• Monday, July 15, 2024
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BusinessDay

Europe and the ACP group of nations

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On June 6 and 7, a very important two-day meeting took place in Brussels, Europe’s cultured and cosmopolitan capital. It was the 38th session of the Joint Council of EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Ministers.

The current President of the ACP Council of Ministers is Botswana’s Foreign Affairs Minister Phandu Skelemani, while the EU Presidency is held by the Minister of State for Trade and Development of Ireland, Joe Costello. The two served as co-chairs to the 38th session of the ACP-EU Joint Council.

The origins of the ACP date back to the Rome Treaty 1957, when the former French African colonial dependencies were brought into Association status with the European Common Market. The membership was later expanded in 1973, when Britain acceded to the Rome Treaty, bringing with it her former erstwhile colonial dependencies that were now members of the British Commonwealth of Nations. With the further expansion of the European Economic Community that brought Spain and Portugal into the European system, the former Portuguese and Spanish colonies in Africa and the Caribbean also became members of the ACP Group of countries. The South Sudan is in the process of acceding to ACP, which will bring its membership to 80.

The ACP emerged as an association of countries that share particular historical ties with the former European colonial powers and that are bound to Europe by ties of history, economics and trade. But the ACP does not define itself solely in its relationship with Europe. Indeed, the Georgetown Agreement of 1975 sought to establish an intergovernmental body based on a shared sense of South-South solidarity and commitment to the pursuit of equity in international economic relations.

When the ACP-EU development co-operation system was crystallised in the Lomé Agreement in 1975, it was widely greeted as symbol of hope in a divided world. At a time of upheaval and growing resource nationalism in OPEC and other developing nations, Lomé was seen as a model of North-South co-operation based on dialogue rather than confrontation.

The Cotonou Partnership Agreement is the successor to the Lomé Conventions which were operational from 1975 until 2000. Cotonou was signed in 2000 for a period of 20 years and entered into force in April 2003, after the normal ratification process. The Agreement has undergone two major revisions, first, in 2005 and second in 2010, to take account of new developments impacting on the partnership. Cotonou has been acclaimed as a huge step forward in North-South relations, providing the framework for relations between the EU and the biggest development grouping in the world.

It sets out an innovative agenda in terms of political dialogue, non–state actors’ participation, trade and development. The Agreement provides a timetable for a radical reform of trade relations between the EU and the ACP States, marking a departure from the old non-reciprocal trade preferences that had existed in the past. Sadly, the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) have not made as much progress as everyone involved would have loved to see.

The Cotonou Partnership Agreement is financially supported by resources from the European Development Fund (EDF), which are jointly determined by the two parties on a five- to six-year basis. EU financial assistance under the 9th EDF amounted €13.5 billion in grants (plus 1.7bn Euro in the form of loans by the European Investment Bank made from its own resources) covering the period 2000 – 2007. Total resources made available under the 10th EDF to cover the six-year period 2008 – 2013 amount to €22.682 billion, of which 80.9 percent is committed to national and regional co-operation, 12.3 percent for Intra-ACP cooperation, and 6.8 percent for the investment facility managed by the EIB.

During the recent 38th session of the ACP-EU Joint Council, agreement was reached on a resource envelope of € 29.089 billion, of which €24. 365 billion will be for National and Indicative Programmes while €3.590 billion will finance inter-regional programmes. This guarantees an annual amount of about €4 billion, over 95 percent of it in grants to ACP countries.

In real terms, this amounts to a 0.2 percentage increase from EDF-10 cycle. It is remarkable, nonetheless, considering the fact that Europe faces an unprecedented financial crisis, with massive cutbacks in national budgets across the board. The Europeans have continued to maintain their official assistance to Africa and the ACP within the EDF which is outside the budget of the EU and therefore not subject to annual haggling between the member States, the EU Parliament and the Commission. This makes for a strong element of predictability and continuity in aid flows to recipient countries.

Europe remains the most generous provider of ODA to Africa, ahead of China, the United States and Japan. Without European generosity many African countries would hardly be in a position to balance their budgets. But we are not naive to imagine that EU aid is a one-way street with hardly any benefits accruing to their giver. In fact, it has been suggested that for every Euro given in aid, two Euros come back in terms of gains from trade and investment. EU development assistance enhances Europe’s influence and soft power throughout Africa.

Aid has never solved the ultimate problems facing the poorest nations. It can only help to galvanise the momentum for transformation while complimenting the bold efforts undertaken by leaders. There are those, like the self-promoting Dambisa Moyo, a Zambian economist living in Europe, who can afford the luxury of calling for the abolition of aid. Bill Gates read Moyo’s book, Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a Better Way for Africa (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2009) and concluded it was reminiscent of those who wish to perpetuate ‘evil’. He knows what he is talking about. The Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation is the largest charity in the world. Its work in public health and other domains is worthy of the Nobel Prize for Peace.

 

Chef de Cabinet, African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States.