The current ACP-EC Partnership Agreement was signed on 23 June 2000 in Cotonou, Benin and was revised in, respectively, 2005 and 2010. It was concluded for a twenty-year period and will expire on 29 February 2020. Therefore, the European Commission launched a public consultation on the key questions pertaining to the partnership and relations after 2020 between the EU and the members of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP) with the aim to take stock of the current Partnership Agreement and to explore if it remains a valid framework for future cooperation.
Xavier Oudin, coordinator of the social sciences and humanities research project, NOPOOR, and NOPOOR researchers Rafael de Arce, Fatou Cissé, Anke Hoeffler, Jean-Philippe Platteau, Marc Raffinot and François Roubaud contribute with their insights on the Cotonou agreement in this interview.
The agreements between the EU and the African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) countries, dating back to 1975 and the first Lomé convention have been a central part of the EU's external policies for decades. The currently running Cotonou Partnership Agreement has an explicit development dimension. In your opinion, did the current agreement and its predecessors effectively contribute to poverty reduction and eradication in ACP partner countries?
Yes, although it is impossible to generalise, poverty has been reduced in many ACP countries. Whether or not the Cotonou agreement has contributed to this may be more difficult to assess but to us, there is no doubt that it has, whether directly or indirectly, through its different mechanisms.
However, geographical disparities persist and have even increased over the last years. This makes us think that "one size fits all" solutions might be dangerous. National and regional contexts, details and agreement modalities make a real difference. Let’s take an example. The Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) aim to create a Free Trade Area (FTA) between the European Union (EU) and West Africa (WA). Thus, economies in the WA region are expected to open their domestic markets to EU products over a period of 20 years. Simulation results done by NOPOOR researchers indicate that, without any support programs, WA economies face pressure when the liberalisation reaches 75 percent of imports from the EU, leading to a slower growth rate and an increase of poverty compared to the non-FTA scenario. The deterioration of the trade balance and the loss of Government revenue appear as an important contributor of the counter performance of the economies. This general picture of the FTA scenarios impact hides significant disparities among economies in the sub region. The growth rate accelerates in four countries: Ivory Coast, Ghana, Niger, and Benin; it slows down in five other countries: Nigeria mainly, but also Senegal, Togo, Cape Verde, and Guinea-Bissau.
The previous STABEX scheme ("Système de Stabilisation des Recettes d'Exportation" in place between 1975 and 2000), even if it was not very successful, dealt with this kind of problem by taking into account, for example, the instability of export receipts, and broader development issues. So we think the EPAs should go beyond trade and include development provisions. In West Africa, PAPED ("l'Accord de Partenariat Economique (APE) pour le Développement" is a good step in that direction. Our research shows that when there are accompanying policies (building energy production and transport facilities for example), the impact is better in terms of growth and poverty reduction in all the countries.
Is the current format of the Cotonou Partnership Agreement successful in promoting good governance, transparency of administrative and political practices and accountable institutions?
It probably is, unless there are conflicts (meaning that conflict prevention and resolution should be given more attention). What impacts are due to the Cotonou framework is not easy to determine. For example, it is not possible to say that the improvement of the political situation in Madagascar, or more recently in Burkina Faso, is due to the Cotonou agreement. Moreover, the EU under the Cotonou Agreement has sometimes been very accommodating of autocratic rulers like Compaoré in Burkina Faso, who was granted a MDG contract, i.e. a vital general budget support from the EU focusing on MDG-related results. Some member States (Denmark) did point out problems like widespread corruption without reaction from the European Commission.
The main and well-known dilemma for the EU is: should we cut aid to the badly governed countries which are also those most in need? Here again, there is no straight forward answer as specific situations should be considered. Cutting aid is like applying a double sanction. First, citizens of these poor countries are left in poverty; second, it creates a vicious circle where the country which receive less aid will also be badly scored in international databases (made by the donors) and in turn will be still less supported (less aid, no access to the international monetary market, fewer investments).
One should here note that measuring good governance is a real challenge, and that some decisions of granting aid are taken on the basis of indicators released by agencies without proper measurement. These are indicators based on experts’ opinion but not on the real experience of the population. Take as an example the World Bank World Development Governance Database, which is based mainly on experts’ opinions or perceptions. I do not criticise the fact that indicators are based on perceptions, but the fact that it is based on experts' opinions without transparency (nothing is revealed about the experts except that they belong to diverse institutions and NGOs). We don’t know how the experts are selected, to which country they belong, etc. You can compare it with the Democracy Index (The Economist Intelligence Unit), which is based more on survey results (i.e. the perceptions of the population in each country, and not experts from developed countries), and you will see that the final ranking is quite different from the World Bank Development Governance Database.
One way of resolving this dilemma is to consider the amount of aid that reaches the poor (Platteau & Bourguignon, 2012). In a country with bad governance, a certain amount of aid will reach the targeted population anyhow. If this amount is reasonably high, aid should be given. Indeed, if aid and its conditionality in terms of good governance are efficient, it will also improve governance, at least in the sectors which benefit from aid.
Concerning the accountability of institutions, NOPOOR is doing original research on electoral processes. Most ACP countries now hold elections to determine their leaders. However, the majority of these elections are neither free nor fair. The run up to the elections is marred by illegal practices such as restricting voter registration, limitation in campaigning, vote buying and intimidation. On the election day, many ballot boxes are rigged and the counting of votes is incorrect. In some elections there is also violence before the elections and immediately after. Research by Bishop and Hoeffler (2014) suggests that most commonly used malpractices take place in the run up to the election and not on the election day, yet most election observer organisations concentrate on the election day. In order to improve transparency, political practices and accountability, more resources should be provided to local and international organisations to monitor the entire election process, and not just the election day.
How could the recently adopted post-2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals impact on future (post-2020) ACP-EU relations?
The ultimate goals of the SDGs and the Cotonou agreement are similar, even if the approach differs technically. Moreover, there is a convergence on a certain number of issues, as the focus on climate change or on the respect of human rights. In these conditions, it seems obvious that the future round of negotiation for the Cotonou agreement should refer to the SDGs. Here are some examples:
Attention should also be paid on financial mechanisms, including macro-aid and micro-finance support. Frequently, the policies do not provide enough mechanisms to finance the necessary investment in poor regions and these areas are not able to attract investors in the regular financial markets. Uncertain long-term perspectives and higher risk in these zones deter their possibilities of attracting investment.
However, the SDG approach is problematic because no clear priorities are emerging from this long list of indicators. This is likely to result in a terrible bureaucratic burden. The EU should clearly state its own priorities in that list in order to focus on what is really relevant for the ACP countries. Let’s consider one of the SDGs, the 16th that aims to promote peaceful and inclusive societies. The goal includes a number of wide ranging targets. SDG 16.1 states that violence in all its forms, not just political violence, should be significantly reduced. While low income countries are more likely to experience cycles of armed conflict, they are also characterised by high prevalence rates of other types of violence. International comparisons suggest that the typical ACP country has high homicide rates (over 10 per 100,000 of the population) and that the prevalence of domestic abuse of women and children is very high. For example, Fearon and Hoeffler (2014) found that 28 per cent of all women in Sub Saharan Africa are victims of intimate partner violence. This is the highest prevalence rate of all global regions. A NOPOOR programme in Peru also shows that domestic violence is closely associated with poverty.
Poverty reduction is likely to reduce all types of violence but changes in norms and attitudes will accelerate the decrease in violence. Programs aimed at violence reduction should also consider the widespread use of domestic violence against women and children, especially in post-conflict societies which are more vulnerable to a return of violence. Thus, it appears sensible that the international donor community provides aid specifically to support legal and security sector reforms. However, far too little aid is currently spent on building peace and preventing violence in all its forms. Fearon and Hoeffler 2014 estimate that only 0.5 per cent of the entire aid budget is specifically aimed at measures to reduce violence. The EU could provide a lead in the international aid community by making more aid available to stabilise peace and to reduce violence in all its forms.
The 79 ACP states and the 28 members of the EU represent together a majority of states within the United Nations and a total population of some 1.5 billion people. Do you consider the EU-ACP agreements as a basis for a strategic international cooperation towards coherent development objectives?
This is certainly an objective of the EU-ACP agreement. If the question means that these agreements could serve as a model for all (beyond the EU and the ACP) and be generalised, one has to be more cautious. For example, an all-out trade liberalisation of ACP countries with an opening of ACP economies to imports from emerging countries such as China and Turkey would have a negative impact on the ACP countries. The development dimension of EPAs foreseen under PAPED aims to upgrade industrial and agricultural enterprises, but the budgets provided are low. If EU-ACP must be a basis for a strategic international cooperation towards coherent development objectives, they should take in account the different levels of development of ACP partners and include additional programmes for the less advanced countries to catch up, in particular in infrastructures of transport, energy and also vocational training.
Based on three and a half years of intensive work in the NOPOOR consortium, what would be the most important policy recommendations that you would like to bring to the attention of EU and ACP policy makers considering the post-Cotonou developments of EU-ACP relations?
A first and important remark is that priorities should be defined by region, country and even domestic socio-economic division. Equal “generally accepted principles” are not convenient for the poorest regions. Some well-intentioned economic policies can produce very different effects in the target countries if they are not adapted to each concrete case. Our research shows that FTA produces totally different effects in African countries and, frequently, opposite undesired effects. In that respect, ‘positive discrimination’ in the case of the least developed countries and/or regions inside the countries should be considered.
A second remark is that access to public goods is a prerequisite to reduce poverty. This is a strong conclusion of some of our research programmes (in India for example). Policies aiming at reducing poverty will certainly be efficient if they facilitate access to public goods to the poorest. Concerning education, a focus should be put on the quality of education, including at primary level. Primary education in itself is not (anymore) sufficient to reduce poverty or prevent vulnerable people to fall back into poverty.
A third remark concerns the availability and the use of relevant indicators and, beyond, the collection of data and the capacity building of those in charge of collecting data (National Institutes of Statistics-NIS). With 169 targets for 17 goals, the new SDG framework will need to build a good statistical system able to collect good data, analyse them and set up relevant indicators. This is an important challenge and we constantly advocate the need to take this into consideration. Statistical surveys and support to NIS are usually neglected in large political agreements. In the new SDG framework, this issue should be given more importance.
Speaking about data collection, I would like to put emphasis on one aspect which is ignored in the framework of the Cotonou agreement, which is the access to information. There is no democracy without good and accessible information. How can you have a fair political debate if you ignore the basic figures on income distribution, evolution of living standards, etc? Yet, most ACP countries have a very weak system of information (i.e. National Statistical Institutes lack financial and human resources to produce the basic knowledge on the economy and society). NOPOOR has launched several surveys and collected new knowledge to better understand the determinants of poverty, but it is limited by the data actually at hand. Overall, these are only punctual efforts that should be replaced and continued by systemic solutions.
The EU wants to improve governance in recipient countries. But how is good governance measured? This is not clear, although the SDGs will certainly be an improvement on this matter. Also in this regard there is a lack of data. As a consequence, the donors often use databases made on subjective perception of their representatives. NOPOOR has explored several directions to improve the measurement of governance, such as a database on elections to determine the degree of fairness of elections, a survey on households dealing with different aspects of governance and their perception by the citizens rather than experts. So, it is obvious that if you want to help developing countries effectively, you also have to help them build their knowledge on governance and democracy. Capacity building for data monitoring and accountability is also explicitly foreseen under the 17th new Sustainable Development Goal. Strong EU support would make a real difference here.
Knowledge sharing with and capacity building in developing countries is among the main objectives of the new Sustainable Development Goals. The NOPOOR project brings together researchers from four continents and many developing or developed countries. Based on your experience, how successful are the EU research framework programmes in contributing to these objectives? Could you give examples concerning the impact of NOPOOR in creating or strengthening local research capacities that could underpin better informed and evidence based development policies in developing countries?
The EU research framework programmes are indeed successful in contributing to the SDG objectives. First, they offer opportunity to produce evidences on development issues that are part of the SDGs as trade agreements, social protection, poverty and inequality reduction. Second, through a rich mentoring and training component, the programme is a unique framework to prepare a new generation of researchers. Concretely, the NOPOOR project has brought together under the EU Research Programme Framework 12 institutions, which will cooperate, also in the long term, and aggregate knowledge that is often hard to reach. We constitute a network of researchers and academia working in social sciences for development. Some of the partners are already involved together in other EU funded projects.
Besides, training sessions have already been organised for young researchers and PhD students and more are planned. Several of the researchers have incorporated NOPOOR studies in their teachings, and have brought students to conduct research on topics related to our research. Although we do not provide scholarships, many master or PhD theses are made in coordination with NOPOOR programmes. Ultimately, many young researchers and technicians (statisticians) are involved in our programmes and benefit much from this experience.
NOPOOR also works with National Institutes of Statistics in several countries such as Vietnam, Peru, Mali, and Madagascar. In Africa, we have developed a network with NSIs on governance indicators. We also want to associate EUROSTAT with this project and to link it with the ongoing efforts of the EU to set up indicators for the SDGs dealing with various aspects of Governance.
Beyond the NOPOOR community, our research results are meant to be utilised by policy makers in the countries where we conduct research. We will have several policy conferences, in India in March, another one in Mexico in July and one in Accra at the end of 2016. The objective of these conferences is to discuss with different stakeholders, first of all policy makers, about the policy implications of our results. We also plan to produce country specific policy papers to reach better those who are in charge of or concerned with policies on poverty reduction in particular contexts.