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View the documentJoint Assembly begins discussions on future ACP-EU relations
View the documentAlarm bells sound on small island states


Joint Assembly begins discussions on future ACP-EU relations

Although the agenda was, as usual, heavily laden with a variety of long-standing issues ranging from regional cooperation, fisheries, the cocoa content of chocolate and bananas to the situation in several ACP states (in particular Rwanda and Burundi), the future of ACP-EU relations was at the forefront of discussions at the ACP-EU Joint Assembly, which was held in Luxembourg from 23-26 September 1996.

Opened in the presence of the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess of Luxembourg, the Assembly's general attitude was not one of speculation as to whether or not the European Union would abandon the ACP states when the Lomé IV Convention expires in the year 2000 - a feeling that was rife shortly after the signing of the revised version in Mauritius in November 1995. Instead, it was one of positive thinking and of exploring the kind of agreement that would succeed it. 'There is no question of the European Union getting out of a relationship which took decades to build', Luxembourg's Prime Minister Jean-Claude Junker, told participants in his welcoming address.

As pessimism gives way to guarded optimism, ACP-EU parliamentarians have taken an important initiative, even before the Commission's Green Paper is published, in what is bound to be a long and passionate debate. A special summit of ACP Heads of State is planned for Gabon later in 1997 to discuss the issue.

Options for the future

A general report, introduced by Mr Firmin Jean-Louis (Haiti), provided the main platform for the Joint Assembly's deliberation. Although presented too late for representatives to have the opportunity to examine it in detail, the exchange of views on the floor was wide-ranging and reflected the report's content to a considerable degree.

The report encapsulates all the ideas that have emerged so far in various fore. It analyses framework options for future ACP-EU relations - bilateral, regional and multilateral - and raises pertinent questions and concerns. Noting that international cooperation is increasingly dictated by economic and security considerations, and that North-South solidarity is, as a result, being pushed to the background, it regrets the fact that certain EU member states appear to indicate a preference for bilateral over multilateral cooperation. The author of the report warns that this trend would not only diminish the credibility of the Union but also its international influence.

Any instrument of cooperation, the report says, should take into account the different levels of development among ACP states as well as the regional vocation of many others. Its objective must be poverty eradication, sustainable economic and social development, and the harmonious integration of the ACP states into the global economy.

It recognises the need to secure the support of European public opinion which is largely unconvinced that EU aid to ACP states has been effective over the past 20 years. Not enough publicity; it says, has been given to its positive aspects. The report goes on to warn that solidarity and development are at stake and that the debate on the future of ACP-EU relations should not be left to politicians and technocrats. It should also involve wider civil society.

In the Joint Assembly debate, the commitment of EU political leaders to the development of the ACP states was often called into question. Francis Wurtz (EUL-F) summed it up when he said there were worrying signs that the EU intends to downgrade its relationship with the ACP states - signs which go back to the negotiations on the Lomé IV second financial protocol, when several countries refused to increase their contributions to the 8th EDF. The EU draft budget for 1997, which he said revealed a substantial reduction in the funds allocated to the developing countries outside the Mediterranean region, provided further evidence of this. 'We must be vigilant,' he told his colleagues, 'and must not allow the Lomé Convention to be revised downwards.' Mr Wurtz agreed that greater efforts were needed to create awareness and mobilise European opinion in favour of development. The European public should know that EU development policy was not based on charity but on self-interest. 'Without Africa developing, Europe has little chance of maintaining growth in the long run.'

Lord Plumb (EPP-UK), the European Co-President of the Joint Assembly, admitted that it would not be easy to influence European public opinion. 'One of the roles of the Joint Assemby,' he said, however, 'must be to ensure that the peoples of Europe have confidence in the progress being made by the countries of the South. We must all help in this task of confidence-building.'

Glenys Kinnock (PES-UK) urged that there should be as much participation as possible in the ongoing dialogue over future ACP-EU relations in order to bridge what she saw as 'the gap between rhetoric and reality.' Equity, she argued, should be the main objective.

ACP Co-President, Sir John Kaputin (Papua New Guinea), said there was no doubt that the EU was forging closer ties with the former Eastern bloc countries at the expense of the ACPs. He pointed out, however, that the Lomé Convention had always encouraged a 'forward-looking' approach and argued that whatever succeeded the current ACP-EU relationship should be 'the most important' agreement ever.

The representative from Barbados, Dr Richard Cheltenham, was of the opinion that whatever the outcome of the discussions, efforts were needed to avoid 'chaos'. There should, for example, be no immediate abandonment of the trade preferences that ACP states had acquired. Transformation must be gradual to enable them to adjust and restructure.

European Commissioner, Professor Pinheiro, chose, first of all, to underline the importance of the role of 'the state and civil society' in development. He indicated that he saw this as growing more and more in importance. This was reflected in the agreement signed in Mauritius - an agreement which seeks to encourage the consolidation of democracy, the rule of law, good governance and transparency, and which emphasises decentralised cooperation and the role of the private sector. the Commissioner spoke about the current programming exercise, reminding the Assembly that resources were being allocated in two tranches in accordance with the provisions of the revised Convention, to take account of each ACP state's development strategy and the objectives and priorities of the Community's development policy. He revealed that only 16 ACP countries and two EU Member States had ratified the revised Convention and urged those that have not done so to accelerate the process.

He welcomed the Joint Assembly's initiative in debating future ACP-EU relations. The Commission's Green Paper, he told representatives, will be published in November. He was, therefore, not in a position to enter into detailed discussions with members on the subject at this stage. He stressed, nonetheless, that the document 'will not be a blueprint for future EU strategy towards the ACP countries. It will be a discussion paper.' there were a number of key questions that needed to be addressed regarding strategy, the scope of future relations and the use of the traditional instruments of aid and trade. 'This is not to say that we should start afresh', he argued. 'We should build on what has been achieved so far, and adapt where necessary.' Professor Pinheiro was certain that whatever the outcome of the discussions, there were a number of 'unchallengeable principles' on which ACP-EU relations should continue to be based. These were: partnership, ownership by ACP countries of their development policies, security in terms of EU support and predictability of relations.

New areas of concern

This session of the Joint Assembly saw the emergence of two new areas of concern: urban development, and the effects of climate change on small island states. An initial report on the former was presented by the rapporteur, Daby Diagne (Senegal). It did not give rise to much debate. The report emphasises the pivotal role towns play in economic development and urges the Community to adopt an integrated policy on urban development (See our interview with Mr Daigne in the Dossier). The latter was the subject of a full morning hearing, involving a panel of ACP-EU experts who are closely involved with the problem. They warned of the threat posed by global warming to the survival, and even existence, of many islands in the Caribbean and the Pacific. The emission of greenhouse gases, the Assembly was told, has reached levels never before experienced (see the article which follows). Representatives agreed on the need to integrate climate change considerations into sustainable development strategies. A Working Group on the issue was set up with Karin Junker (PES-G) as general rapporteur.

Cocoa and babanas

There was no avoiding the intractable problems of cocoa and bananas. On cocoa, opinions were divided as usual. There were those who felt that the Commission's proposed new directive allowing chocolate to contain vegetable oils (up to 5% of total volume) in place of cocoa butter, was reasonable. The proposal also involves a labelling system to ensure that the exact contents of the product are clearly indicated Advocates of this strategy argued that it would not only widen consumer choice but would also promote the export of shea-butter and other vegetable oils which a number of ACP countries produce. Opponents were worried that if implemented, the directive could lead to a big fall in cocoa exports and a commensurate loss of earnings for ACP cocoa producers. Magda Aelvoet (Greens-B) argued in favour of maintaining the status quo, saying that this was preferable to what was being put forward in the draft directive. She warned that the Commission propose' would almost certainly result in everyone (cocoa producers, shea-butter producers and consumers) losing out. There was no guarantee that menu facturers would choose shea-butter given that they would be free to use whatever vegetable oils they liked She was certain they would go for the cheapest substitute or even for synthetic products. Accordingly, Mrs Aelvoet proposed a 'freeze' on all proposals. This view was reflected in the resolution passed by the Assembly, which called on the Council to reject the proposed directive. It also requested the sever member countries which currently authorise the use of vegetable oil to comply gradually with the existing directive - which bans their use altogether.

The banana issue proved even thornier. There is a dispute at the World Trade Organisation, where the Lomé Protocol is being challenged by the United States and Latin American banana producers. Mrs Kinnock expressed anger at the fact that the arbitration panel set up by the WTO is made UP of three countries known to advocate free trade. The panel, she said, is chaired by Hong Kong - which the Organisation told her was representing the 'developing countries!' The general feeling among representatives was that the odds were stacked against the European Union and the ACPs. The Assembly passed a resolution asking the Union to stand firm in defence of the banana regime.

Democracy, human rights, peace and security

Twenty-seven questions were addressed to the Council of Ministers and a further 28 to the Commission. More than a third of these dealt with issues relating to emergency relief operations, democracy, human rights, peace and security - recurring themes throughout the four-day meeting. The emphasis, in this context, was on Burundi, Rwanda, Liberia and Nigeria, all of which were considered individually under the agenda item 'the situation in ACP states'.

In addition to the detailed answers given by Commissioner Pinheiro to questions on Burundi and Rwanda, the Assembly had a long session with Aldo Ajello, the EU's Special Representative to the Great Lakes. The discussion focused on efforts to restore democracy and legitimate government in Burundi, national reconciliation, and the repatriation of refugees from neighbouring countries to both Burundi and Rwanda. Mr Ajello gave members a comprehensive picture of the complex political and humanitarian situation in the region. He spoke of the sanctions imposed on Burundi by neighbouring countries and the efforts of the former Tanzania President, Julius Nyerere, to bring about dialogue and a just political settlement in Burundi.

Nigeria was again in the dock. Its representative, Dada Olisa, acting Charge d'affaires at the Embassy in Brussels, gave an account of what he considered was the progress made by the Abacha regime on human rights and democracy since the Joint Assembly met in Windhoek last March. He mentioned the repeal of the decree under which Ken Saro-Wiwa and other minority activists were executed, the release of detainees and the transitional programme for a return to democracy by 1998. He pleaded for the Assembly's understanding.

His explanation cut no ice with any of the seven political groupings in the European Parliament, who came together to present a compromise draft resolution on Nigeria. They wish to see all political prisoners released immediately, and the restoration of civil and political rights, as well as a democratically elected civilian government, by the end of 1996.

The resolution on Nigeria was again passed by secret ballot - the very last act of the session. It calls, among other things, for a total arms embargo (preventing the trade in future but also covering existing supply agreements) and for the financial assets of the Nigerian government and of members of the country's ruling councils (and of their families), to be frozen.

The resolution does not differ very much from the previous one. Mrs Junker, Johanna Maij-Weggen (EPP-NL) and Mrs Kinnock all expressed disappointment that the EU Council had failed to implement this fully. However, by repeating the demand for sanctions, they said, the Assembly was sending a very strong message to the Council that it was determined to see Nigeria return to democracy as quickly as possible.




Alarm bells sound on small island states

Climate change

A morning session of the ACP-EU Joint Assembly was devoted to a public hearing on the effects of climate change on small island states. It was appropriate that the issue should be brought to the attention of the Assembly by Maartje van Putten (PESNL). Representing a country much of which lies below sea-level. she is familiar with the devastating effects of sea flooding. At the hearing, which was very well attended, a panel of invited ACP-EU experts was on hand to enlighten the audience on the extent of the problem.

Although global warning has been on the international agenda for more than 10 years, the seriousness of the threat it poses to the survival of small island states is only now beginning to be taken seriously - and it might already be too late, if some of the most apocalyptic scientific predictions are to be believed.

There is now growing evidence that global warming is taking place. In recent years, we have experienced more extreme weather conditions - heatwaves, floods and increasingly destructive tropical storms - while there are signs that icecaps are melting and sea levels rising. The increasing incidence of malaria in Africa has been linked to these changes. And it is all happening because of the influence our style of living is having on the planet - in particular the huge emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane, from our factories, vehicles and so on.

That the public hearing attracted a large audience was not only a reflection of the interest the problem is now commanding. It also symbolised the mounting international pressure for reductions in CO2 levels in the atmosphere, and for the adoption of more realistic strategies of sustainable development.

The panel of experts comprised Dr Leonard Nurse, Manager of the Coastal Conservation Project in Barbados, Donald Stewart, Acting Director of the South Pacific Regional Environmental Programme (SPREP), Dr Robert Watson, Senior Scientific Adviser at the Environment Department of the World Bank and Chairman of the second Working Group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and Neroni Slade, Vice-Chairman of the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS) and AOSIS Coordinator on Climate Change. A separate workshop on climate change was also organised on the same afternoon outside the formal Joint Assembly setting.

According to Dr Nurse, current estimates based on most reliable models, suggest sea level is rising at the rate of 5mm a year (the 'range of uncertainty' is between 2mm and 9mm). This is two to five times the rate experienced in the last 100 years. This rise is expected to continue beyond the year 2100 even if greenhouse gases are stabilised. The implications for small island states, particularly the low-lying ones, would be severe. 'Atolls such as Tokelau, Marshall Islands, Tuvalu and the Maldives could possibly disappear', he said. 'Major population displacement would be experienced in Micronesia, Palau, Nauru, French Polynesia, the Cook Islands and Tonga.' Meanwhile, small islands with extensive coastal plains and limited upland areas such as Barbados, the Bahamas and Antigua, 'would be highly vulnerable to social and economic disruptions', as major cities, ports and tourist facilities, industries, freshwater sources, fertile agricultural lands and even coral reefs are destroyed by typhoons and cyclones, or washed away in floods. 'Given the limitations of climate models,' Dr Nurse said, 'it is not possible to state with certainty at this stage whether there will be a change in the behaviour of tropical storms and hurricanes. However, it is highly probable that an increase in the frequency and intensity of these phenomena could occur in a 'warmer world'. One study, he claims, predicts tropical storms would have a potential destructive force at least twice what they have today.

Dr Watson, similarly, struck a pessimistic note when he said that the potential for irreversible damage was great. He agreed with Dr Nurse that even if we took measures now to reduce CO2 emissions, stabilisation of the situation will take centuries. He pleaded for climate change to be taken into consideration 'in our everyday decisions.' Governments must not wait for cause and effect to be established before taking action. 'It is,' he said, 'economically feasible to reduce CO2' by introducing appropriate policy measures: looking at supply of and demand for energy, resorting to new and renewable energy sources, nuclear power, etc. and ensuring more efficient land management.

The question of 'burden-sharing' in the reduction of emissions between the industrialised world and the developing countries was debated at length. It was noted, for example, that small islands states are responsible for a very small proportion of the emissions, yet they bear the brunt of the consequences. There was a general consensus that burden-sharing should be based on equity and justice.

It should be noted that the Alliance of Small Island States (which was formed during the Second World Climate Conference in 1990) has called on the industrialised world to achieve a 20% reduction in their greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2005 (The 'Toronto objective'). This, it hopes, would bring CO2 in the atmosphere down to 1990 levels. Whether this is realistic is debatable.

However, a number of strategy options are being closely examined by the European Commision and the Council with a view to adopting Community-wide measures to reduce emissions significantly by 2005-2010. Member States have made phasing-out proposals with targets of 5-10% by 2005, 15-20% by 2020 and 50% by 2030. This works out at an average reduction of 196 2% annually from the year 2000.

Several parliamentarians wanted to know what the Commission, in particular, had done and will do to help small ACP island states overcome the effects of climate change. It was soon discovered during the discussion that a number of African countries were equally concerned. A Commission representative referred the Assembly to the provisions in the Convention which covered global warming and the special problems of island states. Although there is no specific reference to climate change, the Commission had dealt and would continue to deal with the issue in the broader context of its environmental action. Studies, projects and programmes are being implemented in the Caribbean and Indian Ocean in particular. Furthermore, DG VIII has drawn up internal briefing papers aimed at making departments aware of the issues of climate change and the environment.