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View the documentLomé IV - Assent from the European Parliament ...and an appeal to do better
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Lomé IV - Assent from the European Parliament ...and an appeal to do better

by Bernard RYELANDT

Negotiating a fine convention and getting it signed is not the whole story. It still has to be ratified and applied. And without much delay either, so that the ACPs can derive the anticipated advantages from it as soon as possible. The transitional measures between LomII and LomV, in effect since the former Convention expired on 28 February, cannot be extended for ever and they are not such as to allow use of the considerably larger financial allocations of LomV.

The European Parliament has had a much more decisive part to play in ratification since the advent of the Single Act. Before that, it gave its opinion on the text, but there was nothing constraining about it and the only essential thing was ratification by the national Parliaments of the Member States. But now there is a 13th ratification, as the European Parliament’s assent constitutes a real ratification just like those of the 12 national parliaments and, without it, the EEC Council cannot complete the ratification process or the Convention take effect.

The assent has to be given by a special majority, polling more than half the members’ votes (260) regardless of how many are actually present in the House. And assent was indeed given during the May session, by a comfortable majority of 294 in favour, 92 against and 8 abstentions the first European ratification of the Convention. Parliament wanted to act fast, before the national assemblies, to ensure maximum European political legitimacy for the outcome of the Lomegotiations and give a political sign to the national parliaments.

Before analysing the vote (those against not being of the negative nature one might imagine), it is worth looking at the major role the European Parliament has always played in encouraging a progressive European Community cooperation policy, and at the way in which it followed the whole LomI negotiation process and prepared its assent.

Parliament and the European development cooperation policy

In spite of powers that are in theory limited, Parliament has often made positive and important contributions to helping the developing countries, and the ACPs especially, particularly since the first direct elections 11 years ago, rightly thinking that relations with these countries were a vital part of the image of the Europe now under construction and of its place in the world.

So it has always put priority on the development chapter of the Community’s annual budget, backing up - or even stepping up the Commission’s credit applications and helping to finance the launching of new initiatives. It has also pushed for policies to be reformed or recast in the light of trends in the developing countries and the lessons of cooperation schemes already run. This is something which shows the full meaning of the powers of control which Parliament exercises over the executive. It does not just check that things are done according to the regulations. It also assesses the real and lasting effects of development and draws conclusions for the future with the executive.

Random examples of this are the emphasis on rural development and food security, the reform of food aid, the guidelines for cooperation with the countries of Asia and Latin America, the insistence on development projects being evaluated and the schemes to counter the effects of apartheid in Southern and South Africa.

There has been conflict between Parliament and the Commission, of course, with the former criticising the management of the latter and urging it to do more and do it better. But both institutions have really been working towards the same goals, consciously and openly playing the critical cooperation game, each in its own way, to achieve the common aims and obtain the desired decisions from the Council a fine example of positive use of inter - institutional dialogue in the Community.

Have the recent moves towards the Single Market of 1992 and the changes in Eastern Europe pushed development into the background, as feared by the developing countries, the ACPs especially, with all their worries about increasing marginalisation? Parliament will of course be focusing its immediate action on this, thereby reflecting the interest of European opinion in the subject. But, like the Commission, parliament has no intention of neglecting the prospects of cooperation with the developing nations. It made this clear with its performance in the Lomegotiations and its ratification of the Convention and it is making it clear again with its call for a bigger allocation for all the developing countries alongside the budget decisions for Eastern Europe.

Parliament and the LomV negotiations

Parliament followed the preparation and the work of the negotiations from beginning to end, stepping in several times to put its views across and say what it wanted on the essential subjects of discussion. Parliament has to be properly informed if it is to influence the course of events and there was a procedure for this, enabling the Council and the Commission to keep it in the picture (the Luns Westerterp procedure, as it was called in Eurospeak), before the Single Act. And the Commission had already organised a sophisticated system of information with Parliament’s Committee on Development. But this time, with the assent in view, things were taken further.

In January 1988, the Commission told the Committee on Development about its guidelines for the negotiations as they were being drawn up and passed on the text once it was ready. Parliament used this and its own reflections as the basis for a report, which was written by Mr Bersani (Italian Christian Democrat and former Co - President of the Joint Assembly), and a resolution defining its views on the forthcoming Convention and aiming to influence the negotiating directives the Council was to give the Commission was voted in May 1988. These views in fact turned out to be very close to both the Commission’s guidelines and the concerns and wishes already expressed by the ACPs.

Lastly, the Council and above all the Commission (through its successive Development Commissioners, Lorenzo Natali and Manuel Marin, and Development Director - General Dieter Frish) had frequent exchanges with the Committee on Development throughout the period of preparation of the negotiating directives and the negotiations themselves. This and other less formal contact was an opportunity for the European MPs to pressurise the negotiators for greater awareness of ACP needs.

Particular attention should be drawn to the resolution tabled on the initiative of the Chairman of the Committee on Development, the French Socialist Mr Saby, which was voted through in October 1989 at a decisive moment when the EEC Council had to say where it stood on the crucial subjects of negotiation (i.e. the size of the EDF, trade arrangements, commodities, debt and structural adjustment). In it, Parliament laid down the minimal conditions for its subsequent assent, putting all its weight behind what it believed to be right.

But it did more than maintain relations with the European institutions as it also kept up regular contact with the ACP negotiators. Its role is bound up with that of the ACP - EEC Joint Assembly, which, with the help of the ACP representatives and the European members, too, constantly worked along the same lines, seeing many development policies made and formulated and proving to be a fruitful meeting place where MEPs could keep up to date on the problems and desires of the ACPs.

The assent - preparation, voting and scope

The voting was prepared with a report drafted by Leo Tindemans (Belgian Christian Democrat and Co - President of the Joint Assembly), who pointed to various places where the Convention fell short of what Parliament (and indeed the Commission) wanted, but said that the outcome of the negotiations was very much in line with the Bersani resolution of May 1988 and that, in spite of its limitations, LomV constituted considerable progress on a number of crucial points - the priority guidelines for cooperation, human rights, decentralised cooperation, some aspects of the trade arrangements and the commodity problems, the nature and conditions of the support for structural adjustment and the volume of financing. The conclusion was that the Convention largely warranted Parliament’s approval.

There had already been animated discussion on this in the Committee on Development - which shows that 1992 and Eastern Europe have not blunted interest in development matters. Both the Committee and the parliamentary part - session in May were seen as opportunities to complain about the volume of the EDF not being up to Parliament or Commission expectations (and not really being negotiated by the Community either...), about the reluctance to grant broader trade concessions, about the failure to provide a basic answer to the ACP debt problem, about (for some Euro - MPs) structural adjustment, and soon and this was reflected in the ultimately fairly high percentage (25%) of negative votes.

But let there be no mistake about this. The vast majority of the negative votes were not “against Lom148; or “against the ACPs”. They were more and indication of the shortcomings of the negotiation results (deemed radical by some MPs)) in comparison with the challenges the ACPs currently have to face or a pressure to do more for them.

Many of those who voted in favour in fact also had criticisms of this sort and called for a greater effort to be made outside the Convention. But they did not feel that LomV deserved a negative judgment overall, far from it, or that is was good tactics to register a negative vote that might be misunderstood by European opinion or the ACPs. The ACP Ambassadors had indeed already met the Committee on Development in April and made an urgent appeal for rapid ratification of a Convention which, in spite of its shortcomings, their Governments recognised as positive.

The most popular subject of debate was the ACP debt to the Community, which the Community on Development wanted to see written off. The sums were not considerable, but writing them off was seen as both a great relief and a matter of principle and, on a number of occasions, Commission Vice - President Manuel Marin has said he wants to think about this and prepare positions on it.

So Parliaments’s ratification was the first in Europe (although two ACP States ratified on the same day) and it remains for the 12 Member States and at least two - thirds of the ACPs to ratify as soon as possible for the Convention to take effect.

But a fresh challenge is already with us - that of making a fast and efficient job of implementing what is so far only text, which means realising the full potential of the new Convention and reconciling the two, almost contradictory, aims of speed and quality of implementation. Such is the task which the Commission and the ACPs are to carry out... under the critical eye of the European Parliament.