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View the documentJoint Assembly begins discussions on future ACP-EU relations
View the documentAlarm bells sound on small island states

Joint Assembly begins discussions on future ACP-EU relations

Although the agenda was, as usual, heavily laden with a variety of long-standing issues ranging from regional cooperation, fisheries, the cocoa content of chocolate and bananas to the situation in several ACP states (in particular Rwanda and Burundi), the future of ACP-EU relations was at the forefront of discussions at the ACP-EU Joint Assembly, which was held in Luxembourg from 23-26 September 1996.

Opened in the presence of the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess of Luxembourg, the Assembly's general attitude was not one of speculation as to whether or not the European Union would abandon the ACP states when the LomV Convention expires in the year 2000 - a feeling that was rife shortly after the signing of the revised version in Mauritius in November 1995. Instead, it was one of positive thinking and of exploring the kind of agreement that would succeed it. 'There is no question of the European Union getting out of a relationship which took decades to build', Luxembourg's Prime Minister Jean-Claude Junker, told participants in his welcoming address.

As pessimism gives way to guarded optimism, ACP-EU parliamentarians have taken an important initiative, even before the Commission's Green Paper is published, in what is bound to be a long and passionate debate. A special summit of ACP Heads of State is planned for Gabon later in 1997 to discuss the issue.

Options for the future

A general report, introduced by Mr Firmin Jean-Louis (Haiti), provided the main platform for the Joint Assembly's deliberation. Although presented too late for representatives to have the opportunity to examine it in detail, the exchange of views on the floor was wide-ranging and reflected the report's content to a considerable degree.

The report encapsulates all the ideas that have emerged so far in various fore. It analyses framework options for future ACP-EU relations - bilateral, regional and multilateral - and raises pertinent questions and concerns. Noting that international cooperation is increasingly dictated by economic and security considerations, and that North-South solidarity is, as a result, being pushed to the background, it regrets the fact that certain EU member states appear to indicate a preference for bilateral over multilateral cooperation. The author of the report warns that this trend would not only diminish the credibility of the Union but also its international influence.

Any instrument of cooperation, the report says, should take into account the different levels of development among ACP states as well as the regional vocation of many others. Its objective must be poverty eradication, sustainable economic and social development, and the harmonious integration of the ACP states into the global economy.

It recognises the need to secure the support of European public opinion which is largely unconvinced that EU aid to ACP states has been effective over the past 20 years. Not enough publicity; it says, has been given to its positive aspects. The report goes on to warn that solidarity and development are at stake and that the debate on the future of ACP-EU relations should not be left to politicians and technocrats. It should also involve wider civil society.

In the Joint Assembly debate, the commitment of EU political leaders to the development of the ACP states was often called into question. Francis Wurtz (EUL-F) summed it up when he said there were worrying signs that the EU intends to downgrade its relationship with the ACP states - signs which go back to the negotiations on the LomV second financial protocol, when several countries refused to increase their contributions to the 8th EDF. The EU draft budget for 1997, which he said revealed a substantial reduction in the funds allocated to the developing countries outside the Mediterranean region, provided further evidence of this. 'We must be vigilant,' he told his colleagues, 'and must not allow the Lomonvention to be revised downwards.' Mr Wurtz agreed that greater efforts were needed to create awareness and mobilise European opinion in favour of development. The European public should know that EU development policy was not based on charity but on self-interest. 'Without Africa developing, Europe has little chance of maintaining growth in the long run.'

Lord Plumb (EPP-UK), the European Co-President of the Joint Assembly, admitted that it would not be easy to influence European public opinion. 'One of the roles of the Joint Assemby,' he said, however, 'must be to ensure that the peoples of Europe have confidence in the progress being made by the countries of the South. We must all help in this task of confidence-building.'

Glenys Kinnock (PES-UK) urged that there should be as much participation as possible in the ongoing dialogue over future ACP-EU relations in order to bridge what she saw as 'the gap between rhetoric and reality.' Equity, she argued, should be the main objective.

ACP Co-President, Sir John Kaputin (Papua New Guinea), said there was no doubt that the EU was forging closer ties with the former Eastern bloc countries at the expense of the ACPs. He pointed out, however, that the Lomonvention had always encouraged a 'forward-looking' approach and argued that whatever succeeded the current ACP-EU relationship should be 'the most important' agreement ever.

The representative from Barbados, Dr Richard Cheltenham, was of the opinion that whatever the outcome of the discussions, efforts were needed to avoid 'chaos'. There should, for example, be no immediate abandonment of the trade preferences that ACP states had acquired. Transformation must be gradual to enable them to adjust and restructure.

European Commissioner, Professor Pinheiro, chose, first of all, to underline the importance of the role of 'the state and civil society' in development. He indicated that he saw this as growing more and more in importance. This was reflected in the agreement signed in Mauritius - an agreement which seeks to encourage the consolidation of democracy, the rule of law, good governance and transparency, and which emphasises decentralised cooperation and the role of the private sector. the Commissioner spoke about the current programming exercise, reminding the Assembly that resources were being allocated in two tranches in accordance with the provisions of the revised Convention, to take account of each ACP state's development strategy and the objectives and priorities of the Community's development policy. He revealed that only 16 ACP countries and two EU Member States had ratified the revised Convention and urged those that have not done so to accelerate the process.

He welcomed the Joint Assembly's initiative in debating future ACP-EU relations. The Commission's Green Paper, he told representatives, will be published in November. He was, therefore, not in a position to enter into detailed discussions with members on the subject at this stage. He stressed, nonetheless, that the document 'will not be a blueprint for future EU strategy towards the ACP countries. It will be a discussion paper.' there were a number of key questions that needed to be addressed regarding strategy, the scope of future relations and the use of the traditional instruments of aid and trade. 'This is not to say that we should start afresh', he argued. 'We should build on what has been achieved so far, and adapt where necessary.' Professor Pinheiro was certain that whatever the outcome of the discussions, there were a number of 'unchallengeable principles' on which ACP-EU relations should continue to be based. These were: partnership, ownership by ACP countries of their development policies, security in terms of EU support and predictability of relations.

New areas of concern

This session of the Joint Assembly saw the emergence of two new areas of concern: urban development, and the effects of climate change on small island states. An initial report on the former was presented by the rapporteur, Daby Diagne (Senegal). It did not give rise to much debate. The report emphasises the pivotal role towns play in economic development and urges the Community to adopt an integrated policy on urban development (See our interview with Mr Daigne in the Dossier). The latter was the subject of a full morning hearing, involving a panel of ACP-EU experts who are closely involved with the problem. They warned of the threat posed by global warming to the survival, and even existence, of many islands in the Caribbean and the Pacific. The emission of greenhouse gases, the Assembly was told, has reached levels never before experienced (see the article which follows). Representatives agreed on the need to integrate climate change considerations into sustainable development strategies. A Working Group on the issue was set up with Karin Junker (PES-G) as general rapporteur.

Cocoa and babanas

There was no avoiding the intractable problems of cocoa and bananas. On cocoa, opinions were divided as usual. There were those who felt that the Commission's proposed new directive allowing chocolate to contain vegetable oils (up to 5% of total volume) in place of cocoa butter, was reasonable. The proposal also involves a labelling system to ensure that the exact contents of the product are clearly indicated Advocates of this strategy argued that it would not only widen consumer choice but would also promote the export of shea-butter and other vegetable oils which a number of ACP countries produce. Opponents were worried that if implemented, the directive could lead to a big fall in cocoa exports and a commensurate loss of earnings for ACP cocoa producers. Magda Aelvoet (Greens-B) argued in favour of maintaining the status quo, saying that this was preferable to what was being put forward in the draft directive. She warned that the Commission propose' would almost certainly result in everyone (cocoa producers, shea-butter producers and consumers) losing out. There was no guarantee that menu facturers would choose shea-butter given that they would be free to use whatever vegetable oils they liked She was certain they would go for the cheapest substitute or even for synthetic products. Accordingly, Mrs Aelvoet proposed a 'freeze' on all proposals. This view was reflected in the resolution passed by the Assembly, which called on the Council to reject the proposed directive. It also requested the sever member countries which currently authorise the use of vegetable oil to comply gradually with the existing directive - which bans their use altogether.

The banana issue proved even thornier. There is a dispute at the World Trade Organisation, where the Lomrotocol is being challenged by the United States and Latin American banana producers. Mrs Kinnock expressed anger at the fact that the arbitration panel set up by the WTO is made UP of three countries known to advocate free trade. The panel, she said, is chaired by Hong Kong - which the Organisation told her was representing the 'developing countries!' The general feeling among representatives was that the odds were stacked against the European Union and the ACPs. The Assembly passed a resolution asking the Union to stand firm in defence of the banana regime.

Democracy, human rights, peace and security

Twenty-seven questions were addressed to the Council of Ministers and a further 28 to the Commission. More than a third of these dealt with issues relating to emergency relief operations, democracy, human rights, peace and security - recurring themes throughout the four-day meeting. The emphasis, in this context, was on Burundi, Rwanda, Liberia and Nigeria, all of which were considered individually under the agenda item 'the situation in ACP states'.

In addition to the detailed answers given by Commissioner Pinheiro to questions on Burundi and Rwanda, the Assembly had a long session with Aldo Ajello, the EU's Special Representative to the Great Lakes. The discussion focused on efforts to restore democracy and legitimate government in Burundi, national reconciliation, and the repatriation of refugees from neighbouring countries to both Burundi and Rwanda. Mr Ajello gave members a comprehensive picture of the complex political and humanitarian situation in the region. He spoke of the sanctions imposed on Burundi by neighbouring countries and the efforts of the former Tanzania President, Julius Nyerere, to bring about dialogue and a just political settlement in Burundi.

Nigeria was again in the dock. Its representative, Dada Olisa, acting Charge d'affaires at the Embassy in Brussels, gave an account of what he considered was the progress made by the Abacha regime on human rights and democracy since the Joint Assembly met in Windhoek last March. He mentioned the repeal of the decree under which Ken Saro-Wiwa and other minority activists were executed, the release of detainees and the transitional programme for a return to democracy by 1998. He pleaded for the Assembly's understanding.

His explanation cut no ice with any of the seven political groupings in the European Parliament, who came together to present a compromise draft resolution on Nigeria. They wish to see all political prisoners released immediately, and the restoration of civil and political rights, as well as a democratically elected civilian government, by the end of 1996.

The resolution on Nigeria was again passed by secret ballot - the very last act of the session. It calls, among other things, for a total arms embargo (preventing the trade in future but also covering existing supply agreements) and for the financial assets of the Nigerian government and of members of the country's ruling councils (and of their families), to be frozen.

The resolution does not differ very much from the previous one. Mrs Junker, Johanna Maij-Weggen (EPP-NL) and Mrs Kinnock all expressed disappointment that the EU Council had failed to implement this fully. However, by repeating the demand for sanctions, they said, the Assembly was sending a very strong message to the Council that it was determined to see Nigeria return to democracy as quickly as possible.