Triennial meeting between EU and ACP delegates discusses lessons learned from EPAs and calls for greater involvement of economic and social actors in future development policies after Cotonou
The European Economic and Social Committee held the 28th Meeting of Economic and Social Interest Groups of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of states and EU countries in Brussels on 15-16 May. Trade relations, the new European consensus for development, prevention and reduction of food loss and waste, industrialisation as a development driver, and the future of EU relations with ACP countries were the five main themes of the conference, as outlined in a jointly accepted declaration.
The debate at the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) was opened by Yves Somville, President of the ACP-EU Follow-up Committee of the EESC. "Striving to achieve a modern, equitable and genuine future partnership with ACP countries will be at the heart of our discussions during these two days." EESC President Georges Dassis added: "We need to build a strong relationship between the EU and the ACP countries in which everyone wins. And of course, we will fight for a framework that ensures the participation of non-state actors and civil society organizations".
Richard Ssewakiryanga, Chair of the African Union's Economic, Social and Cultural Council, set out the achievements and challenges for civil society in Africa. Speaking on EU Economic Partnership Agreements with ACP states, he declared that in order to be effective, EPAs should be correctly implemented and monitored.
Delegates acknowledged that although Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) were originally seen as instrumental in improving the business environment and regional integration, they have by and large not succeeded in creating decent jobs, reducing poverty or bringing inclusive and sustainable development. Moreover, the lack of involvement of economic and social actors in these agreements from the negotiating stage was pointed at as one of the reasons behind implementation failures in some EPAs as the Cariforum. The declaration also called on African political authorities to remove obstacles likely to prevent the development of intra-regional trade in Africa with a view to forming a continental free trade area.
On the new European Consensus on Development, delegates agreed that development aid should not be used as leverage to impose cooperation on EU economic and foreign policy goals, state security or migration control. They also called for civil society organisations to be meaningfully involved in the formulation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of development programmes so that these respond to the genuine needs of the widest range of people.
Other topics of discussion included the prevention and reduction of food waste, which should be given a key place on the political agenda in a world heavily affected by climate change, and the potential benefits that the industrialization of ACP countries can have on the diversification of the economy, job creation and the building of equitable societies.
The meetings with ACP and EU economic and social interest groups are organised by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) in Brussels once every three years, under the auspices of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly. The meetings host delegates from the economic and social interest groups of 78 ACP countries, members of the EESC, together with representatives of the EU institutions, national economic and social councils, the secretariat of the ACP Group of States, EU and ACP states' diplomatic missions, NGOs and other interested parties. These general meetings are in addition to the regional seminars, which take place in the ACP regions once a year.
This role of the EESC has been confirmed by the Cotonou Agreement, which mandates the Committee to organise consultation sessions and meetings of ACP and EU economic and social interest groups (Protocol 1).