By Reinhard Jacobsen
BRUSSELS (IDN) — The 79 member-country Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) is asking the European Commission to explain the long lapse that had occurred since April 2021, when chief negotiators of the EU and OACPS concluded their deliberations and initialled an agreed text for the successor Agreement to the Cotonou Partnership Agreement that expired on February 29, 2020.
Since the launch of negotiations in September 2018, intense discussions in a widely participatory and multistakeholder process that involved ministers, ambassadors, officials of the ACP Secretariat and the European Commission, as well as civil society organisations, have produced a far-reaching and people-centred new Agreement.
The aim is to deepen the maturing OACPS-EU Political Partnership centred on human rights, democracy and governance with an end to “aid dependency”—long seen as a hang-over of neo-colonialism and patronising offers of “aid”.
From the outset, the overarching framework has been Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals, with the Brussels-based ACP institutional architecture of six regions as the centre in which negotiations were held.
The final agreed text of the post-Cotonou agreement is structured as a General Part of Strategic Priorities with various Titles, including Peace and Security; Human & Social Development; Inclusive Sustainable Economic Growth & Development; Environmental Sustainability & Climate Change and Migration & Mobility.
Other parts address Global Alliances and International Cooperation, Means of Cooperation and Implementation that is followed by the Institutional framework for Ministerial Councils, a Committee of ACP Ambassadors and EU officials, and Parliamentary Assemblies. A significant feature of the new agreement is the provision of regional protocols, one each for Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific, that are integral to common provisions of the General Part while identifying specificities for regional priorities.
Signature and Provisional Application of new Agreement
With the extensive work completed and basic agreement on the text, OACPS member states are said to be “very concerned” over the delay for a venue and the date to be determined. The unanimity required on the EU side is not forthcoming.
When France held the Presidency of the European Council from January to June this year (2022), it was widely expected that all difficulties on the EU side would have been ironed out and the date for signing agreed. But that did not happen. With the Czech Republic holding the Presidency until December 2022, it is hoped that the stalemate of a signature by all 27 EU countries and the 79 OACPS representatives will end.
To be cautious and avoid a legal vacuum in programmes and joint actions by the OACPS and Europe, especially in the multilateral arena, the European Commission, with the concurrence of the ACP Council of Ministers, has agreed to a temporary extension of the Cotonou Agreement to June 30, 2023. But, European Parliament members find the delay and the precarious situation far from acceptable.
It is widely accepted that in ACP-EU relations over the many years of the Cotonou Agreement (2000–2020), the EU Parliament has consistently placed great importance on the Joint ACP-EU Parliamentary Assembly (JPA). And now even more so. Given that the regional assembly of Parliamentarians, local authorities, and private sector representatives play a vital role, knowledgeable sources emphasise that the JPA, considered a valuable mechanism, should be in operation without delay.
The JPA, having acquired a substantially favourable record for serious debate and adoption of resolutions on major issues affecting ACP countries about trade, investment, development finance, human rights and the rule of law, it was found necessary for the European Parliament to deal with the matter. So, the Chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Development requested at a plenary session of the Parliament to invite and debate statements by the EU Council and European Commission on the Post-Cotonou Agreement.
The session was held on July 6, 2022 and many views were expressed, demanding urgency with a strong call to the EU Council to act and come up with a clear timeline detailing steps towards the signature of the post-Cotonou Agreement.
“Desirable as this would appear, there is an elephant in the EU Council’s room,” said a source. “Known as very forthright in his remarks, the MEP, who is Chair of the Parliament’s Committee on Development, urged for action to overcome any remaining divisions internally and even went further to state that “there is one country that is the problem.” (PLENIERE du P.E., 6 Juillet 2922 -VERBATIM).
The delay reflects a broader issue in which the European Union now finds itself—the fundamental one of unity in historical circumstances accelerated by economic problems of high inflation, increasing food prices and access to energy from the primary source of Russia, against whom sanctions have been imposed for its brutal war with Ukraine.
Far away as the countries of the OACPS are, the objection of one European country out of 27 member states is holding to ransom the implementation of a partnership by more than 100 countries of the United Nations, the source said.
Unity and solidarity can sound nice but mean nothing in practice.
In 2001, the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas (RTOC) established the Caribbean Community (CC). It stipulated in Article 16, inter alia, the existence and role of the Community’s Council for Foreign & Community Relations (COFCOR). The primary function of COFCOR is operational and policy implementation, while Heads of Government define policy and aim at an agreement on common positions.
As stated in the RTOC, COFCOR’s objectives are to “establish measures to coordinate the foreign policies of the Member States of the Community, including proposals for joint representation, and … to ensure, as far as practicable, the adoption of Community positions on major hemispheric and international issues.”
In undertaking an “appraisal” of CARICOM’s positions on “major hemispheric and international issues”, the Panel had the benefit of a historical overview of the achievements and limits within which the CC realised the RTOC’s ambitions for “coordination”, “joint representation” and “adoption of Community positions” on hemispheric and international issues.
This was presented by the current Assistant Secretary-General, Ambassador Colin Granderson, followed by an analysis of four foreign policy arenas and international venues in which CARICOM has undertaken notable engagements to achieve the region’s foreign interests.
The FP (foreign policy) arenas and presenters of those engagements by the panel consisted of the United Nations (Ambassador Colin Ward); UNCTAD (Ambassador Errol Humphrey); the USA, and OAS (Ambassador Dr. Riyad Insanally) and the OACPS and European Union (Ambassador Patrick Gomes). The overall discussant of the debate was Ambassador Dr. June Soomer, former Secretary-General of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS).
The widely experienced and accomplished panel offered helpful, insightful and critical views to serve the proposed “re-appraisal” of the CC’s FP priorities.
Such an intention is timely as the Caribbean region is fast becoming a theatre of acute geopolitical rivalry between the US and China. At the same time, the traditional hegemonic forces of yesteryear, Europe and the UK appear uncertain and ill-prepared. [IDN-InDepthNews — 27 July 2022]
Photo: No progress has been made since April 2021, when Chief Negotiators of the EU and OACPS concluded their deliberations and initialled an agreed text for the successor Agreement to the Cotonou Partnership Agreement that expired on February 29, 2020. Credit: OACPS Secretariat
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