ACP/EU Post Cotonou Negotiations – Challenges

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By Elizabeth Morgan

In the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU) post-Cotonou negotiations, it appears that adhering to the timetable for the completion of the negotiations could be very challenging even without a delay in the appointment of the new EU Commission.

With a more engaged EU Parliament rejecting three (3) Commissioner nominees, it does not appear that the confirmation process can be completed to allow Parliament to vote on the full slate of Commissioners in the week of October 23. Thus the new Commission would not be able to take office on November 1. In this scenario, the life of the current Commission would be extended. On the surface, this delay may not affect the negotiations.

Senior Officials of the ACP and EU resumed negotiations for the post-Cotonou agreement in September. The lead negotiators, the ACP’s Robert Dussey, Togo’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and African Integration, and the EU’s Neven Mimica, Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, took the opportunity of the UN General Assembly to meet in New York on September 28. Both were very enthusiastic about the progress made so far. According to Commissioner Mimica, one year after the start of the negotiations, the shape of the future agreement, which will boost growth, jobs and living conditions, is becoming more precise daily. Minister Dussey was delighted with the work done by negotiators since their meeting in May. The leads should have a further stocktaking before Mimica demits office.

In spite of the optimism, it seems to me that concern remains about the pace of the negotiations and text content. On the foundation agreement, negotiations under other headings should have commenced. It is not clear whether work has started. It is expected that negotiations on development cooperation will also commence assuming that the EU Council agrees unanimously on the Budget (the Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027) in December.  For the regional protocols, the three regions are aiming to ensure that their priorities are reflected. The Caribbean framework has been agreed and the Caribbean side continued work on the text. Again, it is not clear whether direct exchanges have commenced with the EU. The Pacific assessed their progress at the 50th Meeting of the Pacific Island Forum in August. The Prime Minister of Fiji, Frank Bainimarama, seemed concerned whether the negotiations would be founded on a genuine principle of “partnership of equals” taking account of island vulnerabilities. However, my impression is that the Africans are not so advanced on their protocol. There seems to have been some lingering issue about the role of the African Union (AU) in these negotiations. I find that information on the substance of these negotiations from the ACP side is not easily accessible.

There is a desire to have civil society more involved in these negotiations. This could be another challenge as ACP groups may not be as knowledgeable, well organized and independently funded to make their participation more effective.

At this point, I gather that negotiators are aiming to conclude the text by March 2020 to avoid any programming conflicts with the new budget cycle starting in 2021. The Cotonou Partnership Agreement, which expires in February 2020, will be extended, pending signature of the new agreement. However, the timeframe for the negotiations looks very tight given the number of high level meetings to be held between now and December and the customary extended Christmas/New Year break.

Note too that the agreement (foundation and protocols) must be approved by the EU Parliament and Council and ACP and EU Member States before signature in Samoa by December 2020.

I expect negotiators will be working overtime to meet the March deadline. We must not lose sight of the importance of this agreement which will govern ACP/EU political, economic and social relations for possibly 20 years.


Submitted by Elizabeth Morgan, Specialist in International Trade Policy and International Politics

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