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View the documentLow-key Joint Assembly in Amsterdam
View the documentThe Joint Assembly - as seen by four of its members

Low-key Joint Assembly in Amsterdam

‘Subdued’ is perhaps the best word to describe the most recent ACP-EEC Joint Assembly which was held in the Royal Tropical Museum, Amsterdam on 23-27 September. It is true that there was some heated debate when a resolution tabled by Margaret Daly (ED UK) et al, regarding the situation in Sudan was being discussed (see below). There was also a minor controversy over the status of a daily newspaper produced for the occasion by local journalists and students when Danish MDP, Marie Jepsen (ED) drew attention to an error (presumably editorial rather than typographical) which substituted Turkey for Denmark as a member of the European Community. In general, however, the atmosphere was distinctly low-key, with minimal argument or controversy on the main issues under debate.

There are a number of possible explanations for this. Among some members of the Assembly, there seems to be a sense of resignation - a sort of ‘Lomessimism’ somewhat akin to the ‘Euro-pessimism’ of the 1970s, engendered by the continuing economic crisis in Africa and by a feeling that the attention of the world has shifted North and East, with the collapse of communism. This was a factor which was acknowledged at a press briefing by both Leo Tindemans, the European Co-President of the Assembly and by Erskine Simmons, the Barbadian Senator who is about to take over from Mamadou Diop as Co-President on the ACP side.

There may also have been more prosaic reasons for the subdued atmosphere. Initially, there was a problem with the sound system, and it was not possible to hear the speaker without earphones. Although the amplification to the hall improved, the earphones continued to be needed, not just for translation but also to boost the volume of original speeches in one’s own language. Clearly, the atmosphere of an event is not wholly determined by its acoustics, but it may be a contributory factor.

There was also the fact that the previous Joint Assembly in Kampala had been particularly successful and had enjoyed the experience of being the centre of attention in its host country. (Indeed, it was regularly the lead item in local TV news bulletins despite the fact that the ground war was raging in Kuwait and Iraq at the time). Although the City of Amsterdam offered good hospitality, the event itself attracted relatively little media interest and this must have rubbed off on those attending.

The most positive explanation is that the Assembly has matured and that the controversies of the past have given way to a more workmanlike approach, involving a closer consensus over the issues and the way in which they should be tackled. An examination of the main reports and resolutions debated in Amsterdam would certainly tend to support this view. There was general agreement about the high standard: of these reports (particularly those of Abdourahim Agne of Senegal on Services and of Dr Simmons on intra-ACP trade) “d, as a result, there appears to have been little scope for major disagreement in the substantive discussions.

Famine and Sudan

The debate which did provoke some controversy and passion was, not surprisingly, the one concerning famine in developing countries. This took the form of an exchange of views on the Wednesday morning, and one country - Sudan - was very much in the firing line. Describing the Community’s special programme to relieve famine in Africa, Peter Pooley of the European Commission said that ECU 140 million had been committed by the Community with a further ECU 70 million contributed by individual Member States. 93% of the Community’s aid had now been mobilised and most had already been sent. Mr Pooley said that more attention had been given to the problem of logistic support and that the provision of aeroplanes by Member States had made an enormous difference to the speed and efficiency of the operation. In respect of the 7% which had not been mobilised, he explained that this involved aid earmarked for Somalia and southern Sudan where there were ‘difficulties of access’. Mr Pooley referred specifically to the ‘deterioration of the situation’ in Sudan and asserted that ‘cooperation with the local authorities is decreasing rather than increasing’. He said that all donors were having difficulty in moving food from the primary distribution centres.

This theme was expanded upon by Margaret Daly (ED UK). She said that she had been ‘appalled when listening to representatives of the Sudanese Government asserting that there was no famine’. She drew the Assembly’s attention to the ‘critical’ situation in Northern Darfur and referred to specific ‘obstacles’ which had inhibited distribution by the Save the Children Fund, resulting in a 90% drop in relief food supplied to the area by that organisation. There was, she continued, ‘a contempt and disregard for the people of Darfur’ and she urged the Joint Assembly to put pressure on the Sudanese Government. Maxime Verhagen (EPP NL) sought a response from the Sudanese representative to the report that his country’s government had decided to give food aid to Iraq and also raised the issue of blockages in distribution.

In reply to these and other criticisms, the representative of Sudan stated that the famine issue had been raised by his country’s President before the United Nations in October 1990. He also stressed his country’s gratitude to the Community and other donors for their efforts. He was critical, however, of the ‘political position’ adopted by some countries and accused them of using the famine to put pressure on Sudan. He said that his was a very large and poor country which lacked infrastructure, but despite this, only the Netherlands was providing development aid (as opposed to emergency assistance). He argued that this lack of official development assistance was a major cause of the food shortage. ‘If you want Sudan to fulfil its duties’, he continued, ‘you should not cripple Sudan’. He went on to dispute the claim that his Government was placing obstacles to the transport of food supplies but acknowledged that there was a problem with ‘bandits’. He also denied the report that food aid was to be sent from Sudan to Iraq.

The situation in Sudan provoked further heated discussion during the voting session, when a resolution condemning human rights violations in the country was considered. Members of the whole Assembly finally supported a revised resolution which appealed to the authorities in that country to ensure that humanitarian aid is transported rapidly to those who need it. Only Sudan voted against the final text.

Swiss banks

More generally in the famine debate, Mrs Van Hemeldonck (Soc NL) argued that there was a clear link between democracy and development, and pointed out that Swiss banks would not be so rich if ‘incredible sums were not deposited there’ by some of the poorest countries.

The representative of Ethiopia warned that the lives of close to 10 million people in his country were now threatened and that, with the infrastructure in a ‘shambles’, there was a shortfall in relief requirements.

Christopher Jackson (ED UK) focused on the issue of debt and argued that it was unrealistic for it all to be cancelled. Instead, he commended the Trinidad Terms as a sensible option. Under these, he said, the whole of a country’s debt would be treated together, up to two-thirds might be written-off, there would be a five-year period with no repayments and the repayment period for the remainder would be lengthened from 14 to 25 years.

The representative of Djibouti drew the Assembly’s attention to the refugee problem faced by his country as a result of the famine in the Horn of Africa. He described the relief actions taken by his Government ‘out of our very meagre budget’ and pleaded for more effective action.

The European Commission received support for its efforts from the representative of Cd’Ivoire. The latter, however, suggested that when food aid is being put together, more effort should be made to call on supplies available in countries which are close to the famine areas.

Services

Billed as the main ‘debate in the Joint Assembly, the discussion of Abdourahim Agne’s report and draft resolution on ‘Services: a new basis for development’ turned out to be a relatively short one, reflecting the general consensus which existed over the Senegalese rapporteur’s conclusions. Introducing his report, Mr Agne said that he wanted to lay the foundations for an autonomous services policy aimed, at the same time, at supporting traditional economic activities in the ACPs. He stressed that the implementation of LomV should take the following points, among others, into account:

- technical cooperation in the field of services;

- development of service infrastructures in the transport and telecommunications sectors in order to facilitate regional integration;

- development of intermediate services

Mr Agne went on to state that it was appropriate to consider services as factors of production and as elements in the integration of national and regional economies. As regards financing, he argued for a distinction to be drawn between public services, which could be financed in the framework of structural adjustment policies and intermediate services which were primarily of interest to companies. The latter, he suggested ought to be financed directly through a new instrument to be created by the European Investment Bank in conjunction with ACP financial institutions. In his concluding remarks, the rapporteur emphasised, however, that an effective services policy would only be possible if there was a genuine political will for it.

It is one of the curiosities of the Joint Assembly that the debate which immediately follows the formal opening session is used as an opportunity for general statements by speakers, irrespective of the topic which is supposed to be under discussion. There are always a number of prominent contributors from Community and ACP institutions who rightly have an interest in making more wide-ranging contributions, and indeed, the members of the Assembly expect this. The oddity is that such statements are not programmed in the agenda - thus, the rapporteur’s introduction tends to be followed immediately by a de facto suspension of the debate. For the second time in succession, Mr Agne’s report fell victim to this informal arrangement.

The next speaker, representing the Council presidency, was Piet Dankert the Dutch Deputy Foreign Minister and former President of the European Parliament) who delivered a wide-ranging speech touching upon the subjects of famine, the GATT negotiations, sugar, human rights/demacracy, South Africa, Angola and Mozambique. Mr Dankert sought in particular to reassure the ACPs that the radical changes affecting the world political order would not result in less attention being paid to the Community’s traditional partners in development.

Dr Augustin Ngirabatware of Rwanda, who is President-in-office of the ACP Council, then spoke of the need for qualitatively better aid and quicker implementation. He argued that life had been made impossible for ACP governments, because all their efforts towards stability-and structural adjustment were being defeated by falling raw material prices and towering debts. He stressed that programmes aiming at the needs of the people were necessary. He also spoke about problems of trade and Aids as well as of the need for vigilance in ensuring that the Government of South Africa did not backtrack on its commitment to introducing democracy.

To do justice to Commission Vice-President Manuel Marin, he sought to keep to the spirit of the agenda by focusing on the services issue. He began by pointing out that this sector was founded essentially on people and that it was necessary to concentrate on good basic education, on professional training and on developing management skills. Accordingly, he felt that the challenge should be seen less in terms of the financial resources required for developing the service sector per se, and more in terms of the training policies required for ACP citizens to be able to develop their own service industries. Mr Marin said that the instruments of the Lomonvention were designed to help meet this challenge.

The Commissioner also spoke of the new international order which was coming into being, characterising it as the final dismantlement of the system which was established at the end of the Second World War. He acknowledged that in times of transition, uncertainty and confusion were inevitable, but stressed that it was essential for the ACPs to play a full part in defining this new order. Mr Marin also emphasised that growing importance was being attached to human rights and democracy issues within the Community. The Commission, he said, would unambiguously support actions which favoured human rights or were aimed at democratisation.

Other speakers in the services debate included the representative of Benin, Frans Guillaume (RDE F) and Maxime Verhagen. Mr Agne’s draft resolution was adopted with amendments during the voting session on the Wednesday evening.

Intra-ACP trade

The other main debate at the Assembly was on the report and draft resolution presented by Dr Erskine Simmons (Bar bados) on the subject of developing intra-ACP trade. The rapporteur, who was congratulated on all sides for the quality of his report, outlined the obstacles which stood in the way of trade between the ACP countries. These included a lack of complementarily on the production side, the dependence of ACPs on external suppliers particularly as regards manufactured products, over-valued and nonconvertible currencies, the lack of infrastructure, linguistic differences and the absence of common norms. In general terms, Dr Simmons said, the solution at national level lay in developing diversified economies and in devising policies aimed at the production of globally competitive exports. Further development of sub-regional organisations was also needed, with a view to promoting economic integration within single market areas. In the ACP context, states should do more to coordinate their economic activity. The rapporteur underlined the importance of political will within the ACPs to bring about these changes.

During the debate on the Simmons report, the representative of Cameroun went even further in calling for an ACP monetary union while Mr Escuder Croft (EPP SP) echoed Dr Simmons’ call for the creation of an ACP chamber of commerce.

In the resolution adopted later in the session, the Joint Assembly called inter alia for the ACP states to:

- redouble their commitment to existing regional and subregional organisations;

- support cross-frontier economic contacts;

- establish an agricultural policy aimed at national and regional self-sufficiency in food;

- reduce, initially on a regional basis, tariff and non-tariff barriers

- reduce subsidies and bring about rational price mechanisms to facilitate competition;

- create, with European commercial banks, a relationship which allows the banking systems within ACP States to become more technically efficient;

- take full advantage of the provisions of the Lomonvention as regards access

- to risk capital in order that they might develop small and medium-sized industries for local and cross border markets;

- encourage legitimate trade between border regions in neighbouring countries.

The European Community, for its part, was urged to:

- provide technical assistance and where possible, financial support for those ACP states wishing to participate in clearing house schemes operated by the various regional organisations such as the PTA; - investigate with the ACP States, the practical measures which may be taken to establish a zone of ACP-EEC monetary cooperation, particularly in the light of moves within the European Community towards economic and monetary union; - provide support for market research activities in ACP States by financing studies aimed at developing new outlets for manufactured items, and to implement the appropriate means for the development of processing, marketing, distribution and transport operations.

The report also called for the establishment of an ACP development bank and emphasised the importance of acquiring a qualified workforce entailing investment in professional and vocational training. Following a debate, the resolution was adopted with only minor amendments.

Democracy and development

The Joint Assembly also debated for the first time, the subject of human rights, democracy and development. The representative of Guyana opened the discussion by asserting that it was impossible to ‘delink’ democracy from development since both involved participation - the one in politics and the other in economics. However, the Guyanese delegate pointed out that ‘mere advocacy of the value of multi-party politics does not mean that it will work in practice’. He also expressed concern about the rights of non-nationals within the European Community and about the growing number of negative statements by some European politicians regarding the immigration issue.

Henri Saby (Soc FR) made an impassioned plea for democracy at the international level in bodies such as the IMF, the World Bank, GATT and the United Nations. He was particularly critical of the GATT process and asserted that ‘there is no such thing as one democracy for the poor and another for the rich’.

The Kenyan representative took the opportunity provided by this debate to respond to criticisms made of his country. He expressed amazement over a resolution sponsored by MEPs in the European Parliament in which human rights violations had been alleged and insisted that Kenya had no political detainees. He urged his audience not to resort to ‘intimidation against our young and developing democracy’. He pointed out that Kenya had an independent judiciary and stressed that his country subscribed to a policy of respect for human rights. However, he pointed out that enjoyment of these rights was subject to the requirement for stability and law and order, and that the state had a right to detain people who threatened these.

A number of speakers referred to the issue of conditionality - ie, the possible linking of future aid to respect for human rights and democratic freedoms. Josarros Moura (CL P) said that this should only be applied with great care while Brigitte Ernst de la Graete (Green B) went further in arguing that it should be applied with ‘coherence, transparency and flexibility’. Responding to concerns over what ‘conditionality’ might involve, Peter Pooley of the Commission drew a clear distinction between human rights and democratisation. The Commission, he said, had ‘an obligation and vocation - deriving from the basic principle of solidarity - to uphold’ the former, and would where necessary, take negative measures in pursuit of this. As regards the latter, he noted the strong trend towards developing indigenous democratic systems and emphasised that in this area, the Commission would only consider positive measures.

The discussion was concluded by the representative of Zaire who stated that the process of democratisation had begun in his country but acknowledged that there had been ‘some recent turbulence’.

Whatever the situation in individual Member States, the atmosphere at the Amsterdam Joint Assembly was certainly not turbulent. Whether or not this was due to a growing sense of ‘Lomessimism’, the members nevertheless succeeded in covering a lot of ground, discussing a wide range of current concerns and tackling potentially controversial issues. They will meet again in the Dominican Republic early in 1992.

Simon HORNER