July 8, 2011

“Vision without implementation is hallucination”

Posted: 15:39 PM UTC

by Melissa Julian on July 8, 2011

Over 60 institutional actors and individuals from various parts of Africa, the Caribbean, the Pacific, Europe and emerging economies participated in last week’s ECDPM 25th anniversary high-level seminar entitled: “Global changes, emerging players and evolving ACP-EU relations: towards a common agenda for action”. ECDPM’s Talking Points blog online discussion held in the run up to the seminar and a background paper served as the basis for the discussions at the event, which considered options for continued ACP-EU cooperation once the current ACP-EU Partnership Agreement (commonly referred to as the “Cotonou Agreement”) expires in 2020. A public opening session on June 30th (a video will be posted soon on ECDPM’s website) set the tone for a full day’s discussion held on July 1st under the Chatham House Rule. Participants were open and the debate was often quite animated. The reflection process has started to define common ACP-EU interests and determine the added-value of the ACP Group now and in the future.

ECDPM will produce a comprehensive report of the meeting in September. In the meantime, this blog post wraps up a few key points that emerged from the debate.

It also includes an audio interview (imbedded at the end of this post) with ACP Group Secretary General Mohamed Ibn Chambas about his views on the future of ACP-EU relations, and in particular, his reactions to some of the comments that were posted on ECDPM’s Talking Points blog online discussion.

Photos from the seminar are available here.

Towards a common agenda for action?

-        The Cotonou Agreement’s unique “acquis” accumulated over the past 36 years of the ACP-EU Partnership (commitment to shared values such as promotion of democracy, human rights and good governance, the legally binding contractual nature of the agreement, joint institutions and implementation and a financing agreement) - should be maintained and applied to all future EU agreements with third countries and regions. Though, reforms are necessary to improve the agreement’s implementation and achieve intended results.

-        ACP countries must define their vision for the future - their “narratives of change” - based on their needs and objectives and not influenced by external agendas. They should then determine which objectives are best taken forward by being part of a regional grouping or the larger ACP Group. Only then can countries decide how to engage in political partnerships with the EU and other global players. All this should be done in consultation with civil society to ensure public support for whichever integration process and form of partnership is chosen.

-        “Thinking globally and acting regionally” could be a good way forward. Global challenges cannot be solved by individual countries acting alone. Global solutions are necessary, but current global governance structures are not able to provide these. ACP countries’ common interests are, therefore, increasingly being dealt with by regional organisations. “These are the real emerging players”. Stronger regions could also be good building blocks to strengthen the ACP Group.

-        “Vision without implementation is hallucination”. If the ACP Group is chosen to take issues forward, it needs to be urgently reformed to overcome current obstacles that prevent it from delivering its objectives. The current over-reliance of the Group on the EU for financing has led to a “culture of dependency” that has made the partnership ineffective. ACP Member States would need to “empower” the Group by providing it with sufficient financing to develop the necessary capacity within the ACP Group Secretariat and at Member States level to reach common positions. One idea proposed was for the ACP to set up its own development fund to which ACP Member States, the EU and other donors could contribute.  Strong ACP Group leadership is also needed. Member States and Regional Organisations would need to be more involved in the work at ACP Group level. The mandate of the ACP Group Secretary General would need to be strengthened to be able to work effectively with Member States and external partners.

-        There is a lot of talk nowadays of emerging players providing an alternative option for the ACP Group to its partnership with the EU. While now there are new models of development, new demands for ACP natural resources and new sources of support, it was felt that emerging players will not replace the EU’s predominant position in ACP countries in the next years to come. But Europe does seem become a less attractive partner, with its Member States in economic crisis and becoming increasingly inward looking and Euro-sceptic. Development cooperation is decreasing and there is a lack of consistent EU foreign policy and policy coherence. The current Euro zone crisis seems to be threatening the entire European integration project. There is room, and willingness, for more triangular cooperation between the ACP Group, the EU and emerging players in order to learn from each others’ experiences (Europe’s on regional integration, aid effectiveness and civil society engagement and corporate social responsibility, and emerging players’ on their development experiences and principles of non-interference in African affairs) and establish a strategic, coherent policy approach that balances own interests and ACP poverty alleviation and sustainable development goals and achieves common prosperity for all.

-        The EU also needs to decide how it can most effectively work with partners on common issues to achieve its ambitions of being a global player.  This includes determining the best cooperation approach with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries post-2020 - within the existing, but strengthened, ACP-EU Partnership or through regional organisations in the ACP. Many EU Member States remain to be convinced of the added-value of the ACP Group. “The ACP is a mythical animal, like a unicorn for some, and for others a unicorn pretending to be a rhinoceros”. Though there have been some cases where the ACP Group played a role in international fora – like on the WTO’s Lome trade preferences waiver or in the UN vote on the EU’s General Assembly seat – normally the ACP has little real profile on the international stage. And even at the EU level, Member States officials say that most of their colleagues don’t know what the ACP Group is. “It’s not on the radar screen of national ministries and delegations outside Brussels”. At the same time, the EU is increasingly working through regional organisations, as evidenced in the Joint Africa-EU Strategy, the emerging Joint Caribbean-EU Strategy and Economic Partnership Agreements. The only way EU governments can convince their constituents of the added-value of cooperation with the ACP Group is by showing the impact and results of the partnership.

-        A productive ACP-EU partnership needs common interests for both sides, beyond aid. Some possible common interests were identified such as: access to markets; energy; raw materials/natural resource management; MDGs; innovative financing for poverty eradication and climate change; action on food security and to regulate commodity market/food price speculation; combating illicit financial flows; managing migration for mutual benefit; climate change; trade issues; and operationalising the aid for trade and aid effectiveness agendas. Past progress in some of these areas has been suboptimal. Evidence that cooperation is possible is needed. One immediate opportunity to illustrate the benefits of cooperation could be if the EU and ACP could agree a common position for the Durban climate change meeting in December. That could transform the international negotiations on this issue.

-        Some possible options for future ACP-EU relations were presented and discussed. The pros and cons of each will need further analysis.. They include: status quo (keep ACP-EU configuration as it is); separate regional agreements with Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific; African, Caribbean and Pacific regional agreements as pillars under a much slimmer ACP umbrella; opening up the ACP configuration to other members, for example all Least Developed Countries and Small and Vulnerable States.

A conducive context for fresh and innovative thinking

After two days of debate, the meeting ended with several interesting ideas. The reflection process has clearly started now and for the first time in the history of ACP-EU cooperation, The ACP is proactively taking the lead in preparing for a post 2020 relationship. The ACP Ambassadorial Working Group on the Future Perspectives of the ACP Group has developed plans to increase the visibility of the ACP, reinforce intra-ACP programming and improve implementation and it is also elaborating options and scenarios for the future. The EC has established an internal working group to start reflection on this issue. Further research, analysis and reflection on possible options in these groups, and in ACP and EU Member States, and involving civil society, is necessary to define interests and determine the added-value of an ACP-EU Partnership.

Talking Points Audio interview with ACP Group Secretary General Mohamed Ibn Chambas


ECDPM will continue to assist this process through research, information provision and facilitation of dialogue. But for now, in an effort to reach wider audiences, we close off this Talking Points blog discussion and pass it on to The Broker who have recently published a special issue magazine and launched a new blog on future ACP-EU relations.


Melissa Julian is Knowledge Management Officer and editor of the Weekly Compass at ECDPM.


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Lorenci Klopper September 5, 2011 at 1:27 pm

Hi Melissa,

Hope you had a restful holiday and that you can’t wait to get going again!

Nolundi (who attended the Maastricht Seminar) asked me to find out when the complete report from the 25th anniversary seminar will be available? I know you already indicated “in September” - but any idea on approximate date?



2 ECDPM Editorial Team September 12, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Hi Lorenci. Yes, nice break, thanks. Hope you had one too!

The final version of the Anniversary event report should be ready by end of September. In the second half of October, the final published document will be ready.


3 Geert Laporte October 19, 2011 at 9:56 am

We are happy to announce that a comprehensive report from the ECDPM seminar “Global Changes, emerging players and evolving ACP-EU relations: towards a common agenda for action?” is available. It synthesizes the discussion from the seminar with the contributions from the debate held on this blog in the run-up to the meeting, and assesses possible scenarios for ACP-EU relations beyond 2020. The report is available in English and French.


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