The ACP-EU Partnership Agreement, signed in Cotonou, was concluded for a 20-year period from 2000 to 2020. Since 2000, it has been the framework for EU's relations with 79 countries from Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP). As it comes to an end in 2020, what should come next? On December 2017, the European Commission made a "Recommendation for a Council decision authorising the opening of negotiations on a Partnership Agreement between the European Union and countries of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States". How should this proposal be interpreted?
- The different evaluations of the Cotonou Partnership Agreement converge on the need for reform. According to the EC, progress has been recorded in the political dialogue at the regional and national levels, as well as in terms of economic and social development. The objectives nevertheless need to be reviewed in light of current challenges and opportunities, and the institutional architecture needs to be revised to make it more coherent and streamlined. Finally, the ACP Group has not been the strategic global player that it planned to become when the previous Agreement was negotiated.
- The Commission’s proposal recommends making the regions the “centre of gravity” of the Agreement. According to this proposal, the next Agreement must be open to different degrees to the adhesion or involvement of other countries, particularly in order to strengthen cooperation with the African continent as a whole (“Africa as One”), while allowing for bilateral association agreements with the North African countries.
- A first area of vigilance is the role given to the regional and sub-regional organisations in the negotiations and in the implementation of the provisions of the next Agreement. The EU urgently needs to define the regional partner with which it intends to agree on the priorities and provisions specific to the regional protocols. The regional partners need to be stakeholders in the Agreement and actors in their own right in its negotiation, provided of course that they express a wish for this.
- Priority should be given to the institutional and financial empowerment of the regional partners within the Agreement. Between the position of the ACP countries wishing to increase the Group’s resources and international influence and the Commission’s more moderate approach, there is a risk of achieving only a half measure that pointlessly replicates existing and new institutional structures—those deemed necessary by the ACP to enhance the Group’s activity on the one hand, and those required by the regional protocols on the other. If a choice has to be made, the ACP Group’s diplomatic activity and institutional endowment should be a secondary negotiating priority for the EU.