|The Courier N° 127 May - June 1991- Dossier 'New' ACP Export Products - Country Reports Cape Verde - Namibia (EC Courier, 1991, 104 p.)|
The Minister for External Relations of the Walloon Region, Mr Albert Lird, outlines in an interview with the Courier, the political dimension of the regions, and in particular that of the Walloon Region, in Belgium, and the special role it can play in economic cooperation with the African States.
· What, Minister Lird. is the main focus of Wallonias External Relations policy and co-operation with the African States?
- Wallonias External Relations policy first has to be set in the historic context of Belgiums new institutional configuration.
In the decentralisation process now under way, which federalises the structures of our country, the Walloon Region as of this year has full autonomy and jurisdiction, particularly concerning foreign trade, owing to the transfer of most of the powers of the Belgian external trade office (OBCE) to the regions. But development co-operation, it must be remembered, is still a matter of national jurisdiction.
The two mainsprings of the Walloon Regions external relations are promoting exports, that is to say, helping our undertakings to export by providing them with the right framework and instruments, and putting Wallonia on the map abroad by positioning it as a political entity in the international context.
This new institutional status offers a number of advantages in terms of flexibility and proximity to our undertakings, but also from a strategic standpoint. More especially, it allows it to enter into various kinds of conventions and agreements with institutions in other countries.
With regard particularly to the Walloon Regions relations with Africa, my policy is part of a global strategy - Plan W - which is a project aimed at opening Wallonia and the Walloons to Europe and the world.
In essence, this socio-economic development strategy sets out to mobilise the technological, human and financial resources of our region so as to heighten the accountability and involvement of the co-operating partners. In terms of concrete actions with the African countries, our relations as partners are to be differentiated from the traditional donor/ recipient form of co-operation, which our financial resources moreover preclude.
In point of fact, the relations we are initiating with our African friends fall within an innovative framework, aimed at adapting instruments to strategies, the economic spin-offs of which must be mutually beneficial for Wallonia and, in a development context, for the ACP countries concerned.
· What is the philosophy underlying the Walloon Regions action with regard to Africa?
- I am convinced that, although Africas economic future cannot today be envisaged without an intensified, reconsidered and concerted effort from the international community - more in terms of efficiency and coordination than in quantitative terms - it is illusory to hope to achieve development objectives without closely and actively associating the Africans concerned as fully-fledged partners.
A partnership of this kind, based on more balanced contributions, a more genuine sharing of responsibilities and a more equitable distribution of benefits, calls for a radical change in the recipient/ donor mentalities which have prevailed for thirty years.
The new kind of partnership we would like to set up means devising new models of development, uniting and coordinating the actions of public and private partners of the North and South.
The signatories of the fourth ACP-EEC Convention, signed in Lomn 15 December 1990, have clearly understood this. The inclusion in chapter III of articles 20 to 22 promoting cooperation between new decentralised actors in fact opens the way for regional contributions favouring the setting up of decentralised centres of development in Africa. This initiative should allow for the development of an SME - SMI fabric with a human dimension by bringing together decentralised public and private actors supported by financial backers.
Through its initiatives in this direction, the Walloon Region has already forestalled LomV.
· What are the main projects undertaken by the Walloon Region to date, and why were they chosen?
- I have consolidated this policy, principally in West Africa and Central Africa, through several kinds of bilateral action.
These include; by developing with the Centre for the Development of Industry (CDI) some 40 industrial partnership projects in twenty countries, associating African and Walloon undertakings, by looking in this way to provide incentives to small and medium-sized industries, and by optimising the relevant technologies of our SMEs. The latest estimate puts the success rate at between 20-25%. The Walloon Region has thus become the CDIs main regional European partner within the framework of the Lomonvention between the 69 ACP countries and the European Community. We will this year be celebrating the Fifth anniversary of this agreement protocol, by concluding a similar agreement with the Soci Belge dlnvestissement International (SBI) on 30 March 1990, (Cheysson facility) (4), aimed at non-ACP developing countries, including North Africa. We signed partnership agreements with five countries at the time of the Round Tables and sent economic missions to Guinea, Senegal, Zaire (Shaba), Mauritania and the Congo. These resulted in an active contribution to the creation of regional centres of development, including a pilot project of the Soci de Dloppement Ronal (SDR) in the Congo - associating private, public, African and Walloon actors and financial backers - which will be operational by June]991. African trainees (from Guinea, Zaire, the Congo, Senegal) are also being welcomed in Wallonia in the public and private management sectors. The services of experts from universities, research centres and the business world are also being made available. There are furthermore, the negotiations now under way with various financial backers, including the African Development Bank in Abidjan, and the European Investment Bank in Luxemburg.
This strategy, which has so far been developed more specifically in French-speaking sub-Saharan Africa, is now being extended to include Burundi, Rwanda, the Ivory Coast and the Maghreb.
In looking to consolidate the partnership with African countries, the Walloon Region is taking part multilaterally in the summits of French-speaking countries.
It is particularly active here working together with the Agence de Cooption Culturelle et Technique (ACCT) in the energy, agriculture and environment sectors, and the language industry; 22 projects have got off the ground since the first of these summits in Quebec.
Within the Assembly of European Regions (AER), Wallonia also plays a driving role, particularly in the follow-up to the First Europe-Africa Encounters between decentralised development operators, which was held in Dakar in February 1990 and brought together some fifteen regions of Europe and ten or so African countries.
· How are you reconciling the Walloon regional and European approach with that of more centralisation-oriented African countries?
- One has to be clear on what is meant by regional approach. The Walloon Region, for its part, is making a contribution to the setting up of decentralised economic policies, as it did in the follow-up to the Mauritania and Congo Round Tables.
On the question of decentralisation, Belgium has some experience which, on the whole, is positive. So why not have it benefit our African friends?
As you know, this approach ties in with the opening up of democracy, with the liberalisation and privatisation of economic systems, insofar as each actor, both public and private, has a specific and complementary role to play.
Yet this can only come about within the scope of a national economic and social policy which coordinates rather than centralises. In some countries this process is already under way. But much work remains to be done.
Let us not, however, lose sight of the need for an economic and social transition which is essential in setting up instruments and institutions.
The structural adjustments needed from an economic and financial viewpoint must not be neutralised by a lack of cultural and social understanding and jeopardise the democratisation efforts under way.
Nor must education and training be overlooked, for one cannot change mentalities and habits by simply waving a magic wand!
· How do you see the future of cooperation between the regions of Europe and the ACP States?
- In addition to and at the same time as decentralisation, which is essential for the economic and social development of each country concerned, it is my view that the conditions for regional co-operation between countries must be brought about as quickly as possible.
This should in the shortest possible time lead to a stepping up of South-South and South-North trade with the help of the European regions to promote regional integration in a process similar to that of the European Community. In such a context, co-operation between European regions and ACP countries, Africa in particular, can but be increased.
Personally, I prefer constructive talk and concrete actions, even modest, to what I would term Afro-pessimism, which is likely to discourage both foreign and African investors. The real challenge is to reinstil confidence...