The EU-ACP partnership is founded on one of the oldest and most comprehensive agreements between the EU and third countries. And it is about to change significantly. Last week saw the first technical round of talks to re-model that partnership kick off in Brussels.
The talks follow the formal launch of the so-called 'post-Cotonou' negotiations during UN Week in New York last month.
This key milestone also marks the start of an intense period for the joint DG DEVCO-EEAS taskforce, which was set up to work on a new agreement to replace the current rulebook on EU-ACP relations (the Cotonou Agreement). This agreement expires in February 2020, so with less than 18 months to go, the team is on a mission to deliver an ambitious agreement.
Up to the challenge
The post-Cotonou taskforce was set up in 2015 and brings together over 15 people from various backgrounds, ranging from a former economic fellow at Harvard University to wildlife protection and migration specialists and academics.
EU-ACP relations have been at the heart of DG DEVCO's work for decades
In support of senior managers working on the negotiations, the taskforce is in charge of preparing and running the technical negotiations. The team also organises the high-level political meetings, with the whole process steered by DG DEVCO Director-General Stefano Manservisi and EEAS Secretary-General Helga Schmid.
The 'post-Cotonou colleagues' on the taskforce have a clear understanding of what these negotiations mean to Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific, not least because many of them have worked in EU delegations in ACP countries in recent years (Botswana, Gabon, Guyana, Malawi, Trinidad and Tobago and Uganda, to name but a few).
Rigo Belpaire, who coordinates the DG DEVCO team working on the negotiations, said: "EU-ACP relations have been at the heart of DG DEVCO's work for decades. This has enabled us to amass thorough hands-on knowledge of the issues at stake, the regions' subtleties and the opportunities to grasp in Europe and ACP countries. This has given us valuable insight that will be a real asset in the negotiations ahead."
"As the EU's diplomatic service, the EEAS has a global view of the EU's relations with countries worldwide and their interactions with one another," added Marc Van Bellinghen, who is coordinating on the EEAS side. "Colleagues not only provide geostrategic knowledge, but also information in key areas in which we are specialised, such as security and human rights. Moreover, by working together we ensure consistency with the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy."
The core post-Cotonou team can also count on valuable input from other services. A reference group connecting all relevant DGs ensures that all dimensions are covered properly. EU Delegations and Representations are also involved, feeding their insights into the taskforce's work.
Shifting dynamics to deliver collectively
The choice of New York, the political 'hub' of multilateralism and connecting nations, as the starting point for the talks was highly symbolic of what the future ACP-EU partnership aims to achieve. Our goal is to turn our relations into a political driving force that makes a difference at the global level.
The impact should be significant, especially given that EU and ACP countries account for more than half the seats at the UN. By engaging in closer political cooperation, we will have the chance to explore new ways of tackling major global challenges such as climate change, migration and peace and security.
Adapting to new realities, needs and challenges
The contexts in Europe, Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific have evolved considerably since the Cotonou Agreement was adopted in 2000. The same is true of people's needs and the challenges they face. Some of the world's fastest-growing economies are now found in some of these regions. Over the coming months, the negotiating team will have to work to adapt EU-ACP relations to new economic, political, technological, environmental and social realities in our countries.
To reflect these major changes, in particular the increased importance of regional dynamics and actors, the EU is proposing a restructured agreement. The future partnership would stand on a common foundation of values and principles, complemented by three action-oriented regional partnerships (EU-Africa, EU-Caribbean, EU-Pacific), reflecting each region's challenges.
Securing peace and security, creating jobs, fostering growth and investment, while reducing inequality and poverty and progressing towards well-managed migration and mobility are just some of the challenges that will need to be addressed through this new agreement. By pooling their expertise, DG DEVCO and the EEAS will help turn these challenges into action and opportunities.
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