Simon Maxwell

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logo_acp_smallA challenge to the ACP

The future of the ACPAfrica, Caribbean and Pacific has been on the agenda – in an impressive  e-discussion organised by the European Centre for Development Policy Management in Maastricht and at the ECDPM 25th anniversary conference the other day.

In Maastricht, I would say, there were two clear views. One, held largely by people from Europe, that the ACPAfrica, Caribbean and Pacific is well past its sell-by date and should be abolished as soon as possible, preferably before Cotonou runs out in 2020, but certainly no later than that. The other, held largely by people from the ACP, that the grouping has value and should be re-engineered to take on a continuing and larger role. Some in this latter group thought that the main focus of the ACPAfrica, Caribbean and Pacific should be on Europe; others, more ambitiously, that it should have a wider role on the global stage.

Personally, I am on record as arguing that the ACPAfrica, Caribbean and Pacific as a grouping does not make much geographical sense, but that it does offer partnership modalities that should be preserved. See, for example, this transcript of a plenary debate with Louis Michel, at the EADI General Conference in 2005, where I argued as follows (and what a firebrand I was in those days, apparently):

‘There needs to be a startling simplification of the European Union’s relationships with the different regions of the developing world. And in particular I want to raise the question of what the ACPAfrica, Caribbean and Pacific is for in the modern world. The effort that we have been putting into development over the past year has not been about the bits of sub-Saharan Africa that happened to belong to the ACP. They have been about Africa. Africa from the Mediterranean down to South Africa. And yet the European’s political construction has been very much around the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries which formally exclude South Africa and of course exclude North Africa. Why are we supporting strengthening the African Union, strengthening the ECA, strengthening NEPAD, the African Partnership Forum meeting in London in a couple of weeks’ time, and yet the EUEuropean Union is working still with a construction that frankly has about it the whiff of the 1970es? There are too many cross-cutting regional agreements, too many different philosophies, ideologies, accountability mechanisms and policies. There needs to be a radical simplification of our European project.’


In 2008, writing in Europe’s World, I asked the same question somewhat more judiciously, was more explicit about accountability, and also made some specific proposals – to invite non-ACP members to act as observers at ACPAfrica, Caribbean and Pacific institutions, and to ‘EDF-ise’ the budget rather than budgetise the EDF.

‘First, is it time to re-think the role of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group? This clustering has become out-dated, in particular for Africa, as the African Union has become established, bringing to the table not just the sub-Saharan African members of the ACP, but also South Africa and the Mediterranean countries. The new EU-Africa strategy reflects the new reality. Do ACPAfrica, Caribbean and Pacific members really perceive it as having value-added?

Second, preserve the accountability mechanisms developed with the ACP, especially the joint assemblies and ministerial councils. Make these more global in their reach and more effective. As a half-way house, perhaps invite non-ACP countries as observers. This does not mean handing over control of EUEuropean Union policy or spending – that would negate the value of joined-up thinking within the EUEuropean Union itself. Instead, use the assemblies and councils, and the arbitration procedures written into Cotonou, to set up arenas in which the EUEuropean Union and the developing countries can hold each other to account.

Third, this means being cautious on one popular proposal, which is to bring the European Development Fund into the budget, so as to increase oversight by the European Parliament. There is a good case for the EUEuropean Union to do precisely the opposite, which is to broaden the scope of the EDF and merge the budget into that. This would give all aid recipients the benefit of the accountability arrangements associated with the EDF as well as access to Cotonou arbitration procedures. ‘

I don’t know that I’ve changed my mind since 2005, let alone since 2008. I do want to insist on not losing the accountability mechanisms. Not enough use has been made of arbitration procedures, or of the moral force, to put it no more strongly, of decisions taken by the joint Council of Ministers or the Joint Parliamentary Assembly. It would be a great pity to lose those in a rush to recognise new geographical realities. I also wish that the ACPAfrica, Caribbean and Pacific would look at broadening its membership, informally if not formally. The primary value of the Group, it seems to me, is not to try and be a new kind of G-77 on everything that might come onto the global agenda – there are quite enough groupings of that kind already – but rather to focus on the particular issues that arise in relation to EUEuropean Union policy. It is pretty hard to think of issues where it would not be valuable, for example, to have more Latin American or Asian players at the table.

Being at the table does not mean there has to be a single view. Other contributors to this discussion have made the point that interests diverge among ACPAfrica, Caribbean and Pacific members, let alone ACP+, and that countries have other loyalties, as LDCs, or BRICs, or small-island states, whatever. This notwithstanding, we know from collective action theory that trust plays a big part in building consensus, and that repeated collaboration is a good way to build trust. That is why I placed such emphasis on dialogue and other trust-building measures when I developed my eight-point programme for more successful collective action. In the best case, dialogue and trust-building will lead to a coherent view.

Thus, it would be extraordinarily useful to have a consolidated ACP, or ACP+ engagement on the Europe-specific aspects of the following, which will certainly shape development debate over the coming months:

  • Aid volume and effectiveness, including the revision of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness which will take place at the OECD/DAC High Level Forum in Busan at the end of November. I’m sure the ACPAfrica, Caribbean and Pacific has a coherent view on whether or not EUEuropean Union Member States should meet their aid pledges! But does it have a view on what share of the EUEuropean Union aid budget should be channelled through Brussels? Does it have a plan for phasing out aid to middle income countries? Does it have a view on how aid should be used, especially the balance between growth and human development spending? And does it have a view on aid modalities, especially the use of budget support? I’ve written about the need to open up the Busan agenda beyond the narrow aid management agenda, and also about the new focus on results which will certainly drive the approach to Busan of some Member States. It would be great to see the ACPAfrica, Caribbean and Pacific engaging.
  • Climate Change policy, again especially Europe’s approach to the climate development linkages, and climate financing. I mentioned in Maastricht that the Commission Communication on climate and development promised for 2010 did not appear, allegedly because the member States could not agree on how to define the additionality of climate finance. However, there is much more to climate and development than finance, as we are currently demonstrating in the work of the Climate and Development Knowledge Network, which I chair. I wonder what the ACPAfrica, Caribbean and Pacific thinks of the approach we are pioneering to ‘climate compatible development’, and, more important, what contribution it see the EUEuropean Union making, through its own internal actions and its positions in the UNFCCC negotiations. For example, does EUEuropean Union biofuels policy help or hinder developing countries? Would a shift from a 20% to a 30% cut in carbon emissions be a help or a hindrance? And, in the area of finance, are there specialist instruments available through Europe’s advanced financial services industry that would be useful to help leverage more private investment in developing countries? Answers to these questions would help shape the climate talks in Durban at the end of the year, but also the Earth Summit in Rio a year from now.
  • Finally, and this list could go on, does the current food crisis not look like a highly topical issue for collaboration across the North-South divide – and couldn’t the ACP+ help to frame a European response? It is certainly true that food crises require global collective action, whether to balance supply and demand in the short term, or increase supply in the long term. The G20 has this on its agenda, with an important but not uncontroversial paper on food price volatility. Does the ACPAfrica, Caribbean and Pacific (+) think that market solutions combined with social protection will be enough to manage the current crisis and avoid future crises? What would it like Europe to do – on funding for agriculture and social protection, on trade, possibly on speculation?

Following the Maastricht meeting, and having listened to the enthusiasm for the ACPAfrica, Caribbean and Pacific among its members, it seems to me that the challenge for the ACPAfrica, Caribbean and Pacific is to inject a sense of urgency into re-thinking its role. A reflection group on the future of the ACPAfrica, Caribbean and Pacific post-2020 sets too generous a timetable. As I said in Maastricht, it suggests a leisurely post-dinner conversation, a debate among gentlemen (and ladies) rather than players, to use a cricketing analogy. We probably do need ladies and gentlemen, to think nine years ahead to 2020. But we also need street fighters to work with us in nine weeks and nine months on the burning issues of the day.

Note: this contribution was first published by ECDPM.

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