The Cotonou agreement, has it fulfilled its promises?

Greeting between Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairman of the African Union Commission (AUC), on the right, and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini. [European Commission]

The Cotonou agreement has regulated cooperation between the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries since 2000. With negotiations on its successor about to start, the results so far seem mixed. EURACTIV France reports.

The agreement, signed between the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries and the EU in 2000, expires in 2020. It rules the political, commercial, cooperation and development relations between the two blocs, whose closer ties began in 1975 with the Lomé agreement.

The 79 partners have taken stock of the results of their exchanges before opening the negotiations to design a new framework for a future deal.

“The achievements of the Cotonou agreement are numerous. Everything is present in this agreement, even if not all have been applied with the same success,” a French diplomatic source explains.

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Cooperation on human rights 

One of the pillars of the political cooperation between the two blocs is based on human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law that both parties have committed to respecting. This cooperation is ruled by Article 96 of the agreement, which allows suspending the aid in case of repeated violations of human rights.

In practice, the political dialogue foreseen by Cotonou has been used many times since the agreement entered into force.

Article 96, which authorises sanctions in case political dialogue fails, has been used regularly by the EU as a response to coups d’État or violations of human rights in Fiji Islands (2000 and 2007), Zimbadwe (2002), the Central African Republic (2003), Guinea-Bissau (2004 and 2011), Togo (2004), Madagascar (2020) and Burundi (2015).

However, certain provisions of the Cotonou agreement on political cooperation have never been applied, like Article 97, which foresees dialogue and sanctions against corrupt regimes. “It is a weakness of the deal,” a French diplomatic source admits.

Finally, if respect for sexual and reproductive rights is mentioned, the issue of LGBT rights constitutes a real weakness of the partnership agreement. During these past few years, discriminatory laws against LGBT people have multiplied in Africa in particular.

Economic assessment

The commercial realm also shows some weaknesses. “The share of imports and exports between Africa and the EU keeps decreasing. Between 2012 and 2016, importations have fallen to 11,1% and exportation to 1%,” the African Union underlined in a common position assessing the findings of cooperation with the EU as neither good nor bad.

“In fact, the record of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) is quite modest,” a French diplomatic source admits. Signed between the EU and the regional blocs of the ACP countries, these agreements are largely criticized by the African countries, blaming it for hindering the integration of the continent by fragmenting the regional markets.

Several countries, like Nigeria, always refuse to sign the EPA, as they estimate that those agreements are made to the detriment of the national markets opened to the European competition.

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The upcoming negotiations

The achievements of the Cotonou agreement must be discussed from 1 September. But the problem is that nothing is foreseen in case that deadline is not respected.

The European Union adopted its mandate by the end of June, the ACP group, a little earlier, in May. However, at the start of July, the Commission of the African Union asked for an extension to adopt a common position, which could postpone the official start of the negotiations.

Uncertainties regarding the real pertinence of the Cotonou framework in the future relations between the EU and the ACP countries are increasingly subjected to questions.

“When this framework was designed, the EU had 9 countries. Now they are 28 and the Eastern European countries have nothing to do with this structure,” explained Jean Bossuyt, an expert on ACP-EU relations at the European Centre for Development Policy Management.

Another problem is the framework’s suitability for the current challenges, such as the rallying of domestic resources, the fight against global warming or the migratory flows.

“The main problem of Cotonou is that it is structured like a classic framework for development, it is a tool for assistance.  However, it does not make it possible to respond to the big challenges such as the commercial transactions, migration or climate change, etc. Cotonou cannot address the challenges of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals,” Bossuyt believes.

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