Director General of the European Commission's DG Trade, Mr. Andrew Bradley, Assistant Secretary General of the ACP Group, and Mr. Rob de Vos, Deputy Director-General for International Cooperation at the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The panelists reflected on discussions in the previous session in which participants expressed cautious optimism on progress achieved by the CPA, but also expressed their worries and concerns regarding the ongoing negotiations on EU-ACP Economic Partnership Agreements and a perceptible 'ownership deficit' on the ACP side.

Panelists were positive regarding the overall niche and added value of the Cotonou Partnership: Gomes Cravinho lauded the improving political dialogue between the partners, also with regional entities – and called for it to focus on more ‘politically substantive issues’ rather than the more technical discussions that currently dominate. Shinkaiye argued, from an Africa perspective, that the Agreement provides a valuable overall framework within which Africa and Europe can dialogue and cooperate at a continental level – it has helped make Africa-Europe relations “warm, cordial, and growing.” De Vos, from a Dutch perspective, was really optimistic about recent improvements in EU aid (including via the CPA) and called on the EU and ACP partners to ‘cherish’ the special relationship offered by the CPA.

However, as several panelists mentioned, there is much still to do. The ACP’s Bradley listed some challenges to be overcome – full implementation of the CPA, enhanced ACP ownership, avoiding unilateral actions in the partnership, and increased attention to the effectiveness of the cooperation. He also suggested that both sides need to look more strategically at how the ACP can more globally support the EU’s role as a global player, in other international forums for example. De Vos, while positive on improvements in the EU’s aid – higher disbursement rates, following the Paris aid effectiveness agenda, direct support for civil society in the South – also drew attention to some continuing challenges: the lack of progress in the ACP-EU trade discussion, too much disbursement perhaps at the cost of quality, insufficient on the ground coordination with other donors, a lack of interest by Brussels in the innovations of others, and the precise added value and niche of the CPA.

Several speakers drew attention to the emergence of new issues and new actors posing challenges to the ACP-EU partnership. Bradley emphasized the change process that the ACP will go through in 2007, revisiting its original charter, more clearly defining the ACP niche, and strengthening the partnership. Shinkaiye called for increased consistency and enhanced dialogue between the AU, representing Africa, and ACP-related processes on the continent. Citing the EPA negotiations with different African regions, he cautioned that these need to mesh with the AU’s intention to enhance integration across the continent. De Vos suggested that the CPA avoid competing with the many other special initiatives in development and, for instance, avoid overburdening its agenda by concentrating on some critical issues, like governance, where it offers a unique added value.

Following the earlier sessions, the future of the ongoing EPA negotiations was a major discussion point among the panelists and in the subsequent open discussion where one participant felt the EPA’s were a potential source of “serious divisiveness.” Responding to calls for both sides to retreat from fixed ideas, the Commission’s Falkenberg called for more ‘out of the box’ thinking to find ways forward. He argued that the EPAs are part of the wider-ACP-EU discussions and respond to the need to create opportunities for economic activity, by helping to build ‘regional’ markets in the ACP and by opening markets among the regions and the EU. It could be concluded that the EPA’s are initially designed to support sub-regional cooperation in the ACP countries, and then free trade between the regions and Europe.

The unanswered question to the conference was whether this developmental focus of the EPAs - on building markets and economic activities in ACP regions - is an implicit recognition that the development pillars of the CPA have failed.

Agreeing the script?

Throughout the second day, participants called on a Hollywood metaphor to help explain some of the differences of opinion.

Reflecting to participant comments on the EPA process, Karl Falkenberg wondered if he and the others were watching the same ACP-EU movie as he did not recognize all the scenes. Later, John Shinkaiye also asked what ACP-EU movie we were watching – he thought perhaps we were watching the same movie, but that each of the participants had a different script. He called for everyone to use the same script. De Vos commented that even when the same script is used by all the actors, different viewers often ‘see’ different films.

Deciding just what kind of movie the ACP, EU, and other actors want to produce is clearly a continuing challenge.

The sponsors are not sure just what they and the audiences actually want; we can call on more, and more diverse, actors - we have to deal with more crowd-scenes; script-writing is much more complicated and less centralized than in the past; and even film distribution is complicated by changing technologies, evolving viewing habits, and audiences with more choice than ever before.

Perhaps one of the most valuable parts of the conference was the recognition that film-making itself is changing. Yes, we still have Hollywood blockbusters with big budgets, a renowned director, an all-star cast, numerous support actors, brilliant special effects, and a single script. We also have emerging film industries in many developing countries where local directors and producers are challenging the movie majors and attracting their own script-writers and actors. And on the Internet, sites like YouTube allow viewers to share their own film clips, inviting other viewers to write their own scripts.

Deciding the best approach for the ACP and EU will clearly benefit from events, like the one organized by ECDPM, where directors, producers, actors, bit players, distributors, and script writers get together to assess progress and explore options.

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