Introduction: Old and new, oil and water

The future of the ACP-EU relationship

June 24, 2011

Can you think of a group of almost half of the countries in the world that delivers crucial commodities and does not have a real say in global governance? Well, it exists. And the group now wants to be heard.

The ACP, an alliance of 79 states from Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific, was formed in 1975 to negotiate trade agreements with European institutions. The ACP-EU Cotonou Agreement, a partnership treaty between ACP countries and the 27 European Union (EU) member states, is the largest inter-regional cooperation in the world.

But its future is uncertain. The EU, like an old man sailing uncertain seas, is sending signals that it might not extend the treaty. The ACP, meanwhile, has a strong wind in its sails, encouraged by the demand for its commodities from countries such as China. Indeed, the question is not necessarily whether the EU wants to extend the treaty but whether the ACP really needs the EU. Trading with non-EU countries might prove more tempting than receiving aid from Europe. And being more independent, ACP countries feel, strengthens their presence in global governance.

Mirjam van Reisen discusses these issues in this special report’s three articles. The first explores the future of the ACP-EU relationship in the context of the ACP’s effort to establish a presence in global governance and become the spokesperson for poor, less powerful nations.

The second article asks what the ACP can do to become a stronger, more independent group. And the third article examines the new relationships the ACP is building with the BRICs and other emerging countries. What implications does this have for the future of the ACP-EU partnership, and will it help the ACP claim a more significant position in world affairs?

The author wishes to thank all those who have contributed to this report:

This special report has benefitted from the views of the staff of the European Commission and European External Action Service, the staff and members of the European Parliament, as well as Lord Meghnad Desai of the London School of Economics, and executive director Patricia Francis of the International Trade Centre in Geneva.

The author interviewed the following people for this special report and wishes to thank them. These articles also benefitted from their views.Anil Sooklal, ambassador of South Africa, Daniel Evina Abe’e, ambassador of Cameroon, Mary Margaret Muchada, ambassador of Zimbabwe, Stephen Katenta-Apuli, ambassador of Uganda, Charles Todjinou, ambassador of Benin, Marcia Gilbert-Roberts, ambassador of Jamaica, Sutiawan Gunessee, ambassador of Mauritius, James Kembi-Gitura, ambassador of
Kenya, Obadiah Mailafia, chef du cabinet of the ACP Secretariat, Klaus Rudischhauser, director of ACP General Affairs in the European Commission-Development and Cooperation and Ibn Chambas, secretary-general of the ACP in Brussels.

The author thanks the editors of The Broker for their critical review and interest in the article. The author also thanks ECDPM, especially Paul Engel and Melissa Julian, for sharing their views and suggestions. The author acknowledges Kees Bos who helped to compile the report, contributed content and edited the paper and also conducted interviews, Eva Kraleva for research work, and Susan Sellar-Shrestha for review and editing.

Photo credit main picture: Reuters / Mike Hutchings