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close this bookThe Courier N° 136 - Nov-Dec 1992 - Dossier Humanitarian Aid - Country Reports: Soa Tomé- Principe- Senegal (EC Courier, 1992, 96 p.)
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View the documentACP-EEC Joint Assembly discusses the future of the Lomé Convention

ACP-EEC Joint Assembly discusses the future of the Lomé Convention

Much manœuvang in Luxembourg:

The 15th session will go down in the history of the Joint Assembly, some said, as the meeting began, and they did not know how right they were, although it was ultimately for reasons they could not have foreseen. Democracy and human rights were indeed dealt with frankly and openly - some speakers going so far as to admit that a discussion of this sort would have been out of the question only a few years ago - and AIDS, one of the big issues of the close of the century, was on the agenda, with a resolution to boost the arsenal of weapons lined up against this terrible epidemic. These two things alone would have made the meeting unforgettable, but this latest Joint Assembly will be remembered for a quite different reason: that, for the very first time, a general rapporteur decided to withdraw his resolution. After the voting of a hundred or so amendments which comprehensively changed his original draft, Mr Pons Grau - for it was he - first called for the meeting to be suspended to allow all the European members to consult among themselves and then announced that, as the text as it stood could not be accepted by the European side, he was withdrawing it to avoid having to vote against it. However, he did add that he would use it as a working document in seeking the compromise resolution which he would be putting before the next meeting of the Joint Assembly in Gaborone, Botswana, on 22-26 March next year.

'Those who hoped to see the text referred to the next meeting have got what they wanted' was the clearly disgruntled Mr Pons Grau's parting shot. Yet he had been tireless in trying to head off this development. ACP guns had been lined up on the draft resolution from the start and rumours about the vote being put off, or a separate vote (which would inevitably have led to it being thrown out), began to run round the Luxembourg chamber. But the situation did not seem irretrievable at this stage and, with hard bargaining in the wings to reconcile differing points of view, Mr Pons Grau was fairly sanguine when the voting started, believing that compromises had been reached on all the bones of contention. But they had not, as he was soon to, realise. Compromises had indeed been struck by ACP negotiators Adrien Houngbedji, the President of Benin's National Assembly, and Marcel Ibinga-Magwangu, Gabon's Ambassador to the EEC, but, as Senegalese Ambassador Falilou Kane made clear, this was on an ad referendum basis, which meant that, for the ACPs, it was then a case of take it or leave it. This was something which had obviously not been made clear to the general rapporteur - hence his surprise at the maintaining of some of the amendments on which he thought agreement had been reached.

Hara kiri

There were two types of article in the resolution which provoked ACP anger - those setting out new conditions on the implementation of the Convention (especially the criteria for respecting human rights in the different projects and referring to the level of military spending) and those involving terminating or at least revising the current Convention to integrate it into the Community's new, more worldwide, development policy. It was the well-known Articles 81 and 83 which were at issue here. The report said that the majority of treaties and agreements which the Community and other countries and international organisations had signed with the developing countries, particularly in the ACP Group, were set up before the Eastern European rmes collapsed, so the changes in post-Maastricht Europe and the world affected countries other than the contracting parties. This meant that the treaties and agreements in question needed to be revised or assessed. The preferential links provided for in Lomad done little for trade, it said, and the Community should therefore devise a new development cooperation model which treated Lomountries and other countries consistently and led to an overhaul of the machinery, instruments and procedures involved in all the agreements and all the different Community policies.

The ACPs will not hear of renegotiating LomV before its time is up. As Ambassador Kane put it, they have no wish to commit 'hare kiri'. The convention, they point out, lasts for ten years and has five-year protocols and they want to stick to the letter of the agreement signed in 1989 and ratified both by them and the Member States since. By a strange quirk of fate, they are now clinging to the ten-year term which they all but threw out three years ago when some of them hesitated to commit themselves for such a long time... and they could in fact have signed for an indeterminate period.

Although the voting on the Pons Grau rsolution was not without acrimony, the debate-on the report was harmony itself. As Maria Luisa Cassanmagnagoretti Co-President of the Joint Assembly, was pleased to tell a press confereeœ, not one ACP or EEC speaker had come down against the report on democracy, human rights and development in the ACP countries. Quite the contrary, in fact. All those who spoke in the debate which followed the presentation of the paper - and there were nearly 30 of them - had nothing but praise for it.

Yet there were some fairly harsh passages on the absence of democracy in the developing countries, the corruption of their leaders and the level of their military spending - a situation which calls for democratic intervention, as no-one really would deny any longer. And if further proof of the consensus on human rights were needed, it was there in the insistence with which some countries told the Assembly of their progress along the road to democracy and pluralist elections. Delegates from Sudan, Togo, Zaire, Burundi and Ethiopia in turn recounted their transition to democracy, new democracies - Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali and Mauritania, often represented at the highest level by their Parliamentary Presidents - proudly recorded successful transitions and the Kenyan delegate pleaded for every country to be allowed to move towards democracy at its own pace.

Measures positive and negative

It was clear to us all that human rights are now at the very heart of ACP-EEC relations, as Development and Fisheries Commissioner Manud Marin pointed out. European public opinion, he added, was very alert to any violation of these rights and the Community was running three broad types of schemes to:

1) strengthen the State of law;
2) support the democratic transition process;
3) strengthen civil society.

An ECU 6 million line of credit, for example, had enabled the Commission to help with elections, particularly in Angola, Madagascar, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Mali, Guinea and Ghana. Mr Marin emphasised the help he had received from the many ACPs which had agreed to use part of their indicative programmes to finance the move to democracy, something which would have been seen as unacceptable interference only a short time ago. He regretted that what he called negative measures - in the shape of threats to stop or suspend Community aid - had nonetheless been unavoidable in œrtain cases of serious violation of human rights. This Community action had sometimes halted the violation in its tracks and sometimes enabled the democratic proœss to get under way again.

In conclusion, Mr Marin said that the disappearance of the old structures and the absence of any new and valid points of reference were creating tensions everywhere and making the quest for a new world order very difficult. He believed that human rights, democracy and development should be a driving force rather than a bone of contention.

Top priority to AIDS

The second report, Mrs J. Rwabyomere's paper on AIDS, was the subject of an even stronger consensus than the Pons Grau report. The only problem was how much money was available. The report, which had taken 18 months to produce, drew on the results of all the AIDS conferences held in Florence and Dakar and Amsterdam and Brazzaville between June 1991 and September 1992 and looked at the development of the pandemic, methods of transmission, behaviour, risk factors and economic and social consequences in the ACP countries. Obvious progress had been made in our understanding of the disease, Mrs Rwabyomere said, but it was deplorable that there was still no cure in view. Prevention was the only weapon.

Simone Veil, who chaired this working party, said she had never come across a problem of such magnitude in all her 13 years with the European Parliament. AIDS created a special situation, and urgent and specific means were needed to deal with it, she said, because there were not just the victims to take care of, but prevention campaigns to run and the effects of the disease on the economies to tackle as well. She thought that the current plans of the WHO or the EEC (ECU 50 million from the EDF) were inadequate to cope with a disease which had already claimed the parents of a million children in Africa - where there would be ten million orphans and 40 million HIV-positive by the end of the century. What was needed, she maintained, was a political commitment in the form of a specific priority, involving the release of special funds from outside the Convention and the creation of special structures and procedures. She regretted that the Commission was planning to take the money to control AIDS from the already sadly inadequate funds earmarked for public health.

Peter Pooley, Deputy Director-General at the EC Commission, assured the meeting that the AIDS campaign would get all the money it needed. 'It will cost what it costs,' was how he put it, and it would not be to the detriment of other programmes either, as Manuel Marin had made clear at question time the evening before. ECU 50 million had indeed been set aside for the AIDS control campaign for the moment, but that was by no means the limit. Mr Pooley believed that the AIDS campaign had now entered a new phase in which it was important to look at the horizontal dimension of the epidemic.

This was why the special budgets and the task forces had to be dropped and an integrated campaign had to take over. Any development programme has to reckon with AIDS, he said, which is why 'we propose using Lomunds'.

In the resolution, confortably adopted with only one or two amendments, the Joint Assembly said it was essential to deal with this subject at all levels of the education system and to provide sex education combined with AIDS information to make the younger generations aware of the dangers of high-risk behaviour. It called for absolute priority to go to the search for ways of helping children with HlV-positive mothers and the many AIDS orphans and children in the streets. It also called on the ACP States to try to spend more of their budgets on health and social services, because of the HIV-AIDS epidemic, and to introduce laws to prevent HIV and AIDS victims from being discriminated against and ostracised.

The tragedy of Somalia

There was little change in the tone of the speeches when the meeting moved on to the debate on the situation in Somalia. The register, ranging from tragedy to abject horror, was the same. Three hours earlier, Baroness Chalker, Co-President of the ACP-EEC Council of Ministers, had described what she had seen in Somalia, as a prelude to the discussions. This is what she said.

'Two weeks ago I visited Somalia with my Troika colleagues. It was a deeply soberisg experience. We visited Hoddur, the northernmost tip of the Baddoa-Barbera-Hoddur famine triangle. It had been completely destroyed; not a single building remined intact. All supplies were virtually cut off; and there appeared to be little will or effort to remedy the situation. We saw thousands of children - mostly orphans - herded together in feeding centres. In Mogadishu the only commodity of which there was an abundance was weaponry, especially in the southern part of the town. On every corner there were vehicles crowded with youngsters aged 10-14 carrying the most extraordinary assortment of arms, guns and large quantities of live ammunition. Few men or even children were unarmed The problems in Somalia are not confined to Somalia. We saw the refugee situation at first hand in Mandera in northeastern Kenya. Thousands of refugees were crowded together in a camp with few facilities and little shelter. Conditions win worsen when the rainy season starts in a month's time.'

It is no exaggeration to say that the situation in Somalia weighed heavy on the 15th meeting from beginning to end. It was brought up in the very first speech to the Assembly, by Egon Klepsch, the President of the European Parliament, who said that the tragedy of Somalia was at the very forefront of his concern. Then it was Erskine Simmons, ACP Co-President of the Joint Assembly, who drew everybody's attention to Somalia, not just because of the civil war and the famine that came in its wake, but because of the attempts which some European firms had made to store toxic waste there. Dacia Valent, an Italian Euro-MP of Somalian origin, urged the Joint Assembly, which is a political institution, to display its political will to put an end to the war in Somalia. The EEC Co-President, Mrs Cassanmagago-Cerretti, took up this theme. Emergency food aid was of course vital, she said, but the important thing was to stop the fighting by sending out an Assembly mission, with the assistance of the Commission, to meet the different protagonists and get them round the negotiating table.

Mr Marville, Barbadian Ambassador to the EEC, first wondered how the Assembly went about helping a member in deadly danger and then criticised the fact that Somalia's indicative programme resources had to be used to finance the 500-strong Belgian UN peace-keeping force when the money would have come in very useful with rehabilitation of the devastated economy afterwards.

Manuel Marin assured the meeting that the Commission would be using every means available to work to find a solution to Somalia's suffering through the UN's 100-day plan. He explained that it could use budget monies to pay for protection for humanitarian convoys and run part of the programme in Kenya, where thousands of Somalis had taken refuge.

A worldwide approach

The 15th session ended with voting on 30 or so individual resolutions reflecting the Convention partners' concern on a variety of subjects - the situation in southern Africa, in Haiti, in Ethiopia, in Angola, in Zaire and in Mozambique, the price of coffee and of sugar and of cocoa and desertification and famine.

For many, the Luxembourg mœting was a turning point. Matters as delicate as corruption, the ACP leaders filling their own pockets, were tackled frankly (in the Pons Grau report), in the belief that these funds should be blocked and arrangements made to hand them back to the democratically elected authorities of the countries in question. There were no longer any taboo subjects in an increasingly 'parliamentary' Joint Assembly and this was clear for all to see. There was not even a protest, or a sign of one, when Barbara Simons asked Ministers and Ambassadors, who have their own places of discussion, to refrain from attending Assembly mœtings in future.

Another sign of the times was the fact that, with what is now a more international approach to cooperation, the session was open to other people too. Antoine Bianca, Deputy Secretary-General of the UN, addressed the Assembly, for example, as did Nicolas Bwakira, representing the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and Emmanuel Gasana, OAU representative to the EEC, and Mr Kato, Japanese Ambassador to Benelux, who described his country's development aid. The Assembly was supposed to have heard an American delegate too, but he was unable to make the trip to Luxembourg.

Will these new trends be confirmed at the next session in Gaborone on 22-26 March?