EU considers enlarging Cotonou Agreement into Latin America and Asia

The Cotonou development agreement currently includes the EU and 78 countries in the Caribbean, Africa and the Pacific. [Christian Lendl/Flickr]

Relations between the EU and a large group of developing countries are set to change as the Cotonou Agreement nears its end. Some argue that the cooperation deal should be enlarged into Latin America and Asia. EURACTIV France reports

A cornerstone of development cooperation and trade relations between the EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP group), the Cotonou Agreement expires in 2020.

Member states and their ACP partners have already begun preparations for the next phase of their cooperation. Since the year 2000, the EU’s political and trade relations and development cooperation with 78 other countries have been governed by the agreement. This single structure unites a group of countries as diverse as South Africa, St Kitts and Nevis and the Bahamas.

The EU’s development and foreign trade ministers discussed how the end of the Cotonou Agreement should be managed at an informal meeting in the Netherlands on Tuesday 2 February.

>>Read: EU divided over ‘conditionality’ of aid

These discussions will be followed by the publication of the results of a public consultation on the Cotonou Agreement and an assessment of its implementation. A negotiation mandate for the post-Cotonou cooperation framework will be given to the EU by June this year.

Binding agreement

“For now, the EU member states are divided into two camps: those that want a simple repackaging of the Cotonou Agreement and those that want the post-2020 agreement to be non-binding,” a French source explained.

>>Read: Development financing schemes a success, find EU auditors

But the composition of the ACP group may also change after 2020. The same French source told EURACTIV that the question of integrating certain Latin American or Asian countries into the agreement “had been raised by the member states”.

Towards enlargement?

This enlargement could see a future agreement based on a broad common framework, embroidered with regional variants that take into account the different situations in different geographical zones.

Further uncertainty has arisen over the form that future cooperation between the EU and the ACP countries will take. “We can cast a critical eye on the ACP group, which is not the most legitimate grouping of countries. That is one of the issues in question,” our source said. The ACP group does not exist in any other international organisations, and its relevance is often challenged.

But negotiations on the future EU-ACP cooperation framework “should not erase the past altogether”, our French source argued, but should take care to protect the achievements made to date, notably on human rights.

Human rights

Political dialogue between the EU and the ACP countries was one of the pillars of the Cotonou Agreement, and has been one of its greatest successes.

Michèle Rivasi, a French Green MEP and the vice-chair of the European Parliament Delegation to the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly, said, “I am in favour of maintaining this cooperation with ACP countries, because up to now no alternative has been proposed, and the ACP-EU parliamentary delegation has opened up some extraordinary debates on gender equality and gay rights.”

In return for European Union aid, beneficiary countries must respect a series of political, technical and democratic conditions defined in the agreement.

The Cotonou Agreement provides a framework for both partners regarding the respect of fundamental rights, and prescribes a consultation period of up to four months when these rights are breached. Article 96 of the agreement allows states to take “appropriate measures” if the terms of the agreement are violated, which may include the suspension of aid programmes.

In practice, restrictive measures have rarely been adopted, and usually in cases where democratic processes have been violated. Article 96 has been invoked around 15 times since 2000, in response to coups d’état and human rights violations in Fiji (2000 and 2007) Zimbabwe (2002) and Madagascar (2010). It was also recently invoked against Burundi.

>>Read: EU in last ditch bid to avoid Burundi turmoil

But according to a report published in January by the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM), the Cotonou Agreement has failed to bring the expected results, a problem that various revisions have been unable to change.

The scope of the agreement, particularly on issues like sexual orientation, has often been weak.

During a review of the Cotonou Agreement in 2013, the European Parliament denounced the absence of a framework for the rights of homosexuals. But this is a taboo subject between the two partner groups, and sexual orientation has never been successfully included in the agreement.

Homosexuality is still considered a crime in 28 ACP countries, and discriminatory laws in certain countries often provoke tensions between the EU and certain members of the ACP group, like Uganda.

>> Read: Anti-gay laws in Africa tarnish Europe relations

In 2000, the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP) signed a 20 year partnership agreement known as the "Cotonou Agreement", with a clause enabling revisions every five years.

The three pillars of this partnership are political dialogue, development aid and trade cooperation.

One of the objectives of the partnership was to establish free trade zones between the European Union and the countries of the ACP group, or between ACP countries themselves, to comply with WTO rules that prohibit the discrimination of developing countries.

Under the terms of the agreement, the countries of the Global South were obliged to open their markets to most products from the European Union. This is the only such regional agreement has been signed so far, due to the strong reservations expressed by civil society organisations and states. 

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