Opinion: Revising the Cotonou agreement – nothing new? | Environment| All topics from climate change to conservation | DW | 06.07.2010
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Opinion: Revising the Cotonou agreement – nothing new?

The revised Cotonou Agreement - a framework for EU relations with 79 countries in Africa, the Carribean and Pacific - was signed last month. Dr. Sven Grimm and Davina Makhan discuss why updating the partnership matters.


Many eyes were on the G8 and G20 summits in late June. A few days earlier, representatives from more than half of the world's countries met in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. But despite the weight of their numbers, the gathering went largely unnoticed beyond expert circles.

Seventy-nine countries from Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP) and the 27 member states of the European Union (EU), in addition to the European Commission, signed on to revisions governing the rules of their relations, contained in the Cotonou Partnership Agreement.

The ACP-EU framework dates back to the early days of the EU and, as such, could be considered "old news." Yet the second revision of the Cotonou Agreement deserves more attention than it was given.

Davina Makhan, German Development Institute (DIE)

Davina Makhan, German Development Institute (DIE)

Taking stock

The agreement signed in Cotonou, Benin, has been a cornerstone of the European Union's external relations, involving trade, aid and political dialogue between the EU and ACP states. It was enacted in 2000 and remains in force through 2020. During this period, regular reviews are intended to keep the relationship "up to date".

Clarifying expectations regarding these revisions is an important first step. Taking a step back and thinking outside the box helps observers identify goals and targets. The relationship with the ACP is a testament to the position the EU holds in the world. It is also a testament to its efforts to assume an international role over the decades.

Yet the agreement has not been an absolute success story; at best, it has achieved mixed results - for instance, in promoting economic development.

The ACP, which has its roots in the EU's colonial past, has seen its relevance questioned repeatedly and with greater frequency over the years. The group has stronger defenders, but many wonder how it fits in with newer organizations like the African Union - which is partner to the ACP-EU relationship and whose membership overlaps with the ACP.

The world hardly ever starts from scratch, and the fundamental discussion was not the task of the mid-term review. Besides, the Cotonou Agreement upholds surprisingly forerunner features. We speak of mutual accountability since the 2005 Declaration signed in Paris, France, on a reform agenda for development cooperation – Cotonou provides for a long-standing Joint Parliamentary Assembly. We speak of more political dialogue with developing countries – Cotonou provides for a structured procedure for political dialogue. In the world of real politics, it might actually be wiser to first think within the box to understand motivations and rationales and judge according to these. This might not be glamorous, but it is policy-relevant.

DIE's Dr. Sven Grimm

DIE's Dr. Sven Grimm

Staying up to date

Many of the changes made seek to update the agreement on new and emerging global challenges. Among the issues that have been integrated into or strengthened in the revised text are climate change, peace and security, more coherent policies to promote development and sustainability (e.g. in fisheries), food security and framing aid for trade.

But beyond these adjustments, the revision of Cotonou may well have paved the way for a fundamentally new type of interaction between the EU and the ACP. Two key processes have been better streamlined: aid effectiveness and regional integration in the ACP.

Current international standards – outlined in the Paris Declaration – were not around when Cotonou was signed in 2000. Integrating the principles of the aid effectiveness agenda in Cotonou was a commendable update to the agreement. It ultimately means that the EU must restore its reputation and credibility as a valuable partner in development.

But it will be a long and winding road. Partner countries' ability to detect potential policy incoherence is limited, and the EU needs flexibility to allow it to respond to individual cases. In this context, strengthening parliaments of partner countries is a good idea, despite the limited capacities of many of them.

Involving representatives beyond government creates opportunities for democratic societies to increase transparency and improve accountability. For instance, it was unfortunate that the envisioned participation of the Joint Parliamentary Assembly was not put in practice during the revision process.

logo of the German Development Institute

The German Development Institute (DIE) is a renowned thinktank

Building momentum

The stronger focus on regional integration addresses stated priorities by many ACP countries that see that as a key to help economic development and poverty alleviation. The AU and regional organizations in western and eastern Africa, for instance, have made considerable progress in recent years. That progress can be built upon further and should be supported.

But promoting regional integration could also become a central defining feature for the EU in the increasingly competitive world of partnerships - and as donors. Even when it comes to thinking inside the box, it's impossible to ignore some of the rattling going on outside.

China is a clear challenger to the EU in its "comfort zone," not least of all in Africa. A product of deeper integration, the EU has a clear comparative advantage in engagement on the regional level and has long-standing – albeit not completely positive – experiences doing so. A more effective approach is needed, one that does not preempt initiatives by ACP states, but rather supports substantial and real integration in Africa and elsewhere. Europe can support, not initiate, integration.

This revision wasn't meant to ponder the future of the ACP-EU relationship. But the reality in 2020 – when the Cotonou Agreement ends – is likely to be drastically different from today. ACP and EU negotiators mustn't wait too long to reflect on the long-term; once one review is completed, it's time to work on the next one.

Ahead of the next scheduled revision of Cotonou in 2015, and ideally even before, the roadmap for the post-2020 regime needs to be clear to foster a smooth transition into the next phase of ACP-EU partnership. And this means bidding the current arrangement goodbye - or preparing for a new incarnation of the agreement.

Dr. Sven Grimm and Davina Makhan are researchers with the department “Bi- and Multilateral Development Cooperation” at the German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE).

The German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE) is one of the leading think tanks for development policy worldwide. DIE draws together the knowledge of development research available worldwide, dedicating its work to key issues facing the future of development policy. The unique research profile of the DIE is the result of the cooperation between research, consulting and professional training. DIE is building bridges between theory and practice and works within international research networks.

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