16 May 2016

Group of States Needs Synergy With EU Goals

Written by  Adekeye Adebajo

No. 364: Group of States Needs Synergy With EU Goals / Adekeye Adebajo / Business Day
3 May 2016

I recently attended a meeting in Brussels to discuss the future of the four-decade relationship between the 79-member African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States — to which SA belongs — and the 28-member European Union (EU).

This relationship was forged to promote development and provide ACP access to the European market, but has not delivered.

Several analysts argue that the EU, with 500-million people, will pursue separate relationships with each of the 1-billion-strong ACP regions after the 2000 Cotonou accord expires in 2020. Brussels appears to be losing interest in the Caribbean and Pacific, while economic, security and migration issues dominate relations with Africa.

The financial and migration crises facing Europe have put pressure on budgets.

EU ministers have also failed to attend ACP-EU council meetings, sending mostly low-level officials. ACP ministers themselves need to show more commitment to their own organisation.

The ACP-EU political dialogue has represented a "dialogue of the deaf", conducted with multilateral bodies such as the African Union (AU) and individual states, but not within a structured ACP framework.

As with the AU, Brussels has also co-ordinated sanctions with the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) against military regimes in Mali, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau successfully.

Several analysts have, however, exaggerated the effect of the AU-EU partnership. The AU has weak capacity and is dependent on the EU for much of its conflict-management resources.

The view that only the aid pillar of the ACP-EU relationship is still standing, while trade and political co-operation have moved to regional forums and appear to be flourishing, does not necessarily reflect reality: the quality of the political aid and trade needs further investigation.

It is important to note that the Sustainable Development Goals — the 2030 Agenda — were adopted at the United Nations (UN) last September as a follow-on to the Millennium Development Goals. Africa had a mixed record in achieving the goals' priorities of promoting universal education, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS and malaria, ending extreme poverty, ensuring gender equality, enhancing environmental sustainability and promoting a global partnership for development.

The new goals represent a universal framework that seems to transcend the traditional north-south divide and could pose dangers for the future of the ACP group. The new goals focus on issues such as promoting sustainable and inclusive growth, reducing inequality, ending poverty and gender inequality, providing quality education, combating climate change and revitalising the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development.

Many of these goals are also contained in the AU's Agenda 2063, a 50-year vision for African development. Similar to the sustainable development goals, Agenda 2063 seeks to eradicate poverty; provide shelter, water, sanitation, energy and public transport; ensure collective food security; preserve the environment and ecosystem; and promote gender equality and youth employment. A major challenge remains how to implement these at continental and sub-regional levels with weak institutions that are financially dependent on external donors, and how to link these initiatives closer to the ACP agenda.

The ACP has a huge challenge in making a case for its continued partnership with the EU after 2020. Its five strategic policy areas — sustainable economies; intra-ACP trade and industrialisation; governance and the rule of law; global justice and human security; and south-south and triangular co-operation — are broadly consistent with the sustainable development goals and Agenda 2063 goals, but there is now a need for a careful synthesis and focus on key common priorities, such as how to build sustainable economies and promote democratic governance, and how to use institutions such as the Brazil, Russia, India, China, and SA (Brics) group to foster south-south trade.

The ACP-EU partnership has, however, had some successes: the number of low-income ACP countries declined from 44 in 2000 to 26 last year, while middle-income countries rose from 30 to 43 in the same period. The ACP is seeking to explore other forms of development finance beyond aid, such as public-private partnerships, domestic resource mobilisation, recovering illicit financial flows, and technology development and transfer.

However, the obvious question is: if the ACP has not managed these in 40 years, what is the radical change that will help it achieve these goals in the next four years?

Dr Adebajo is executive director of the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Cape Town, and visiting professor at the University of Johannesburg. He is also co-editor of The EU and Africa.

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