Hearts and minds for ACP-EU relations

Development Policy07 Jul 2011Maarten van den Berg

Neither within the EU nor within ACP countries, the ACP-EU partnership is something that lives in the hearts and minds of citizens.

The African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP) needs to strengthen itself politically while the EU must be prepared to renew its partnership with ACP countries, taking it beyond the donor-recipient relationship.

These are some of the opinions set forth in a Special Report on the future of the ACP-EU relationship just published by The Broker, and a conference on the topic organized by the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM) in Maastricht last week.


I had the privilege to attend the conference, which turned out to be a VIP-packed event as it marked the Centre’s 25th anniversary. H.R.H. Prince Constantijn inaugurated the hall of the Centre’s newly renovated office. It now bears the name of his father, the late Prince Claus, in honour of his dedication to international cooperation.

Featuring among the participants in the conference were Mohamed Ibn Chambas, Secretary General of the ACP, OECD Deputy Director Aart de Geus, and Michael Hailu, Director of ACP-EU Technical Cooperation Agency CTA, along with ambassadors from quite a few ACP countries, government officials from several EU member states, and representatives of the European Commission, the World Bank, the European Investment Bank, DFID, ODI, DEI and the China Institute of International Studies.

The ACP’s position in the world

The ACP-EU partnership, sealed by a treaty known as the Cotonou agreement, is due to expire in 2020. As one would expect from a gathering of such prominent stakeholders, most agreed that the partnership is worth renewing. However, it is widely shared that in its current form, the partnership is too much of a donor-recipient relationship. If it was not for the € 4400 million in funding allocated annually to ACP countries from the European Development Fund (EDF), would the ACP in fact exist as a group of states on the international stage?

With Mirjam van Reisen, the author of our Special Report, many conference participants expressed their hope that the ACP pursue a more prominent, political position in international decision-making, and explore new opportunities for cooperation with emerging countries such as China, India and Brazil. Others are more skeptical; pointing out that the ACP group is too diverse and geographically dispersed to operate effectively as a political bloc. Still others believe that the ACP should continue to focus on its role as principal partner for European development cooperation, and strengthen intra-group relations.

Hearts and minds

One observation that transpired in the discussions is that neither within the EU nor within ACP countries, the partnership is something that lives in the hearts and minds of citizens. Apparently, the partnership has been able to make do without much public awareness for 36 years. I believe that public support for the partnership can no longer be taken for granted. In quite a few EU member states, citizens have become wary of public spending on international cooperation. Therefore, I believe that in the coming nine years, policy makers can and should do more on public outreach, explaining citizens what the ACP-EU partnership has achieved to date, and engage them in an assessment of what it could offer them in the future.

On that note, I invite you to join the discussion on the future of the ACP-EU relationship. You can submit your comments below or send your contribution to Maarten van den Berg.