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close this bookThe Courier N 184 - Jan - Feb 2001 - Dossier: Press and Democracy - Country Reports: St Kitts and Nevis (EC Courier, 2001, 96 p.)
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View the documentThe ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly

The ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly

by Kenneth Karl

Between 9 and 12 October, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and parliamentarians from the ACP countries met in Brussels to hold the first session of their Assembly since the signing of the Cotonou Agreement in June. This discussion forum has now been christened the Joint Parliamentary Assembly, and has six new member countries from the Pacific region. It is becoming one of the main meeting points for the nations of the 92 member countries and should henceforth play a more important political role in the new ACP-EU partnership.

When launching this first Assembly, Co-Presidents John Corrie (UK) and Serge Clair (Mauritius) set the tone of the session by calling for a dynamic Assembly to play a more significant political role in the new ACP-EU cooperation. In his opening speech, the European Co-President said that it was time for the Assembly to act; it should not simply become a talking shop, but rather a space to consider new ideas and make cooperation closer and more effective.

At a theoretical and practical level, the provisions of the Cotonou Agreement, intended to reinforce the political dimension of the partnership between the EU and the ACP countries, impose new responsibilities on the Joint Parliamentary Assembly for political dialogue and promoting democratic processes. According to Article 17, the role of this Assembly is to:

· promote democratic processes by means of dialogue and consultation;

· make it possible to increase understanding between the peoples of the European Union and the ACP countries and raise public awareness of development problems;

· consider questions relating to development and the ACP-EU partnership;

· adopt resolutions and send recommendations to the Council of Ministers in order to achieve the objectives of this Agreement.

The ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly is the first international parliamentary assembly to include 92 countries from four continents, pointed out Nicole Fontaine, the President of the European Parliament, in the speech read for her by Renzo Imbeni (PSE). According to Mrs Fontaine, the work of the new Assembly must take account of the main objective set by the Cotonou Agreement - the fight against poverty - and must help to achieve it. Some members of parliament consider that the new Assembly should also consolidate its future role, particularly with regard to monitoring the actions of the Commission, the Council and the governments of Member States in Europe and the ACP countries, and should strive to implement the new cooperation more successfully.

To increase the legitimacy of its role and enable it to contribute more fully to the success of the new partnership, the Assembly will in future be composed of members democratically elected in their countries, and not appointed by the government and the party in power, as still occurs in certain countries. Although most participants enthusiastically welcomed this new, ambitious goal, they were aware of the difficulty of the task facing them as they set about determining the structure of this new Assembly. How can they ensure democratic legitimacy and independence of members of parliament meeting in this forum when the evolution of democratic processes varies between countries?

The Joint Parliamentary Assembly also included another major innovation in its restructuring programme: regional meetings. ACP representatives from a particular subregion will meet the European members of the Assembly at regular intervals. These meetings will be accompanied by contacts between representatives of civil society and economic forces in the region in question. The aim is to establish links with each region in order to respond appropriately to their problems. Co-President Serge Clair was in no doubt about the usefulness of such meetings. It was, however, necessary to consider carefully a number of practical details, in particular the way in which regions were defined.

Facing the challenges of globalisation

The demands arising from the inevitable reality of globalisation and the need to fight effectively against poverty in the ACP countries need to be reconciled; and the reconciliation between sometimes contradictory objectives that must be achieved by the member countries is already proving complicated.

The Joint Parliamentary Assembly has already become aware of this. It has therefore very carefully examined the report by Abednego Seisa Nqojane (Lesotho) on “EU-ACP partnership and the challenges of globalisation” which says that greater account must be taken of public expectations regarding the regulation of globalisation in order to make it more equitable. “The failure of the Seattle World Trade Conference was a strong signal of the need to stop liberalising trade and to initiate in-depth reform of the World Trade Organisation in order to place unequal partners on a more equal footing and to take account of potential impacts on vulnerable groups,” this rapporteur emphasised. There was a danger that the differences between the countries that might benefit from globalisation and those that are effectively excluded would widen as a result of the rapid development of information technologies over the past few years. Mr Nqojane did not hesitate to describe this situation as “technological apartheid.” Most ACP countries were finding it extremely difficult to benefit from opportunities presented by technology, according to the Ghanaian delegate Emmanuel Baah-Danquah during the discussion.

The Swedish Conservative Anders Wijkman considered that globalisation offered numerous opportunities, despite the problems that it produced. He declared himself in favour of liberalising markets and also of increasing cooperation between countries. Liberalisation cannot be an end in itself, but must also be based on social justice, and must not exclude half of humanity, according to the British Labour MEP Glenys Kinnock, who went on to call for amendment of the WTO agreements in order to support the agricultural sectors of the ACP countries more effectively.

The Cotonou Agreement sets out the role of the Joint Parliamentary Assembly: to promote the democratic process by discussion

The two Presidents of the Joint Parliamentary Assembly: left, John Corrie; centre: Serge Clair

Two experts invited by the Assembly, Mrs Pheko, the African coordinator for the Gender and Trade Network, and Fournou Tchuigona spoke out against the new free market ideology on which globalisation was based. The first of these two experts called for the deconstruction of globalisation, while the second warned of the risk of a disastrous deterioration in the situation over the 20 years of the Cotonou Agreement if globalisation triumphs in its present form. Levison Numba, a delegate from Zambia, pointed out that private investment did not necessarily flow towards developing countries, even if they did liberalise their economies by taking the risk of selling off the flagships of their industry, as had occurred in the case of the mining sector in his country.

The delegates then heard the speech by Pascal Lamy, the European Commissioner responsible for trade, who had come to present the commercial proposals of the Commission intended to benefit the Least-Developed Countries (LDCs). Confronted with the fears of members of parliament regarding the disadvantages of globalisation, Mr Lamy took a more qualified view, by insisting on the benefits of liberalisation, which should not however be carried out blindly. He ! declared that foreign trade and investment brought a lot of benefits from a development viewpoint, but did not necessarily have the same results in all countries. He considered that the LDCs benefited least from it. Mr Lamy summarised the Commission's “Everything except weapons” proposal. This initiative is intended to give the 48 LDCs access for all the products they can export, apart from weapons, in the hope that other developed countries would adopt the same approach. At the end of the discussions, the Joint Parliamentary Assembly adopted the report by Mr Nqojane requesting the northern countries to open their markets to developing countries and, to an even greater extent, to the LDCs while at the same time eliminating all the tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade.

The Assembly called for a moratorium on any negotiations within the WTO until procedures and conditions of transparency and publicity ensuring fair results were respected. The Assembly also called for reform of the international financial architecture and greater access to knowledge and information technologies for developing countries.

Speaking on behalf of the President of the ACP Council Anicet Dologu, Zounguere Sokambi, President of the Committee of Ambassadors, confirmed during questions to the Council that the search for alternative commercial arrangements had begun and that the ACP Council of Ministers would shortly meet to consider them. Mr Josselin, French Minister for Cooperation, spoke for the country holding the presidency of the European Union by providing assurance that regional economic partnership agreements were being prepared and were based on a desire to improve the integration of the ACP countries into the world economy by placing the emphasis on regional integration.

Against AIDS

Although it has become impossible to ignore the ravages and the disastrous consequences of the HIV virus in developing countries, it is much more difficult to find effective solutions and in particular a clear political will on the part of the international community to stem its progress. The ACP-EU delegates and the guest experts therefore devoted an entire morning to this topic. After long discussion of the fight against the AIDS pandemic, the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly called on the European Commission to give greater priority to the fight against this scourge and to devote appropriate technical and financial resources to overcoming it. The cost of medicines, especially the medicines required for innovative treatments, is still prohibitively high and unaffordable for developing countries, and the Assembly considered that it should be greatly reduced. It called for the EU funds to be used to improve primary healthcare, public education, levels of awareness and systematic screening for the virus. Poul Nielson, the European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, reported that the Commission had devoted over €82 billion to the fight against AIDS between 1990 and 1999 and was collaborating closely with the WHO and UNAIDS. Mr Nielson went on to applaud the efforts made by the pharmaceutical industries to reduce the cost of treatments and announced the setting-up of a workshop to consider pharmaceutical products and the impact of taxation and customs duties on these products: The fight against AIDS should concern everyone, and also needed to be considered in the context of education, culture, science, health and even trade. A real war was being waged, and those involved needed to act accordingly and allocate resources on a comparable scale, emphasised Mr Piot, Executive Director of the UNAIDS Programme. Regarding the cost of treatment, James Cochrane, representing the pharmaceutical company Glaxo Wellcome, pointed out that AIDS was not just a public health problem, but also a development issue. Mr Cochrane also mentioned a joint declaration by five producers of anti-retroviral drugs and five major United Nations agencies such as Unicef, the Word Bank and the WHO.

The role of civil society in fighting against the disease was also pointed out by Dr Fatim Dia, representing the Centre of Pharmaceutical Excellence in Senegal. Dr Dia drew on his experience of the field to list a number of obstacles facing civil society, such as the influence of the socio-economic structure, access to funding, administrative delays in the performance of projects, etc.

The new Joint Parliamentary Assembly discussed the situation in certain countries and adopted 22 resolutions at the end of the session.

Source: European Parliament

Resolutions adopted by the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly at its first session

1 - Resolution on the situation in Guinea

2 - Resolution on the role and position of women in development

3 - Resolution on armed attacks on the southern border of Guinea

4 - Resolution on the situation in Burundi

5 - Resolution on the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo

6 - Resolution on improving regional infrastructures in Central Africa

7 - Resolution on Zimbabwe

8 - Resolution on the situation in Ethiopia and Eritrea

9 - Resolution on support for crossborder cooperation between Haiti and the Dominican Republic

10 - Resolution on elections in Haiti

11 - Resolution on reform of the EU banana regulations

12 - Resolution on rum

13 - Resolution on sugar

14 - Resolution on WTO waiver

15 - Resolution on the special session of the United Nations General Assembly of 5-9 June 2000 on 'Women 2000: equality, development and peace for the 21st century'

16 - Resolution on follow-up to Copenhagen-Geneva conferences on social development

17 - Resolution on small-scale fisheries

18 - Resolution on migration flows

19 - Resolution on trafficking in human beings

20 - Resolution on AIDS

21 - Resolution on decentralised cooperation

22 - Resolution on the impact on Belize of Hurricane Keith