June 17, 2011

Towards a ‘normalisation’ of ACP-EU relations

Posted: 15:51 PM UTC

by Paul Engel on June 17, 2011

Over the past couple of years, new global players underscored their ascendance in the world order. Emerging economies leveraged their strong economic recovery with a rapid expansion of global trade and finance, including to developing countries. By contrast, many traditional global powers struggled to make ends meet. Countries that have been prominent donors for decades fell back on their development cooperation commitments. Many, moreover, continued to integrate their development support with responses to a host of other concerns – such as peace and security, climate change, economic recovery and growth, and food security. They now expect developing countries to shoulder more responsibility for these global burdens as well.

Africa, as one of the world’s fastest growing regions, provides a good example of the changing development context. Many African countries have improved their political and macroeconomic stability and are undertaking social reforms, resulting in a better business climate. This has not gone unnoticed by today’s rising giants. If current trends continue, countries like China, India, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and Turkey will quickly overtake Europe as Africa’s largest trading partner. Investment from emerging markets now already comprises 38% of the total to Africa. However, as former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan warned at the recent World Economic Forum on Africa, ‘The strong economic growth of the continent has not translated into the creation of jobs or the reduction of poverty.’

Developing a vision beyond 2020

Does this mean the beginning of the end for traditional development cooperation? Such change is indeed on the horizon: The shift in global relations has compelled the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group and European Union (EU) to reconsider their relationship. Now is the time to develop a vision beyond 2020, the year of expiration of the current ACP-EU “Cotonou” Partnership Agreement — the centrepiece of Europe’s partnership with the ACP.

The second revision of the Cotonou Agreement in 2010 emphasised enhanced cooperation on a broader global agenda that includes food security, conflict, migration, regional integration, HIV/AIDS and the sustainability of fisheries. At the institutional level, the African Union became a formal partner of the EU-ACP relationship.

On the European side, the Lisbon Treaty has considerably affected the conduct of Europe’s international relations. For the first time in EU history, sustainable development and poverty eradication are explicitly mentioned as objectives of EU External Action, and not merely as development policy objectives. Yet it is significant that the Lisbon Treaty includes no specific reference to the ACP Group. These are both signs of a ‘normalisation’ of relations between Europe and the countries of the ACP.

Certainly, there is no lack of global challenges requiring action

This evolving policy context offers opportunities for development to play a new and invigorated role in global affairs. But it also raises several critical policy challenges. A first challenge is for traditional development actors to respond constructively to the South-South coalitions that today are becoming more entrenched as a new model for cooperation and innovative alliances. A second challenge is development effectiveness. Will the emerging donor countries focus narrowly on the outputs of their own aid, or will they build on lessons learned from existing aid relationships on fostering capacity in partner countries? Finally, will global donors be able to live up to their commitments, in particular, towards the most vulnerable countries – the fragile, least developed, land-locked and small-island developing states?

Today’s policy context entails multiple challenges. Foremost among them is to make the most of new opportunities for a fresh and invigorated role of development in global affairs. ECDPM, which marks its 25th anniversary this year, has a long track record as an independent institution working on issues at the heart of the ACP-EU relationship, such as international trade, governance and accountability, policy coherence for development, and development effectiveness. For those interested, there is more on our activities in our Annual Report 2010, which has just been published.

We will continue in this tradition, contributing to responsible integration of development finance, cooperation and partnerships into the wider global development agenda. ECDPM will keep working closely with our partners from Africa, the Caribbean, the Pacific and Europe and to renew relationships among them. We will pay particular attention to supporting the ACP Group’s search for transformation and to processes of regional and subregional integration and institutional change. Thus, the high-level seminar, which will commemorate our 25th anniversary and be held later this month, is devoted to this very this topic and will look into “The ACP and Europe: What future for a privileged relationship”.

ECDPM will further develop its niche as an independent broker, a catalyst of innovation and a facilitator of change in South-North relations. The ultimate objective of our work is to improve cooperation and accelerate development, particularly for the world’s most vulnerable people.


Paul Engel is Direcotr of ECDPM.


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